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User Burnout Could Threaten Twitter's Prosperity
By Ryan Nakashima, AP Business Writer
AP File Photo: Megan Fox left nearly a million followers dangling when she checked out of Twitter in January, explaining that “Facebook is as much as I can handle.” Twitter burnout among celebrities, athletes and shameless self-promoters poses a risk to the company and its investors as Twitter Inc. prepares for its Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 initial public offering.
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- They loved it. Now they hate it.
A growing number of celebrities, athletes and self-promoters are burnt out and signing off of Twitter. Many have gotten overwhelmed.
Some people built big audiences on the short messaging service only to have their followers turn against them. Others complain that tweets that once drew lots of attention now get lost in the noise.
As Twitter Inc. prepares to go public this week, the company is selling potential investors on the idea that its user base of 232 million will continue to grow along with the 500 million tweets that are sent each day. The company's revenue depends on ads it inserts into the stream of messages.
But Wall Street could lose its big bet on social media if prolific tweeters lose their voice.
Evidence of Twitter burnout isn't hard to find. Just look at the celebrities who - at one time or another - have taken a break from the service. The long list includes everyone from Alec Baldwin to Miley Cyrus to "Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof.
Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt lamented "all the negativity" she saw on the service when she quit, temporarily, in July. Actress Megan Fox left nearly a million followers dangling when she checked out in January, explaining that "Facebook is as much as I can handle." Pop star John Mayer deleted his account in 2011, saying Twitter absorbed so much of his thinking, he couldn't write a song.
"I was a tweetaholic," he told students during a talk at the Berklee College of Music.
If Twitter turns off celebrities who have a financial incentive to stay in close contact with fans, how can the company prevent average users from becoming disenchanted?
For some users, Twitter tiredness sets in slowly. At first, they enjoy seeing their tweets of 140 characters or less bounce around the Web with retweets and favorites. But new connections soon get overwhelming. Obligation sets in - not only to post more, but to reply to followers and read their tweets.
Many users conclude that Twitter is a time-sucking seduction and turn away. One who calls herself patrilla$$$thrilla excitedly tweeted "first tweet, wocka wocka" just after she joined in July.
On Wednesday, 161 tweets and 27 followers later, the romance was over. She quit to "fully enjoy the little details in life I miss because I'm too busy here," she tweeted.
The cacophony creeps into everyday life. Twitter fanatics tweet from the dinner table, during a movie, in the bathroom, in bed. Vacations can seem like time wasted not tweeting.
The over-doers suffer from a "fear of missing out" (or FOMO), says Tom Edwards, vice president at themarketingarm, a Dallas-based advertising agency. "Managing our virtual personas, including all of the etiquette that comes with, can be tiresome, especially for those with large followings."
It happens -even to people who ought to know better. Just ask Gary Schirr, an assistant professor who teaches a course on social media at Radford University.
In August, while vacationing on a beach, Schirr felt a pang of withdrawal because he had stopped tweeting to his 70,000-plus followers. Then he saw an old condemned house about to be washed away and posted a photo to Facebook and Twitter. He felt relieved when the likes and retweets rolled in.
"You feel forgotten if you're not out there," he says. "It's another sign of addiction. You feel bad if you don't tweet."
Prolific tweeters stay engaged partly because there are real benefits to a big following, which usually requires tweeting a lot.
Journalists who have large Twitter followings have used them to land better-paying jobs because every click on stories can make more money for their new employer. Actors can land roles on TV or the movies if their digital audience is expected to tag along.
Matt Lewis, a columnist with The Week magazine, says his Twitter following is like "portable equity" that gave him an edge over more established writers earlier in his career. He's now got nearly 33,000 followers.
Even so, one of Lewis' more popular stories is titled "Why I hate Twitter." It goes into why the social network became, for him, "a dark place" overrun by "angry cynics and partisan cranks." He became demoralized by the criticism, but he couldn't pull himself away.
"It's also like a prison. You can't check out," he says.
Today, Lewis rarely interacts with his followers and hopes the service will come up with new ways to filter out the hate tweets. "Why should I be harassed if I look at my (at) button?" he says.
But he remains amazed at how Twitter has helped him reach new readers, and after some 67,000 tweets, he isn't giving it up.
Others find that as more people join the service, the deluge of tweets can drown out individual voices.
So says Bob Lefsetz, a music industry analyst who writes an email column titled the Lefsetz Letter.
Twitter, he wrote in July, is "toast." "Over. Done. History." His follower count isn't rising as quickly as before, although it's still a respectable 57,000-plus. And his tweets don't see as much action as in the past, which he attributes to too many people tweeting "too much irrelevant information."
"In the old days, I'd get 20 retweets. Now I'll get none," Lefsetz says. "It makes me not want to play."
Along with the potential for burnout, there's also the risk that Twitter becomes uncool to the younger generation, especially when services such as Pinterest and Instagram are a tap away.
