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Will Twitter IPO Hit Facebook Objections?

Douglas A. McIntyre

Twitter apparently will go public sometime early next year. Analysts have put its value at more than $10 billion. Twitter management and its bankers ought to be concerned that shares will be hit by the selling frenzy that greeted Facebook Inc. (FB), Zynga Inc. (ZNGA) and Groupon Inc. (GRPN) shortly after each went public. As the most recently generation of Web companies has shown, one tiny slip in the perceived reasons for success of an initial public offering (IPO) can drive its shares through the floor.

The expectations for the futures of Facebook, Groupon and Zynga were different enough from one another to demonstrate that no new business model is safe from harsh scrutiny. Facebook was banged because it did not figure out a way to make money on portable devices quickly enough. Zynga was beaten up because it relied too much on Facebook for distribution. Groupon was the victim of the perception that virtually any competitor with modest means could compete with it, and huge firms like Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) began to take advantage of the tiny barriers to entry in the online coupon market.

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Among the three, only Facebook has satisfied Wall Street enough with its results to create broad confidence it can do well. Lurking in the shadows are worries that its success with smartphone device advertising will be undercut by the low ad rates that smartphone marketing brings.

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Twitter's weakness has been obvious since shortly after the service began. It is hard to place advertising in feeds where messages can only be 140 characters. And ad messages on Twitter are easy to mock, just as any tweet is. The effort to criticize a marketing message takes a matter of seconds. The Twitter system often works against the building of brands and sales of products.

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Part of the reason that Twitter users can damage marketing efforts is that those users view the service as theirs. Of course, the system actually belongs to Twitter. Facebook has had the same problem. Once people spend hours and hours to establish identities and relationships, it is difficult to get the same people to admit they are only guests and not owners.

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Twitter has at least one huge wall of skepticism to face, and that has been enough to take several other new age IPOs under, probably permanently.

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