“Is Twitter dying?” billionaire Elon Musk pondered in April, five days before putting in a bid to buy the social media platform.
The reality, according to internal Twitter (TWTR.N) research seen by Reuters, extends far beyond the handful of examples of celebrities ghosting their own accounts.
Twitter is grappling to retain its most active users – who are crucial to the business – engaged, highlighting a challenge faced by the Tesla (TSLA.O) chief executive as he nears a deadline to conclude his $44 billion deal to take over the company.
These “heavy tweeters” represent less than 10% of monthly overall users but create 90% of all tweets and half of global revenue. Heavy tweeters have been in “absolute decline” since the pandemic started, a Twitter researcher wrote in an internal document titled “Where did the Tweeters Go?”
A “heavy tweeter” is described as someone who gets on Twitter six or seven days a week and tweets about three to four times a week, the document said. The research also discovered a change in interests over the past two years among Twitter’s most active English-speaking users that could make the platform less appealing to advertisers.
Most of these “top” accounts tweet rarely and post very little content.
Is Twitter dying? https://t.co/lj9rRXfDHE
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 9, 2022
Cryptocurrency and “not safe for work” (NSFW) content, which includes pornography and nudity, are the fastest-growing topics of interest among English-speaking heavy users, the report showed.
At the same time, interest in news, entertainment, and sports are diminishing among those users. Tweets on those topics, which have helped Twitter improve its reputation as the world’s “digital town square,” as Musk once considered it, are also the most desirable for advertisers.
Twitter refused to indicate the number of tweets that are in English or how much money it earns from English speakers. But the demographic is significant to Twitter’s business, some analysts say.
The platform gained more ad revenue from the United States alone compared to all other markets combined in its fourth quarter, according to its investor letter, and most ads in the United States are probably targeting English-speaking users, said Jasmine Enberg, an analyst at Insider Intelligence.
Twitter’s study reviewed how many heavy English tweeters displayed an interest in a topic, determined from the accounts they followed, and how that number of users changed over the past two years.
The social media platform was prompted to look into “disturbing” trends among users that may have been veiled by overall growth in daily active users and deeper understand the drop in the company’s most active users, the documents said. The study made no specific conclusions about why heavy users of the platform are reducing.
Asked to comment on the internal documents’ findings, a Twitter spokesperson said on Monday:
“We regularly conduct research on a wide variety of trends, which evolve based on what’s happening in the world. Our overall audience has continued to grow, reaching 238 million mDAU in Q2 2022,” the spokesperson said, using an acronym for monetizable daily active users.
‘NOT SAFE FOR WORK’ CONTENT
The number of heavy users interested in cryptocurrency and NSFW content rose, the research found.
Twitter is one of the few major social media platforms that allows nudity on its service, and the company has determined that adult content accounts for 13% of Twitter, according to a separate internal slide presentation seen by Reuters. The presentation did not detail how the figure was computed.
Advertisers normally avoid controversy or nudity for fear of hurting their brands. Major advertisers including Dyson, Forbes, and PBS Kids stopped advertising due to accounts that were asking for child pornography on Twitter, Reuters reported in September.
In response to the September story, Twitter said it “has zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation” and was investing more resources into its work against such material.
Twitter’s most active English-speaking users were also constantly interested in cryptocurrencies, hitting a record high in late 2021, the internal documents showed. But interest in the topic has diminished since the crypto price crash in June, and the study noted cryptocurrencies may not be an area of growth in the future.
Former and current Twitter employees who spoke with Reuters said they worried Musk wants less content moderation and his reported plans to cut the staff, which they said will intensify the deterioration of the quality of content.
Topics that have normally made Twitter a well-liked platform for its millions of users are currently in decline among the most active English-speaking users, the documents show.
Interest in world news, along with liberal politics, displayed spikes during major events such as the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. But the categories have since shed the largest number of heavy Twitter users and have indicated no signs of recovery, the report said.
Twitter is also shedding a “devastating” percentage of heavy users who have an interest in fashion or celebrities such as the Kardashian family. These users are likely slipping away to rival platforms like ByteDance’s TikTok and Meta Platform’s (META.O) Instagram, a Twitter researcher wrote.
The study also expressed shock about the decline in interest in e-sports and online streaming personalities, which were previously increasing sharply across Twitter. “The big communities are now in decline,” the report said.
“It seems as though there is a significant discrepancy between what I might imagine are our company values and our growth patterns,” one Twitter researcher wrote.