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Mon Dec 05 18:33:40 SAST 2016

All a-jitter: wither Twitter?

LIANA B BAKER | 2016-09-28 08:46:23.0
File photo.
Image by: DADO RUVIC / REUTERS

With speculation mounting that Twitter Inc will soon have a new corporate owner, the 10-year-old social networking service - which has long struggled to define its core purpose - might end up heading in one of several distinctly different directions, depending on who buys it.

Companies including Salesforce.com, Walt Disney and Google have shown interest in Twitter, which is working with banks to evaluate its options.

With Salesforce.com, Twitter might turn its focus to customer service communications and mining its database of tweets for business intelligence.

Google would probably be most interested in the social and news dimensions of Twitter.

Disney, by contrast, might see it as a way to expand the reach of its sports and entertainment programming.

A deal is by no means assured in light of the company's uncertain financial prospects and steep price tag - its market value is more than $16-billion (R218-billion) after talk of a sale drove the stock price up in the past few days.

Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey this week declined to comment on any sale talks.

Salesforce.com, run by CEO Marc Benioff, is focused on cloud-based sales and marketing software. Unlike Twitter, its main product is aimed at business users, not consumers. Under Salesforce.com, Twitter could become a corporate tool used to power sentiment analysis and nurture customer relationships.

Salesforce.com already uses the Twitter "firehose" for its new artificial intelligence platform, Einstein.

If Salesforce.com owned Twitter's data, it could have better insights into the sort of conversations companies such as airlines or telecom firms were having with customers and thereby gain more understanding of the business challenges, said Ryan Holmes, chief executive of Hootsuite, a firm that helps brands and consumers manage their social media accounts.

But many Twitter users - especially newer ones - are not active tweeters, which over time could limit the value of the data Twitter can provide.

Salesforce.com investors are already spooked by the speculation it could acquire Twitter: its shares are down 6% since news of the company's interest flared up last week.

Twitter would fit easily with Google's online advertising-driven business model. Ads could be sold across paid search, YouTube, display and mobile on Twitter - while filling a gap for Google, which has struggled with social media.

"Google already has the eyeballs with advertisers. Cross-selling to the Twitter inventory could be an amazing play for them," Hootsuite's Holmes said.

Google, which has expertise in monitoring its video service YouTube, would know how to deal with the tricky policy issues facing Twitter, such as abusive tweets and censorship.

Still, such a tie-up faces potentially fatal regulatory hurdles. In Europe, where the company has a bigger share of the search market than in the US, the company is already facing two antitrust investigations.

Facebook, meanwhile, has been trying to replicate Twitter on its own platform and could also face antitrust challenges if it tries to buy the company, Greenfield said. So far, Facebook has not been mentioned as a potential buyer, but with its large cash pile and penchant for surprises, it cannot be counted out.

Twitter's foray into live streaming of US gridiron football games and its presence in news gathering could interest media companies such as Disney, which owns sports channel ESPN.

Twitter's presence on mobile devices could help any media company, all of which are struggling to find mobile growth.

No media company has a product with as much reach as Twitter.

However, media companies do not have the best track record with social media. News Corp's acquisition of MySpace in 2005 ended in disaster.

And some question whether the media companies and top personalities that have been so important to Twitter would stick around if a rival media firm were the owner. - Reuters

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