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User Burnout Could Threaten Twitter's Prosperity
By Ryan Nakashima, AP Business Writer
AP File Photo: Megan Fox left nearly a million followers dangling when she checked out of Twitter in January, explaining that “Facebook is as much as I can handle.” Twitter burnout among celebrities, athletes and shameless self-promoters poses a risk to the company and its investors as Twitter Inc. prepares for its Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 initial public offering.
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- They loved it. Now they hate it.
A growing number of celebrities, athletes and self-promoters are burnt out and signing off of Twitter. Many have gotten overwhelmed.
Some people built big audiences on the short messaging service only to have their followers turn against them. Others complain that tweets that once drew lots of attention now get lost in the noise.
As Twitter Inc. prepares to go public this week, the company is selling potential investors on the idea that its user base of 232 million will continue to grow along with the 500 million tweets that are sent each day. The company's revenue depends on ads it inserts into the stream of messages.
But Wall Street could lose its big bet on social media if prolific tweeters lose their voice.
Evidence of Twitter burnout isn't hard to find. Just look at the celebrities who - at one time or another - have taken a break from the service. The long list includes everyone from Alec Baldwin to Miley Cyrus to "Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof.
Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt lamented "all the negativity" she saw on the service when she quit, temporarily, in July. Actress Megan Fox left nearly a million followers dangling when she checked out in January, explaining that "Facebook is as much as I can handle." Pop star John Mayer deleted his account in 2011, saying Twitter absorbed so much of his thinking, he couldn't write a song.
"I was a tweetaholic," he told students during a talk at the Berklee College of Music.
If Twitter turns off celebrities who have a financial incentive to stay in close contact with fans, how can the company prevent average users from becoming disenchanted?
For some users, Twitter tiredness sets in slowly. At first, they enjoy seeing their tweets of 140 characters or less bounce around the Web with retweets and favorites. But new connections soon get overwhelming. Obligation sets in - not only to post more, but to reply to followers and read their tweets.
Many users conclude that Twitter is a time-sucking seduction and turn away. One who calls herself patrilla$$$thrilla excitedly tweeted "first tweet, wocka wocka" just after she joined in July.
On Wednesday, 161 tweets and 27 followers later, the romance was over. She quit to "fully enjoy the little details in life I miss because I'm too busy here," she tweeted.
The cacophony creeps into everyday life. Twitter fanatics tweet from the dinner table, during a movie, in the bathroom, in bed. Vacations can seem like time wasted not tweeting.
The over-doers suffer from a "fear of missing out" (or FOMO), says Tom Edwards, vice president at themarketingarm, a Dallas-based advertising agency. "Managing our virtual personas, including all of the etiquette that comes with, can be tiresome, especially for those with large followings."
It happens -even to people who ought to know better. Just ask Gary Schirr, an assistant professor who teaches a course on social media at Radford University.
In August, while vacationing on a beach, Schirr felt a pang of withdrawal because he had stopped tweeting to his 70,000-plus followers. Then he saw an old condemned house about to be washed away and posted a photo to Facebook and Twitter. He felt relieved when the likes and retweets rolled in.
"You feel forgotten if you're not out there," he says. "It's another sign of addiction. You feel bad if you don't tweet."
Prolific tweeters stay engaged partly because there are real benefits to a big following, which usually requires tweeting a lot.
Journalists who have large Twitter followings have used them to land better-paying jobs because every click on stories can make more money for their new employer. Actors can land roles on TV or the movies if their digital audience is expected to tag along.
Matt Lewis, a columnist with The Week magazine, says his Twitter following is like "portable equity" that gave him an edge over more established writers earlier in his career. He's now got nearly 33,000 followers.
Even so, one of Lewis' more popular stories is titled "Why I hate Twitter." It goes into why the social network became, for him, "a dark place" overrun by "angry cynics and partisan cranks." He became demoralized by the criticism, but he couldn't pull himself away.
"It's also like a prison. You can't check out," he says.
Today, Lewis rarely interacts with his followers and hopes the service will come up with new ways to filter out the hate tweets. "Why should I be harassed if I look at my (at) button?" he says.
But he remains amazed at how Twitter has helped him reach new readers, and after some 67,000 tweets, he isn't giving it up.
Others find that as more people join the service, the deluge of tweets can drown out individual voices.
So says Bob Lefsetz, a music industry analyst who writes an email column titled the Lefsetz Letter.
Twitter, he wrote in July, is "toast." "Over. Done. History." His follower count isn't rising as quickly as before, although it's still a respectable 57,000-plus. And his tweets don't see as much action as in the past, which he attributes to too many people tweeting "too much irrelevant information."
"In the old days, I'd get 20 retweets. Now I'll get none," Lefsetz says. "It makes me not want to play."
Along with the potential for burnout, there's also the risk that Twitter becomes uncool to the younger generation, especially when services such as Pinterest and Instagram are a tap away.
Devon Powers, an assistant professor of communications at Drexel University, says many of her students have moved on to Snapchat. But there can still be pressure to keep up with the other services.
"There's all these new obligations to update and report and check in," she says. It can make dropping offline feel like a relief.
"If I get really busy, the first thing I stop doing is checking Twitter," she says. "I'm living my life. I'm not having a commentary about it."
