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TheStreet Open House

Twitter Investors Could Still Feel More Pain

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There's nothing better about this job than being able to relay information gathered through experience. You consume and decide how to use it -- if at all -- as you tunnel trajectories of thought on companies and stocks.

Case in point: Twitter (TWTR). And what I reckon might be its false ubiquity.

Background: I recently starting working as a part-time talk personality on Fox Sports Radio. It's familiar territory as, prior to a 15-year hiatus, I spent a dozen years (1988-2000) doing talk radio. Over these last 27 years, not much has changed with respect to the actual act of doing a talk show. However, lots of ancillary stuff either looks different or is brand new. The emergence of social media falls in the latter category.

Every radio personality and/or show is expected to not only be on Twitter, but to use Twitter. Whatever that means. There's this jumped conclusion that if you're not using Twitter you're somehow not fulfilling your duties as a radio -- scratch that -- multimedia personality. To some extent I can and do get with it, however, I also question the importance of and overreliance on what amounts to a niche social media platform.

One golden rule of talk radio for as long as I've been at it is that you do the show for the audience, not the callers. Callers tend to make up less than 1% of the listenership. As such, program directors and consultants guide radio personalities to do everything they do for the 99%. And rightfully so. Every call that gets on the air needs to -- in some way, shape or life form -- contribute to and/or move the show forward. If it doesn't, like any other component, it should not be there.

While radio people largely adhere to that mantra, they're obsessed with making Twitter a part of the show. I wonder what percentage of the audience actually has a Twitter account. And of that number how many use it generally and, more importantly, while they're listening to a radio show live or on-demand.

Taking it a step further, how many times do you hear a host refer to some sort of consensus of opinion taking place on Twitter? Probably far too often. Because I don't think it's safe to say that opinion that forms on Twitter is representative of what/how your larger audience is thinking (whether it's a radio or some other type of audience).

That's not to say Twitter isn't important. Tweets can make worthwhile contributions to a radio program just as they sometimes do to these articles. On the radio, Jay Mohr, also of Fox Sports Radio, does an incredible job working in Tweets, effectively turning a sizable chunk of his listenership into standup comics. And, without doubt, each interaction you have on Twitter helps build a connection between personality and listener (or reader). Heck, I have made friends with people who follow me on Twitter because of my work.

All of that said, investors, particularly investors who are on Twitter and pay close attention to the Twitter-obsessed media, need to be careful to not make the mistake of overestimating Twitter's size and scope. You can take the radio example and apply it to many other situations -- financial media, second screen activity during a sporting event, you name it. Probably because the media loves Twitter so much it rarely brings up what should be an obvious and undeniable fact -- Facebook (FB) blows Twitter away when it comes to getting a gauge on what people are thinking and for use as a marketing tool.

When you're in the checkout line at the grocery store, eavesdrop on people's smartphones. Relative to the number of folks routinely scrolling their Facebook feeds, you rarely see people thumbing Twitter timelines. That's one reason why I argue Twitter should seek a buyout from Facebook before it's too late. Facebook could run Twitter independently and unlock its value as part of a powerful social advertising package (along with Instagram and WhatsApp) that would look incredibly attractive to big clients.

Just some food for thought -- TWTR stock topped out at $74.73. It closed Friday's session more than 55% off of that 52-week high. If Twitter can't turn itself into something more than a media darling and utilitarian niche, another 55% of downside wouldn't surprise me in the least.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

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Rocco Pendola is a full-time columnist for TheStreet. He lives in Santa Monica. Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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