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Despite Getting Attention Via Trump, Twitter Falling Short For Investors


President Donald Trump's tweets are - what's the word? - inescapable. Just about every day, Trump makes some kind of news on the social media service. But a recent earnings report for Twitter shows flat growth and some big losses. So we've got NPR's Sam Sanders here to try and figure out whether Donald Trump is helping or hurting Twitter. Sam, thanks for being with us today.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. So Twitter put out a quarterly earnings report. And by a few metrics, the company seemed to let investors down.

SANDERS: Yeah. Twitter came up short. Their revenue was supposed to be $740 million, turned out to be $717 million. That's a big gap. And their monthly active users were up just 2 million people over last quarter. That's their slowest quarter of growth in users all year. And you could argue that that number should be a lot higher because of how much this company has been in the news.

So these figures sent stocks down for Twitter this week. But there was one good sign. User engagement for Twitter was up. But when you compare Twitter to Facebook, that company added 72 million monthly active users in their fourth quarter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Donald Trump's always on Twitter. He's breaking news on Twitter. Does he play into Twitter's problems, or is he a solution to their problems?

SANDERS: Yeah, it depends on who you ask. I mean, we have to be clear. Trump and his constant tweeting have raised the profile of Twitter a lot. But that does not mean that people go to Twitter to read his tweets. It's a well-known fact that now, if you just wait long enough, you will hear what Trump has tweeted on air and on TV or everywhere else.


SANDERS: But I talked with one analyst, Debra Williamson of eMarketer. And she says that kind of problem is not new.

DEBRA WILLIAMSON: For as long as Twitter's been in existence, it's had far more popular awareness than it's had actual users. Everybody knows what Twitter is. But not that many people use Twitter. And they've been fighting that perception, which has turned mostly into a reality over the past few years.

SANDERS: Now, there is one trend that is hurting Twitter that might be more closely tied to Trump, abuse and harassment on this platform. Lots of advertisers are reluctant to run ads on a space that is full of, sometimes, very nasty and politically charged discourse. And this problem has also kept companies like Disney from buying Twitter. And you could make the case very easily that President Trump has contributed at least a bit to that kind of environment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. But, like you say, some of these problems facing Twitter have been there for a long time. How can the company get out of this rut that it's in?

SANDERS: Yeah. So everyone agrees the first order of business is to make Twitter nice again. Everyone knows that there need to be fewer trolls and fewer bots - these are the fake accounts - and less harassment.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: I vote yes for that.

SANDERS: I vote yes to that. And so this week, also, Twitter announced some changes to fight harassment. They're going to keep people who have been singled out for harassing before from making new accounts. They're going to make their searches, quote, "safer" to take out sensitive content.

And they're going to hide tweets Twitter has deemed abusive or, quote, "low quality." But some experts I talked to said to really, really stop harassment, you have to authenticate every user, make them say who they are and show their face and show their name.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What about Donald Trump, though? Back to...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back to the man...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...In the - you know, in the Oval Office. Is there any way for the company to capitalize on the notoriety he's brought Twitter?

SANDERS: Well, they haven't done so yet. But one expert I talked to said it can be done. Michael Pachter is a research analyst with Wedbush Securities. And he said this.

MICHAEL PACHTER: They should cast themselves as a news organization without reporters. Trump is making news by posting on Twitter. He's had 24 million followers. Imagine advertising to them.

SANDERS: So, basically, he said to those following Trump elsewhere, Twitter should say, come here to see it first. The news is made on Twitter by Trump. See it first here. And then for those that are already on Twitter, following Trump, he says Twitter should sell them a lot of ads. Now, to push back, though, this framing of Twitter as a news service might not be the most profitable. We know for sure that lots of newsrooms across the country right now don't turn a profit at all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, they don't. Sam Sanders, thank you so much for joining us.

SANDERS: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.