Twitter buyout: Can Disney, Google or Salesforce help the social network reach new heights?

Can Disney, Google or Salesforce help Twitter reach new heights?

Ever since it was reported last week that Twitter was allegedly in takeover talks with Google and Salesforce, the buzz about which business might buy the microblogging site has been non-stop.

Fast-forward a few days and it would appear that a full on bidding war is forming behind the scenes, with Disney now reported to be circling the blue bird and waiting to swoop.

The struggling social network has long been touted as a potential takeover target following sluggish user growth and disappointing revenue performance. For several years investors have been jittery about these metrics, especially in the face of growing competition from the likes of Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. It's latest quarterly financial update continued an underwhelming trend, with the business posting just a 20 per cent year-on-year increase in ad revenue – its smallest gain since 2013.

If buyout reports are to be believed, then the contrasting business models of the interested parties are emblematic of just how hard it's been for Twitter to pin down what it's core product actually stands for.

Earlier this year, its chief marketing officer Leslie Berland unveiled a series of ads which implied the social network had finally decided what it wanted to be. The 'See What's Happening' spots placed a heavy focus on breaking news, sports and live events, ​but a buyout from either of the three interested parties could arguably push the business away from these areas, raising questions once again about where Twitter's future actually lies.

Chief executive Jack Dorsey is adamant that news is Twitter's forte, recently confiding to Fast Company that he believes the site is not only able to deliver news in real-time but also with speed "faster than anyone else out there."

"[Twitter is] also able to provide this really interesting social commentary around it, so that anyone can comment on what's happening and give their own opinion. And sometimes conversations emerge from that," he added.

It's this back-and-forth that has been Twitter's main stumbling block, with Enders Analysis bemoaning its executives' "outlandish claims" as to the platforms potential.

"As a result they’ve felt the need to tweak the product and annoy their core users in an attempt to jumpstart user growth," a spokesperson from Enders said. "It might be more comfortable inside a larger organisation where it doesn’t have such constant scrutiny on its core metrics."

Meanwhile, marketers and agencies whose varying views make up what can only be described as a smorgasbord of potential futures for the social network, which has been valued at around $16bn. Sports executives think it might be live-streaming, others, short-form video.

So what issues would a potential takeover throw up, and what would Twitter potentially look like under Disney, Google or Salesforce? The Drum's Rebecca Stewart and Jessica Goodfellow investigate.

Disney

Faced with the prospect of cord-cutters and fierce competition from streaming services, ABC and ESPN owner Disney is reportedly considering buying Twitter as it seeks new ways to reach a mass audience.

According to Bloomberg, the house of mouse is working with a financial adviser to "evaluate a possible bid" for the social network. While neither company has commented on the takeover rumours, analysts have suggested that the media giant's bid could give it a new digital outlet for entertainment, sports and news; something that would fit will with Twitter's 'See What's Happening' proposition.

James Cakman, an analyst at Monness Crespi told Bloomberg that the supposed interest from Disney was a "video distribution play".

"What Disney has to think about is what is its place in a post cord-cutting world. They are investing in technology for distribution – and this would give them the platform to reach audiences around the world," he added.

However, the pairing could throw up issues given Twitter's well-documented struggle with trolling and online abuse. While the social giant has been battling against harassment the rate at which tweets go live means it struggles to moderate all content posted by users. This has meant that it has been used as a recruitment and propaganda tool by terrorist groups like Isis. Of course, this isn't likely to couple with Disney's squeaky clean reputation and would open up Disney to the risk of reputational damage.

Twitter's renewed focus on live-streaming deals coupled with plans to kick-start an upturn from online video and performance budgets could prove attractive to Disney. It could integrate Twitter's live sports commentary from users and professionals on Twitter with broadcast coverage on ESPN.

Additionally, it would give Disney a slice of the ad spend that marketers are increasingly handing over to social media platforms and allow the entertainment brand to have a more direct line of communication with its own customers and viewers.

