Twitter’s financial history doesn’t paint a pretty story, to be perfectly honest. The company ran on a constant net loss for over a decade before it finally reported a profit in 2018.
I’ve listed the annual net profit/loss from 2012 to 2022 below, so have a look:
- $79 million loss in 2012
- $645 million loss in 2013
- $577 million loss in 2014
- $521 million loss in 2015
- $456 million loss in 2016
- $108 million loss in 2017
- $1.2 billion profit in 2018
- $1.47 billion profit in 2019
- $1.14 billion loss in 2020
- $221 million loss in 2021
- $128 million loss in Q1 2022 and $270 million loss in Q2 2022
Even though Twitter was founded in 2006, we only have factual financial data starting with 2012, that being the year that Twitter published its first Transparency Report.
Based on my research, the company was “never” profitable, with the only exception being in 2018 and 2019, when it reported $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion in profit, respectively.
2022 is the 16th year since Twitter was founded, and, based on public records that we can access, the company operated on a loss for at least 8 years (in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2020, and 2021).
Last year’s financial stats aren’t looking good, either. We know for a fact that Q1 and Q2 ended in a loss, and it’s highly unlikely that Q3 and Q4 will turn out any different.
And, while we don’t have public records of Twitter’s net profit/loss data before 2012, it’s not a stretch to assume that their streak of losses didn’t come out of anywhere in 2012. It most likely was a continuation of the previous years’ losses.
But…why is Twitter so bad at turning a profit? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out!
In this article, we’ll take a look at some more financial data from Twitter and comment on them in an attempt to figure out what went wrong.
A Breakdown of Twitter’s Revenue and Commentaries
It’s important to note that Twitter’s revenue is dwarfed by many of its competitors, even though it’s one of the most popular social media platforms in the world.
Below, I’ll put this into perspective by looking at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok’s annual revenue based on what we have available to us at this time.
|Twitter Revenue||Facebook Revenue||Instagram Revenue||TikTok Revenue|
|2012||$300 Million||$5.08 Billion|
|2013||$600 Million||$7.87 Billion|
|2014||$1.4 Billion||$12.46 Billion|
|2015||$2.2 Billion||$17.92 Billion||$500 Million|
|2016||$2.5 Billion||$27.63 Billion||$1.8 Billion|
|2017||$2.4 Billion||$40.65 Billion||$4.1 Billion||$63 Million|
|2018||$3 Billion||$55.83 Billion||$10.3 Billion||$150 Million|
|2019||$3.4 Billion||$70.69 Billion||$19.4 Billion||$350 Million|
|2020||$3.7 Billion||$85.96 Billion||$26.8 Billion||$2.64 Billion|
|2021||$5 Billion||$117.92 Billion||$47.6 Billion||$4.697 Billion|
|2022||$4.4 Billion||$116.6 Billion||$51.4 Billion||$9.4 Billion|
Looking at the chart above, something seems off. Twitter’s revenue pales in comparison with that of its competitors. Even TikTok, which was founded in 2016, a whopping “ten years” after Twitter, has now over double the revenue of Twitter.
Instagram had $500 million in revenue in 2015, the same year that Twitter reported $2.2 billion in revenue. Yet, looking at the data today, Instagram’s 2022 revenue is $51.4 billion, while Twitter’s is $4.4.
Something is causing Twitter to stagnate in terms of revenue and suffer massive losses in terms of income, and if I had to wager a guess, I’d say that the platform’s focus on politics is the main issue.
Let me explain:
- Twitter is “the” battleground for much of the world’s political conflicts, especially concerning US politics, with conservative and liberal representatives being in perpetual conflict
- This bipartisanism tends to attract toxicity, extremism, and fringe ideologies from both sides
- In turn, this leads to trolls coming out of the woodwork, which further muddy the conversation
- Lastly, this leads to marketing companies avoiding Twitter since they don’t want to be associated with or come into contact with those fringe and toxic elements
- As a result, Twitter’s revenue remains minimal, and it operates on loss after loss after loss…
The points I made above are a superficial deduction on my part, and they don’t account for all the reasons why Twitter is losing out on the financial game. But that doesn’t make them any less true.
