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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 October 31, 2014 17:47 GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers expect better economic growth and rising incomes in the coming months, pushing a measure of confidence to a seven-year high in October.
The University of Michigan says that its index of consumer sentiment rose to 86.9 from 84.6 in September. That's the highest since July 2007, five months before the Great Recession began. Still, the index regularly topped 90 before the downturn.
Richard Curtin, the survey's chief economist, says that almost six in ten of the respondents said the economy has improved recently, the highest proportion in more than 10 years.
The measure is the second this week to show consumer confidence has reached the highest level since the recession. Greater confidence and more hiring could lead to faster spending and healthier economic growth.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumer spending fell in September, the first decline since January, as shoppers took a breather after a big spending spree in August. Income growth posted the slowest gain this year.
The Commerce Department says consumer spending dropped 0.2 percent in September. Income edged up 0.2 percent in September, the smallest monthly gain since a flat reading last December.
The spending decline followed a big 0.5 percent increase in August. In September demand fell for durable goods such as autos and for nondurable goods, a drop that partially reflected falling prices for gasoline.
Spending is closely watched because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. Economists believe September will be a temporary pause as continued hiring gains pushing up spending and the overall economy in coming months.
NEW YORK (AP) -- The average price of gasoline in the U.S. hit $3 a gallon Friday, and should soon drop below the benchmark for the first time since December 2010.
The price at the pump fell 33 cents in October, thanks mainly to plunging oil prices, according to AAA.
Many exuberant drivers have taken to social media to post pictures of gas station signs with prices of $2.99 or lower. Drivers in South Carolina and Tennessee are paying the lowest prices, with an average of $2.75 a gallon.
Drivers in New York are paying the most in the continental U.S., at an average of $3.37. That's still 22 cents cheaper than a year ago.
Gasoline is cheaper than milk again. In September the national average price of milk was $3.73 per gallon.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Falling oil prices hardly seem to be bothering the two biggest U.S. oil companies, but things could get tougher in the coming months.
Exxon and Chevron leaned on strong performances from their refining operations to increase profits in the third quarter despite plummeting global oil prices.
The global price of oil fell 18 percent from the beginning of the quarter to the end, and it cost both companies. Revenue slipped at Exxon by 4 percent and at Chevron by 8 percent.
But low oil and natural gas prices make for low raw material costs -- and higher profit -- for refining and chemical operations, which turn oil and gas into fuels and chemicals. Profit at Exxon's refining and chemicals operations rose 38 percent compared with a year earlier, and Chevron's profit from its so-called downstream operations more than tripled.
Those results helped Exxon's overall earning rise 3 percent in the quarter to $8.07 billion. Chevron's earnings rose 13 percent to $5.59 billion.
NISSAN-AIR BAG RECALL
DETROIT (AP) -- Nissan says it's recalling more than 1,800 Infiniti SUVs in the U.S. for an air bag problem that could send shrapnel into the passenger compartment.
The recall covers the QX56 SUVs from 2013 and the QX80s from 2014. The company says inflators made by Takata Corp. were built with an incorrect outer baffle part. That can cause pressure to build up, and the inflators can rupture if driver's side air bags are deployed.
Nissan has no reports of injuries from the problem. It was discovered after General Motors recalled 33,000 Cruze compact cars for the same problem in June. The Infiniti recall is part of a larger global recall of 260,000 Nissans announced last week.
Takata says the recall is separate from another one affecting 8 million vehicles in the U.S.
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Inflation has crept higher in the 18 countries that use the euro but the rise to 0.4 percent in the year to October is unlikely to offer much relief to the European Central Bank as it tries to boost a weak economy.
The official figure released Friday was up from 0.3 percent the month before.
The European Central Bank is under pressure to give the eurozone another dose of stimulus measures in coming months because inflation is so low and growth so weak. There are fears the eurozone could even fall into outright deflation, a crippling downward price spiral.
Core inflation, a key measure because it excludes volatile food and energy prices, fell to 0.7 percent from 0.8 percent.
The bank's goal is to keep inflation just below 2 percent.
LONDON (AP) -- Royal Bank of Scotland, which is majority-owned by the U.K. government, has set aside 400 million pounds ($639 million) to cover potential fines arising from international investigations into alleged manipulation of foreign currency trading.
The total represents over half the 780 million pounds the bank earmarked for "conduct and litigation costs" in third-quarter earnings released Friday.
The results show the bank, which was bailed out by the government during the 2008 financial crisis, swung back to profit during the July-September period. Its net income of 896 million pounds follows an 828 million-pound loss last year.
CEO Ross McEwan says the bank knows it has "a long list of conduct and litigation issues to deal with and much, much more to do to restore our customers' trust in us."
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