Follow Ryan Nakashima on Twitter at https://twitter.com/rnakashi
More Business News
Last Update on October 21, 2014 07:27 GMT
ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD
WASHINGTON (AP) -- There's only one major economic report due today, but half a dozen U.S. companies are reporting quarterly financial results.
The National Association of Realtors releases its September report on existing home sales this morning.
Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Reynolds American and Verizon release their earnings before the market opens.
Discover Financial Services and Yahoo release their numbers after the market closes.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Apple says it sold 39.3 million iPhones in the last quarter, or 16 percent more than a year ago, which is a record for the quarter. That's partly due to excitement over new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models that Apple began selling last month.
The surge in iPhone sales helped the company beat Wall Street's expectations for the three months that ended Sept. 27. Overall, the company's profit rose more than 12 percent from a year ago, to $8.5 billion. Total sales also rose more than 12 percent, to $42.1 billion.
While iPhone sales were up, Apple also sold 13 percent fewer iPad tablets than it did a year ago. That follows an industry-wide decline in tablet sales. But the company reported lower iPad sales than analysts had expected.
DALLAS (AP) -- U.S. airlines are raising base fares on many domestic flights even though they are getting a windfall from lower fuel prices.
Delta Air Lines raised fares on many U.S. routes by $4 per round last Thursday. FareCompare.com CEO Rick Seaney and J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker say other big airlines have matched them. Seaney says he's seen a few $6 and $10 increases, but mostly $4.
Delta has not responded for comment. United Airlines has confirmed matching the $4 increase. Seaney says American and Southwest also have raised prices.
ATLANTA (AP) -- UPS says it is raising rates for a number of its shipping services by an average of 4.9 percent for 2015.
The Atlanta-based company says it is increasing rates for its ground, air, international, UPS Freight, and UPS air freight rates within and between the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The increase goes into effect on Dec. 29.
UPS had previously announced some size-related pricing changes that will also take effect at the end of December.
BEIJING (AP) -- China's economic growth waned to a five-year low of 7.3 percent last quarter, raising concerns of a spillover effect on the global economy but falling roughly in line with Chinese leaders' plans for a controlled slowdown.
The third quarter figures, released Tuesday, put China on course for annual growth somewhat lower than the 7.5 percent targeted by leaders, though they have indicated there is wiggle-room in their plan. The world's No. 2 economy grew 7.5 percent from a year earlier in the previous quarter and 7.4 percent in the first quarter.
Communist leaders are trying to steer China toward growth based on domestic consumption instead of over-reliance on trade and investment. But the slowdown comes with the risk of politically dangerous job losses and policymakers bolstered growth in the second quarter with mini-stimulus measures.
Employment, however, remained strong through the third quarter.
TOKYO (AP) -- U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker has urged Japan to be bolder in opening its markets to help reach a deal on a pan-Pacific trade agreement.
Pritzker, who is leading the Commerce Department's first trade mission to Japan in two decades, said U.S. and Japanese negotiators were closing the gap on trade in farm goods and vehicles but that there were still "tough issues" to work on.
She said the 12-nation trade pact, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, could yield tens of billions of dollars a year in economic gains and increased exports for each side.
Executives from 20 U.S. companies, many of them leaders in medical and energy technologies, have joined the trade mission to Japan and South Korea. It is Pritzker's first visit to Asia as commerce secretary.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal regulator says government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have reached an agreement with major banks that could expand lending.
The head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, announced the deal Monday at a conference of the Mortgage Bankers Association in Las Vegas. FHFA Director Mel Watt says the deal clarifies conditions in which banks could be required to buy back mortgages they sell to Fannie and Freddie for misrepresenting the loans' risks.
Watt says the agreement in principle will help make more mortgage credit available without harming Fannie and Freddie's finances.
He adds that it's currently hard for banks to know whether they'll have to buy back loans. That can make banks skittish about lending to borrowers with less pristine credit.
DETROIT WATER SHUTOFFS
DETROIT (AP) -- United Nations human rights experts have called on Detroit officials to restore water to those unable to pay, including those with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
Two experts visiting Detroit to observe the effect of water service shutoffs say they affect the poorest and most vulnerable. They say it discriminates against Detroit's majority black population.
Leilani Farha and Catarina de Albuquerque say water should be affordable, not free.
The city says about 27,000 shutoffs were made between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30.
Most shutoffs were halted for several weeks during the summer to give customers a chance to enter payment plans.
Groups opposing the shutoffs appealed to the U.N. for support.
NEW YORK (AP) -- America is saying no to cappuccino flavored potato chips, but yes to "Wasabi Ginger." "Wasabi Ginger" has won this year's Frito-Lay contest that gives people a chance to create a new flavor.
Bags of the four finalist flavors hit store shelves in late July, and people have been going on Facebook and Twitter to vote for their favorites.
Some taste-testers described cappuccino flavored chips as "NASTY" and "gross." The other two finalists were "Mango Salsa" and "Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese."
Registered nurse Meneko Spigner McBeth of Deptford, New Jersey, came up with the wasabi ginger flavor, and she'll be awarded $1 million or a portion of a year in sales, whichever figure is greater.
The "Do Us A Flavor" promotion was held in other countries too, including Saudi Arabia, which voted for "Pizza" flavor and Serbia, which made "Pickled Cucumber" Number 1.
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