Oct. 25 (Reuters) – “Is Twitter dying?” Billionaire Elon Musk mused in April, five days before he offered to buy the social media platform.
The reality, according to internal research at Twitter ( TWTR.N ) seen by Reuters, goes far beyond the handful of examples of celebrities pranking their own accounts. Twitter is struggling to keep its most active users ̵[ads1]1; who are vital to its business – engaged, underscoring a challenge facing Tesla’s ( TSLA.O ) chief executive as he nears a deadline to close his $44 billion deal to buy the company.
These “heavy tweeters” account for less than 10% of the monthly total users, but generate 90% of all tweets and half of the global revenue. Heavy tweeters have been in “absolute decline” since the pandemic began, a Twitter researcher wrote in an internal document titled “Where Did Tweeters Go?”
A “heavy tweeter” is defined as someone who logs into Twitter six or seven days a week and tweets about three to four times a week, the document said.
The research also found a shift in interests over the past two years among Twitter’s most active English-speaking users that could make the platform less attractive to advertisers.
Cryptocurrency and “not safe for work” (NSFW) content, which includes nudity and pornography, are the most growing topics of interest among English-speaking heavy users, the report found.
At the same time, interest in news, sports and entertainment among those users is decreasing. Tweets on these topics, which have helped Twitter polish an image as the world’s “digital town square,” as Musk once called it, are also the most coveted by advertisers.
Twitter declined to specify how many of its tweets are in English or how much money it makes from English speakers. But demographics are important to Twitter’s business, some analysts say.
The platform earned more ad revenue from the U.S. alone than all other markets combined in the fourth quarter, according to the investor letter, and most ads in the U.S. are likely to target English-speaking users, said Jasmine Enberg, an analyst at Insider Intelligence.
Twitter’s study examined the number of English speakers who showed interest in a topic, based on the accounts they followed, and how the number of users changed over the past two years.
Twitter was motivated to examine “disturbing” trends among users that may have been masked by the overall growth in daily active users and better understand the decline in the company’s most active users, the documents said. The study made no specific conclusions about why heavy users of the platform are declining.
Asked to comment on the internal documents’ findings, a Twitter spokesperson said Monday: “We regularly conduct research on a wide range of trends, which evolve based on what’s happening in the world. Our overall audience has continued to grow and reaching 238 million mDAU in Q2 2022,” the spokesperson said, using an acronym for monetized daily active users.
‘NOT SAFE FOR WORK’ CONTENT
The number of heavy users interested in NSFW and cryptocurrency content grew, the research found.
Twitter is one of the few major social media platforms that allows nudity on its service, and the company has estimated that adult content makes up 13% of Twitter, according to its own internal slideshow seen by Reuters. The presentation did not elaborate on how the figure was calculated.
Advertisers generally avoid controversy or nudity for fear of damaging their brands. Major advertisers including Dyson, PBS Kids and Forbes suspended advertising due to accounts soliciting child pornography on Twitter, Reuters reported in September.
In response to the September story, Twitter said it “has zero tolerance for the sexual exploitation of children” and is investing more resources in working against such material.
Twitter’s most active English-speaking users also became increasingly interested in cryptocurrencies, reaching an all-time high in late 2021, the internal documents showed. But interest in the topic has waned since the cryptocurrency crash in June, and the study noted that cryptocurrencies may not be a growth area in the future.
Current and former Twitter employees who spoke to Reuters said they feared Musk’s calls for less content moderation and his reported plans to cut staff, which they said would exacerbate the decline in content quality.
Themes that have traditionally made Twitter a popular platform for its millions of users are now in decline among the most active English-speaking users, the documents show.
Interest in world news, as well as liberal politics, showed peaks during major events such as the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. But the categories have since lost the highest number of heavy Twitter users and have shown no signs of recovery, the report said.
Twitter is also losing a “devastating” percentage of heavy users who are interested in fashion or celebrities like the Kardashian family. Those users are likely moving to rival platforms such as Meta Platform’s ( META.O ) Instagram and ByteDance’s TikTok, a Twitter researcher wrote.
The study also expressed surprise at the decline in interest in e-sports and online streaming personalities, which previously grew rapidly on Twitter. “The great societies are now in decline,” the report says.
“There seems to be a significant disconnect between what I would imagine are the company’s values and our growth patterns,” one Twitter researcher wrote.
Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas Editing by Kenneth Li and Matthew Lewis
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.