Devon Powers, an assistant professor of communications at Drexel University, says many of her students have moved on to Snapchat. But there can still be pressure to keep up with the other services.
"There's all these new obligations to update and report and check in," she says. It can make dropping offline feel like a relief.
"If I get really busy, the first thing I stop doing is checking Twitter," she says. "I'm living my life. I'm not having a commentary about it."
Follow Ryan Nakashima on Twitter at https://twitter.com/rnakashi
More Business News
Last Update on August 21, 2014 07:34 GMT
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Asian stock markets were dampened by a weak China manufacturing survey Thursday. But Japan gained on the prospect of a stronger dollar after Fed minutes showed policymakers are leaning toward their first rate hike since the 2008 financial crisis.
Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.8 percent to 15,575.82 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 5,645.70. South Korea's Kospi sank 1.2 percent to 2,047.77 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.9 percent to 24,948.59. China's Shanghai Composite was down 0.7 percent to 2,225.44.
ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department today will report on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. In the previous week, more people applied for benefits, though the figure remained near pre-recession levels.
The Conference Board will issue its index of leading economic indicators for July. In June, the index, which is designed to predict the economy's future health, increased for a fifth straight month.
The National Association of Realtors will report on existing-home sales in July. In June, sales rose for a third straight month, lifting the figure to the highest level in eight months.
Freddie Mac reports on average U.S. mortgage rates for this week. Last week, the average for the 30-year loan slipped to 4.12 percent from 4.14 percent the previous week.
Also today, two big retailers report their quarterly financial results. Sears reports before the market opens. Gap reports after the closing bell.
HONG KONG (AP) -- A survey says Chinese factory activity expanded in August at a slower rate, suggesting the recovery in the world's No. 2 economy is losing momentum.
The HSBC preliminary purchasing managers' index fell to a three-month low of 50.3 from 51.7 in July.
The index is based on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 indicate contraction.
China's economy had been showing signs of revival after a slowdown, with growth edging higher to 7.5 percent in the April-June quarter. But the report on the country's vast manufacturing industry shows the recovery is uneven.
Communist leaders in Beijing have already unveiled small-scale stimulus to bolster growth. HSBC economists said "more policy support is needed to consolidate the recovery."
The final version of the survey is due Sep. 1.
BANK OF AMERICA-SETTLEMENT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Officials directly familiar with intense private negotiations have told The Associated Press that Bank of America has reached a record settlement of nearly $17 billion with the government. The aim is to resolve a federal investigation into the bank's role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis.
One of the officials, who spoke with The Associated Press said the bank will pay $9.65 billion in cash and provide consumer relief valued at $7 billion. The official spoke on grounds of anonymity because the settlement was not scheduled to be announced until Thursday at the earliest.
The deal is the largest settlement arising from the economic meltdown in which millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. It follows agreements in the last year with Citigroup for $7 billion and with JPMorgan Chase & Co. for $13 billion.
Like the Bank of America deal, those settlements were a mixture of hard cash and "credits" for various forms of consumer aid that the banks promised to provide in coming years.
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Warren Buffett's company has agreed to an $896,000 penalty for failing to give advance notice to l regulators about a December 2013 investment in wallboard maker USG Corp.
The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that Berkshire Hathaway Inc. should have notified the Justice Department before it converted $325 million of senior USG notes it held into 21.4 million shares of the company.
Because Berkshire was already a significant USG shareholder, antitrust laws required it to notify regulators because of the size of the deal. At the end of June, Berkshire held just over 39 million USG shares.
Berkshire did correct its initial filing after the USG investment and clarify that it should have notified officials. But regulators said Berkshire made a similar mistake six months earlier.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina lawmakers have approved legislation they say makes the state the nation's first to address decades of toxic water pollution from residue left behind by coal-burning electricity plants.
The General Assembly on Wednesday approved legislation addressing the problem unmasked six months ago when a coal ash spill from a Duke Energy plant coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge. The measure goes to Gov. Pat McCrory before becoming law.
Environmentalists say the legislation improved on earlier efforts, but didn't go far enough.
Lawmakers say the measure would reverse a Superior Court judge's ruling that Duke must take "immediate action" to eliminate groundwater contamination that crosses onto a neighboring property.
Environmental attorney Frank Holleman says that will allow Duke to study the problem indefinitely before starting cleanup.
ATLANTA (AP) -- Some customers of The UPS Store may have had their credit and debit card information exposed by a computer virus found on systems at 51 stores in 24 states.
A spokeswoman for UPS says the information includes names, card numbers and postal and email addresses from about 100,000 transactions between Jan. 20 and Aug. 11.
United Parcel Service Inc. said Wednesday that it was among U.S. retailers who got a Department of Homeland Security bulletin about the malware on July 31. The malware is not identified by current anti-virus software.
Spokeswoman Chelsea Lee says the company isn't aware of any fraud related to the attack.
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