What would have been the first major consolidation between two social networking giants has failed to materialise, as Facebook’s attempts to woo Twitter with an all-stock offer fell on deaf ears.
Facebook’s valuation seems to have been the sticking point. But with neither company yet able to demonstrate that it can make money on a scale that matches its number of users, the outcome might not be a bad thing.
Facebook was tabling a $500m all-stock offer for Twitter. That might seem like a high watermark for a Web 2.0 firm, but apparently it was not enough for the micro-blogging site.
But could Twitter really look at itself in the mirror and justify a higher price, or even that price for that matter? After all, it is still without a revenue-generating business model. Plus its ability to send mini text messages ('Tweets') of 140 characters or less on the Internet or mobile phones is a clever idea but hardly rocket science, and certainly does not come with a natural money-making model.
However, putting a value on Twitter’s shares creates a big sticking point for privately held Facebook. Valuations are typically based on the company’s last transaction. In Facebook’s case it has reportedly been set at around $15bn, thanks largely to Microsoft’s $240m stake 13 months ago for greater advertising rights.
But with the economy spiralling into a downturn that figure might now seem to be exaggerated. To put it into perspective, Facebook’s valuation exceeds that of Yahoo and eBay, both of which are profitable business models although their valuations have dropped recently. Plus the valuations of these kinds of similar 'dot.com-esque' Internet firms have dropped substantially. Google has shed about two-thirds of its value, and News Corp, the parent firm of rival social networking site MySpace, is trading at a third of its 52-week high.
Facebook therefore seems intent on leveraging its $15bn valuation to flex its muscles and try to broker any kind of deal before it drops. But the first thing that Twitter’s management will probably have thought is whether or not the stock is actually worth $500m.
On face value, combining two of the world’s leading social networking sites seems like a perfect match. Facebook has its own basic Twitter-like features and Twitter lacks the more advanced social features of Facebook. Twitter also has innovation in certain areas like status update that Facebook can benefit from.
But on a corporate level a merger could be a mismatch. Twitter has yet to sketch out plans to monetise its blogging site. Revenue has always been an issue for Facebook and Twitter’s high SMS costs related to the delivery of its messages to mobile phones in some international markets does not really address that. One way to generate revenue is to target corporate users with some kind of value-added business messaging service.
However, Facebook has never stated its intention to address corporate business communications like its professional sibling LinkedIn. Facebook also seems keen to follow an advertising model whereas Twitter has never pursued this path nor indicated an interest in it.
Twitter would certainly be a nice addition to Facebook’s stable, but it is not necessarily going to take Facebook into new revenue-generating markets.
Rather than grab a company that has yet to make a cent, a bigger revenue opportunity for Facebook would be to either compete with or acquire LinkedIn.
However, the fear of Twitter falling into the hands of a rival like Google or Yahoo might well be enough to justify another swoop by Facebook at a later date.