Let’s try an exercise. Try to imagine Twitter’s and Facebook’s overall atmosphere, their general audience, social interactions, and so on. What are they like? Based on my experience:
- Facebook’s atmosphere is generally very light-hearted, focused on family time, positivity, inspirational quotes, and so on
- Twitter’s atmosphere is almost exclusively dominated by political debate, contradictions, ideological extremism, toxicity, activism, etc.
I’m not saying that Facebook doesn’t have its fair share of toxicity or that the sun never shines upon Twitter. I’m saying that, by and large, that’s the expectation we’ve come to have from these two platforms, and they almost always come true.
The chart above also shows an interesting fact. Let’s look at Twitter’s 2020-2022 revenue:
- $3.7 Billion in 2020
- $5 Billion in 2021
- $4.4 Billion in 2022
You’ll notice that the jump from the 2020s $3.7 billion in revenue to 2021’s $5 billion in revenue is quite large. Actually, it’s the biggest leap forward in terms of revenue in Twitter’s financial history.
Coincidentally, 2021 was also the year when Former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter. The fact that the company reported an increase of $1.3 billion after one of the platform’s most controversial figures was banned is no coincidence, I assure you.
And it also shows that controversy “does” control the platform in an undeniable way.
As for why Twitter’s revenue decreased by $600 million in 2022, it’s most likely caused by ad companies worrying about the impact of Elon Musk’s takeover of the company. Another stark example of non-financial factors influencing Twitter’s finances.
Many marketing companies withdrew from Twitter once the new leadership was announced and, in the wake of Musk’s “renovations” (blue checkmark debacle, among others), even more, abandoned the ship.
Why Is Twitter in a Constant Loss Cycle?
To understand the sheer vastness of Twitter’s losses, which are mind-boggling compared to its strategic positioning in the social media sphere, I’ll have to emphasize a couple of points:
- Twitter spent about $1.17 billion in sales and marketing in 2021
- 92% of Twitter’s total revenue in 2021 came from advertising
- The company invested $167.1 million in advertising in 2021 (an abysmally low figure)
- In Q3 2020, $808.4 million out of the $936 million total revenue came from advertising
- Twitter’s stock market cap (as of 2021) was $38.225 billion
- Twitter has seen a 35% increase in global ad engagement over the years
- Generally, businesses that market their products on Twitter get an increase of 40% in their ROI and are also 2.3x more likely to achieve their KPIs
Alright, you get the point.
Then, how come, despite all these things, Twitter is still losing money year after year? After all, Twitter invests a bigger percentage of its revenue in advertising.
By comparison, Meta spent $2.99 billion on advertising in 2021 (~2.5% out of their total revenue for the year), the same year that Twitter spent only $167.1 million on the same thing (~3.34% out of their total revenue for the year).
Similarly, when Twitter invested $1.17 billion in sales and marketing in 2021 (~23% of their total revenue), Facebook put up $14 billion in the same sector (~12% of their total revenue).
To put this into perspective, Twitter had a total revenue of $5 billion in 2021, while Facebook had a total revenue of $117.92 billion in the same year, a difference of around 2258%.
That’s not all, though. In early October of 2022, Elon Musk said that Twitter was operating at a staggering $4 million loss per day. That’s around $120 million per month or $1.44 billion per year.
To put it simply, I’ll return to my previous point – advertising is not Twitter’s strong suit. It never was, except maybe in 2018 and 2019 when all the stars aligned. The platform also doesn’t have that many users compared to Facebook, for instance.
Twitter had around 450 million active users in 2022, while Facebook had 2.96 billion users in the same period. That’s a difference of ~558% in Facebook’s favor.
Naturally, Facebook is going to make much more money in advertising compared to Twitter.
Will “Chief Twit” Turn Over a New Page?
