Twitter has been struggling lately. It's been battling flat user growth, declining profits, an executive exodus and generally bad PR -- especially around its handling of abuse. Many have speculated for months that Twitter should just sell itself. And, if the rumor mill is to be believed, the company is indeed looking for ways to make that happen. According to reports from CNBC, TechCrunch and Bloomberg, the social media giant is in the crosshairs of at least five suitors: Google, Salesforce, Microsoft, Verizon and Disney. Here's a look at all five -- plus one we came up with ourselves -- to see what a Twitter acquisition could do for them.
Even though Google is a titan in many fields -- search, mobile and maps, among others -- it hasn't done so well in social. Its first attempt was Orkut, which faded into obscurity despite some isolated popularity in Brazil. There was Wave, a real-time messaging platform that was so confusing the project flatlined almost as soon as it launched. There's also Buzz, a now-discontinued social network which integrated directly with Gmail -- a move that unfortunately resulted in users being able to see their friends' and families' email contacts.
And, of course, there's Google+, the company's most notable attempt yet at a becoming a social network. But even that has proved something of a disappointment. It doesn't help that tactics like forcing everyone to use it for other Google services have been alienating for some. Today, many of its features feel more disconnected than they used to. Google Plus is now a place for discussion groups than a traditional social network.
Basically, then, for Google to acquire Twitter, which already has over 313 million users, would be an instant boon. It would give the search giant the social cred it's been chasing for so many years. Plus, Google has a little something called YouTube to help Twitter with its video streaming ambitions.
Image credit: Robert Galbraith / Reuters
Out of all the companies whose names have been floated as possible suitors, the unlikeliest is probably SalesForce. Known mostly for customer-relations management software, it's decidedly enterprise-focused. At first blush, its interest in Twitter seems odd.
Yet it might not be. SalesForce already tried and failed to buy LinkedIn (Microsoft was the winner in that particular contest), so it would seem the company has long wanted to cash in on social. Plus, one of the features of its software is a plug-in that tracks mentions of brands on social media. SalesForce could leverage Twitter's role as a customer communications tool to boost its own sales-and-marketing arsenal.
Microsoft has never done particularly well at social. In 2011 it launched So.cl, a "search-based social network" that lets you share search results with friends, but it's been unpopular, to say the least. Aside from that, most of the company's investment in this space has been through acquisitions. A few years ago, it bought Yammer (a sort of Twitter for business), and it picked up LinkedIn earlier this year. Microsoft also tried and failed to buy Facebook back when it was a startup, but that obviously didn't go as planned.
Acquiring Twitter would be the easiest and fastest way to make headway in social, but for Microsoft the deal would mean more than that. Despite a string of well-reviewed products like the Surface Book that have helped get consumers excited about Microsoft, the company may still seem stodgy to some, especially compared with younger rivals like Google and Facebook. Though Twitter itself is now a large, publicly traded company that doesn't necessarily know what it's doing, its user base is at least younger and more media savvy than Microsoft's. That might be just what Satya Nadella and co. are looking for.
If you think Verizon is just a plain old wireless carrier, you have it wrong. The company has had its sights set on the media space for a while now. Last year it bought AOL (Engadget's parent company), and a few months ago it announced its intention to buy Yahoo. (The purchase isn't set to close until 2017.) Both deals were made in the name of increasing Verizon's advertising portfolio.
And, seeing as Twitter is a pretty big media company in its own right -- it's often the place to go for breaking news, and the company has recently made a push around livestreaming -- it could fit right into Verizon's video ambitions. Plus, let's not forget that Twitter is yet another source for advertising revenue. With all of these companies under one umbrella, Verizon might have enough ammo to compete against the likes of Google and Facebook.
Another strange potential bedfellow in this Twitter acquisition rumorfest is Disney. To be fair, CEO Jack Dorsey is on Disney's board, so they're already friendly enough that getting early-stage discussions off the ground may have been easier than it would have otherwise. Also, Disney owns several media entities like ABC and ESPN, so having Twitter would be great as an in-house marketing tool.
The issue here is that Twitter is also used by its rivals -- you know, Fox, CNN, Comcast, and every other brand on earth -- and those companies might not feel so great having their engagement analytics in the hands of the competition. Twitter's poor history of handling abuse complaints might not sit well with Disney's squeaky-clean image either.
Fantasy pick: Amazon
While Amazon wasn't named as a potential buyer, a Twitter acquisition would make some sense for the Seattle-based company. Sure, it's largely known as an e-tailer, but Amazon has shown it isn't afraid to experiment. It's dabbled in hardware -- the Kindle and Echo come to mind -- and it's making a strong play in video streaming too. And that video isn't limited to just Prime subscribers: Amazon is also dabbling in live video after acquiring Twitch two years ago. Buying Twitter would provide yet another live vertical for Amazon and, of course, access to one of the world's largest social networks. It might seem odd, but Amazon isn't a normal company. And lest you forget, CEO Jeff Bezos already owns the Washington Post, indicating he might well have media mogul aspirations.
Regardless of who ends up owning Twitter, it seems clear that somebody will eventually need to buy it, if only to keep it alive. On Monday, Twitter was the place on the internet to congregate during the US presidential debate. It was a firestorm of heated commentary -- lively, interactive and emotional. It is this quality that has made Twitter such an effective launchpad for political movements like the Arab Spring. The company might have problems making money and gaining users, but its value to modern society is clear. Let's hope somebody can keep it going.