Twitter’s stock is at the highest it’s been in six months thanks to a bit of big news this afternoon: Cofounder Biz Stone is returning to Twitter after a six-year hiatus. In a post on Medium–yet another company he helped start–Stone explained that his role would be “to guide the company culture, that energy, that feeling.” (Sure!)
But what does his comeback mean for Twitter Inc. the company? In the long run, probably not that much. Twitter has been plagued by lagging user growth for many quarters, compounded by well-documented abuse on the platform, and, more recently, declining revenue. Over the past few months, the company has made a concerted effort to create a safer, kinder platform for users, both prospective and existing–but change has been slow to come, save for an unexpected growth spurt this past quarter.
Wall Street might be optimistic, at least in the short term, but we’re not convinced Stone’s return will make much of a dent. Here’s why:
His Role Feels A Little Undefined
It’s not clear what, exactly, Stone will be doing at Twitter. On Medium, he described his role as such:
My top focus will be to guide the company culture, that energy, that feeling. This is where Jack, and Twitter’s inestimable CMO, Leslie Berland, feel I can have the most powerful impact. It’s important that everyone understands the whole story of Twitter and each of our roles in that story. I’ll shape the experience internally so it’s also felt outside the company. More soon.
According to Recode, he’ll report to Berland and “help with internal communications and morale at the company.” At first blush, it sounds like Stone will be a kind of cheerleader. (When I reached out to Twitter, they directed me back to Stone’s blog post.) Twitter lost its diversity head and HR chief a few months back, but it doesn’t necessarily sound like Stone will have a hand in those initiatives. Company morale is important, but whatever he might do to lift spirits internally, it’s not immediately obvious how that translates into a net positive for Twitter as a business.
Were Things That Great When He Was There?
The problems Twitter now faces were on the horizon when Stone left, as evidenced, in part, by the company’s reluctance to disclose user numbers. Twitter didn’t have a good handle on its raison d’être, and the company had already undergone a series of management changes. In September 2011, Twitter finally showed its hand, revealing it had 100 million monthly active users. But of those people, only 60% actually tweeted; the other 40% had not tweeted once in the month prior.
Stone’s job, during his tenure, was to sell people on Twitter. Twitter’s continued struggle with user growth indicates that’s a job that still needs doing. Whether it’s a job Stone can still do–that is, if it falls under his purview–is another question.
After Stone left Twitter in 2011, he teamed up with fellow cofounder Evan Williams to head up an incubator called the Obvious Corporation, which gave way to Medium. In 2013, Stone took leave of Obvious to start yet another company, Jelly, which was initially branded as a visual Q&A app. Two years after Jelly made its debut, Stone relaunched the app in what he regrettably dubbed an “un-pivot.” A little over a year later, Jelly was acquired by Pinterest, and Stone joined the team as an adviser to cofounder Evan Sharp.
Stone is taking his talents back to Twitter barely two months after the acquisition, which makes you wonder if the decision was fueled by Jelly’s middling reception. Unlike Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who started Square after being ousted from Twitter, Stone hasn’t found the same success in his entrepreneurial efforts post-Twitter.
Snap, Instagram, And Facebook Still Exist
Twitter’s problems might not be new, but as Facebook’s growth shows no signs of letting up, and Snap continues to gain ground (a disappointing earnings report aside), it’s getting harder and harder to imagine how Twitter might broaden its role in the greater social media landscape. In his post, Stone wrote, “There’s something about the personality of a company that comes from the folks who start it. There’s a special feeling they bring with them.”
It’s true that getting the old band back together might boost morale. But the expectation that Stone’s return might infuse new energy into a company with Twitter’s baggage seems misguided, at best.