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Twitter Inc. Management Talks Project Lightning, User Growth, and More

By Daniel Sparks - Sep 18, 2015 at 9:39AM

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Twitter's CFO took the spotlight this week and answered some tough questions. Here are some key insights from the interview.

These are some tumultuous times for Twitter (TWTR -5.65%). Compared to year-ago levels, the stock price is down about 48% as the market rethinks the social media company's growth potential amid slower user growth and a CEO search. It's a great time, therefore, to get an update from management -- and that is exactly what investors got earlier this week.

Twitter headquarters. Source: Twitter; photo by Aaron Durand (@everydaydude).

Here are a few takeaways from Twitter CFO Anthony Noto's Sept. 16 interview at Deutsche Bank's Technology Conference.

What is Project Lightning?
One of the most prominent topics among investors recently regarding Twitter (other than the company's high-profile CEO search) is its "Project Lightning," a new tool the company is readying for release later this year that's aimed at making Twitter easier to use and help the service attract more new users.

But what's Project Lightning, exactly? Here's the most recent description of Twitter's not-so-secret project, straight from Twitter's CFO:

One of the top reasons why consumers do not use our product is because they don't know how to use it. And Project Lightning is a completely curated content experience by our editors, and those editors are tasked with picking the best of Twitter. There's hundreds and millions of tweets in Twitter every day and the world is talking about a variety of different things and these editors are finding those things that are most important to people and curating them as a unique experiences, and, so, we're taking the responsibility of finding the content out of the users' hands and solving that for them to give them the best of Twitter in a simple and easy fashion.

Twitter is about to launch a huge advertising campaign
If you're watching Twitter's sales, general, and administrative expense line on its income statement, expect it to trend upward in the coming quarters. The company is preparing its biggest marketing push ever.

Image source: Twitter.

While Twitter acknowledges its product currently isn't simple enough to attract and retain enough users to become a mass-market social media platform, it also admits part of the reason for its slower user growth is a failure to communicate its value to potential future users. But this is about to change.

"We've hired a creative agency, television advertising agency. We've hired a digital agency," Noto said. "We're working on an integrated campaign behind Project Lightning."

Twitter will invest heavily in video marketing, with an emphasis in television ads, Noto said:

We will market that new way of using Twitter [i.e., Project Lightning] broadly through television and through digital video and other forms of our media to make sure that people are aware of a new way to use Twitter. And when they get there, we hope they find it to be as easy as looking out of the window.

Project Lightning won't scare away enthusiasts
While investors are eager for Twitter to address its recent slowing user growth, shareholders are also hoping management will be very mindful of its 316 million monthly active users already using the service -- particularly its most avid users. After all, Twitter's most active users have likely played a large role in driving its rapidly growing advertising revenue as their activity helps attracts marketers.

Noto addressed this issue when he talked about how Project Lightning won't disrupt the experience enthusiasts have come to love:

[Project Lightning] is the biggest fundamental shift in the product that I've seen the company do. It is a completely different way to use Twitter. And, so, the home timeline isn't affected by this, per se. It's a different location on the nav bar and it's a different experience completely, it actually will complement the home timeline but it won't in any way disrupt the home timeline. ... It will be additive if people choose it to be additive.

Why user growth may have to wait a few quarters
When can investors expect user growth to reaccelerate? Noto reiterated commentary provided during the company's second-quarter earnings call about how investors shouldn't expect faster growth immediately, and then he added:

[F]or us to see the type of growth that we expect, the type of growth we get when we satisfy the other 70% of the users [in our major markets] that don't use our product today, it's going to take fundamental product change and fundamental marketing change -- neither of which have happened since we reported.

In other words, investors shouldn't expect user growth until Twitter launches Project Lightning and starts playing ads on television.

For Twitter shareholders, the full interview is worth tuning into. Sure, Noto failed to address the elephant in the room when he declined to talk about the company's CEO search. But there were a handful of helpful topics discussed, along with the key items covered in this article. Investors can find the interview on Twitter's investor relations page on its website.

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