Salesforce

Salesforce.com is another such company in the line-up expected to make an offer for the social platform, but financial analysts expect the cloud computing company’s stock to plummet 25 per cent should it make an offer above the current stock price of $23.

Salesforce notably lost to Microsoft earlier this year in a bid for LinkedIn, so it is likely keen to make an acquisition of a social channel to enhance its marketing sell.

While a buyout from a media company makes sense, Salesforce’s justifications for buying Twitter are a little more hard pushed, with its negative stock price reaction piling extra pressure on the company to prove the worth of its core business.

What Twitter does have is real-time data, an invaluable resource if Salesforce is trying to build out that side of the business, helping it be a 'complete sell' marketing platform. Since Twitter’s best users are professionals which use it as a personal development and networking tool, its data is very valuable to B2B advertisers.

Enders Analysis suggested with Salesforce’s analytics tools, the aspirational profiles of Twitter users - as revealed by who they are following and by keywords in their tweets - could be used to personalise paid messaging, on a platform where the audience is already expecting to learn about new products and services. Trending data from Twitter, which is already used to measure the effectiveness of B2B advertising, would also be available in more detail for Salesforce campaign measurement.

While this is an opportunity, it also rings alarm bells. Jim Coleman, We Are Social's managing director, said if Salesforce owned all of Twitter's data "there could easily be an exodus away from the platform if conversation data was used to remarket to individuals".

"From a user and general public perspective the acquisition by Salesforce will be viewed extremely cynically," he went on, "Without knowing very much about its day to day business, the consumer view will be that Salesforce is data and sales focused and that Twitter would be selling out to the bad guys."

Google

A Google buyout seems to make the most sense among the industry and as a well-known brand would cause less ripples across the Twitter community.

Google’s failed attempts to break into social media have been well-documented, with Google+, Buzz and Wave. Twitter could help Alphabet get a foothold in social, instead of attempting to build up a unique offering from the ground up.

"Twitter is an established platform with a strong global community," said Coleman. "Google would have to really radically change how it worked for the partnership to fail".

What's more, Twitter would fit neatly into Google's existing comprehensive ad offering, incorporating a mobile buy with paid-search, YouTube and display. Google already sells Twitter ads, demonstrating that synergies here are real.

The benefit for Twitter is using Google's size and presence across the web to gain a better understanding of its reach off-site. The platform has long argued that its active user numbers understate its influence, through people exposed to tweets and events on Twitter.

Twitter could also learn a lot about how to deal with some of the tricky issues they're dealing with currently around policy and censorship; both things Google has been through and has improved on significantly over the past few years.

The relationship here would be more parental, Coleman proposed, unlike Salesforce "which would probably more similar to a merger".

Other interested parties

Reports have also thrown other company's names in the ring for the takeover, including Microsoft and News Corp.

Citing sources close to the matter, it was CNBC that first implied Microsoft was interested in Twitter, but the tech company told journalists it had "nothing to share," on the matter.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp has also been touted as an interested party, however back in February it quashed similar rumours. News Corp's purchase of MySpace back in 2005 was largely viewed as a failure, but following Twitter's board meeting earlier this month Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities told CNBC that News Corp could be an option for Twitter.

"Twitter has to figure out want it wants be," he said. “It should want to be the first source of news. Its addressable market is the two-and-a-half-billion people on the internet who want to know about anything.”

“Most of the media companies aren’t actually in the news business, except for News Corp,” he added, providing an optimistic view on whether a News Corp purchase could be a success.

CNBC has said a deal may happen as soon as within the next 30 to 45 days, adding that while it believes that the social giant is moving closer to a formal sale process that doesn't mean it has kicked off formal proceedings as of yet.

Analysts and investors will be watching Twitter closely over the coming weeks, but the company's stock has turned positive in light of the news, trading at almost double its 30-day average volume at close of play yesterday (27 September).

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.