Elon Musk bought Twitter on October 27th, 2022, the same month when he said that Twitter was losing $4 million per day. What has he done to address that? Well, several things:
- He laid off around 3,700 people, saving the company around $860 million per year
- He announced the new Twitter Blue program (paid monthly subscription) in an attempt to move away from digital advertising. The service will cost $7.99 per month
- He proposed the concept of paid direct messages that would allow users to send private messages to high-profile users
- He may or may not have suspended access to Twitter’s API with regard to several third-party platforms/apps (those apps do not show ads)
- He reinstated controversial accounts, including those of Former President Donald Trump, Kanye West (who was banned again not long after), and influencer Andrew Tate (who is now accused of human trafficking and held under arrest in Romania)
- He imposed a hellish work schedule on employees
- He fired some employees who criticized him publicly
- He banned remote work in the company
- He may have ordered his engineers to change the algorithm so that his tweets benefit from ungodly promotion on the platform (bypassing all of the platform’s filters)
- He keeps tweeting to this day about random stuff
Some may say that Musk’s behavior as head honcho of Twitter is not exactly stellar, what with all of his heavy tweeting about…stuff.
And there are several downsides to many of his actions since taking the helm of the Blue Bird, most of which revolve around scaring ad companies away. Many advertisers have paused their ad spending on Twitter since the company’s takeover, including but not limited to General Mills, Chipotle, and United Airlines.
Even monetizing Twitter Blue has a massive downside, which has already made its mark on the platform – it eliminates content curation. Before the monetization, Twitter Blue was assigned only to verified individuals, and no one doubted their identities.
After monetization, anyone can create an account and pay for it to be verified, effectively gaining artificial trustworthiness from users. Content curation is at its lowest now as a result. And ad companies don’t like this one bit.
But that may not matter at all if the company manages to convince enough people to pay for Twitter Blue, which is exactly what Musk wants.
However, his erratic behavior on the platform and controversial acts don’t help the company one bit, and Twitter’s shareholders have already expressed their worries numerous times.
A Personal View of Twitter’s Financial Future
It seems to me that the major reason for Twitter’s lackluster financial history is its unhealthy focus on politics, back-and-forth debates, conflictual discussions, and overall “mature” content that ends up being more destructive than constructive.
The platform is a nest of extremist views, fake news publications, nutty ideologues, and aggressive pseudo-intellectuals that severely scare away ad companies.
And it’s quite clear that ad companies need a peaceful environment to thrive. Look at Facebook, for instance. When was the last time you heard anything controversial about the platform? Save for Mark Zuckerberg being a Reptilian, of course (you didn’t hear this from me)…
A perfect example of this is Donald Trump publicly criticizing Nordstrom 2017, an American luxury department store chain, for pulling out his daughter’s products from sale because of poor sales.
Even though Nordstrom didn’t quit Twitter, others in its place might have. And when other ad companies see these things happening, they simply avoid marketing anything on Twitter for fear of getting into controversial situations like this.
My guess is that Twitter’s financial future is grim as long as the platform is heavily focused on its “freedom of speech” angle and political atmosphere. But who knows, maybe all of the past CEOs simply did a bad job at monetizing the platform. Maybe Musk has a few aces up his sleeve.
That’s not to say that Twitter offering a place of free discussion and debate is a bad thing. Quite the opposite, in fact. But the fact still remains that this approach seems to not make a lot of money. In fact, it loses money big time.
It remains to be seen whether Musk will change things for the better or end up declaring bankruptcy, as he alluded to some time ago.
Either way, I’ll be here to cover every last bit of it. See you then!
- Statista – Annual marketing and sales costs of Meta Platforms from 2010 to 2022
- Business of Apps – Twitter Revenue and Usage Statistics
- Business of Apps – Facebook Revenue and Usage Statistics
- Business of Apps – Instagram Revenue and Usage Statistics
- Business of Apps – TikTok Revenue and Usage Statistics
- Statista – Net Income/Loss of Twitter from 2010 to 2021
- Whizcase – 111 Twitter Statistics in 2023 – User Data, Financials & Trends
- Statista – Worldwide Revenue of Twitter from 2010 to 2021
- Statista – Annual Revenue of Twitter from 2010 to 2021, by Segment
- Statista – Annual marketing and sales costs of Meta Platforms from 2010 to 2022
- Finances Online – 85 Twitter Statistics You Must Know: 2023 Market Share Analysis & Data
- Marketplace – How in the World Is Twitter Still Not Making Any Money?