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Twitter can't attract more tweeters to save its life

Even with all the attention from President Trump and Twitter's central role in politics, the social network wasn't able to convince more of us to start tweeting.

#Flatline.

That's the best way to describe Twitter's current status when it comes to convincing more people to join in. In its second-quarter earnings report (PDF) on Thursday, the social network said 328 million users log in at least once a month -- the same number as three months ago.

The tally is a dramatic drop in user growth from April, when Twitter counted 7 million more tweeters on its service, thanks, in part, to President Donald Trump's at-times controversial habit of tweeting out everything from his displeasure with his team to new policy decisions.

Twitter's total number of monthly active users remains stagnant at 328 million.

James Martin/CNET

Analysts expected Twitter to rope in at least 4 million new users, even though it trails far, far behind rival Facebook, which has more than 2 billion users

But there was no new "Trump bump" for Twitter. Investors weren't happy and the company's stock plunged as much as 13 percent, to about $16 a share.

It's not as if Twitter hasn't tried. CEO Jack Dorsey, who helped co-found the service in 2006, has been pouring energy and money into livestreaming. Twitter also underwent a redesign in June intended to make the platform faster and easier to use. That effort was met with mixed reaction. Some people complained user profile pictures now sit in a circle instead of a square.

Twitter has also said it's finally made "significant" progress toward curbing abusive behavior. It's now taking daily action on 10 times as many abusive accounts as it did last year. But many say that's too little too late after years of unchecked hate mobs attacking celebrities, politicians and anyone unfortunate enough to become a target.

Twitter's efforts obviously aren't enough to lure new users. Forrester Research analyst Jessica Liu said the efforts are "encouraging moves" but "they have been small and incremental and not significant enough to attract hordes of new users."

Gartner analyst Brian Blau said Twitter may not be adding people, but it does retain a loyal audience that's been key to its survival. The problem is that rivals like Facebook and Snapchat are working just as hard to win over users. "The prevailing thought here is that people are just interested in other social media properties," Blau said. "While Twitter has a solid user interface and still has some impact, its competitors aren't sitting still; they're also making changes."

Twitter has a two-pronged problem, says Erna Alfred Liousas, another analyst with Forrester. First, people who don't use the service "don't get it" for the most part and don't see a reason to try it. Second, the "Trump effect," coupled with harassment, could actually be keeping some people away. 

User growth might just have peaked on Twitter, says eMarketer analyst Paul Verna. He often struggles with following people on the platform. "There's got to be an easier way to manage the feed."  

During Thursday's earnings call with investors, Twitter executives avoided discussing the user growth problem in any detail. Instead, Dorsey and Chief Operating Officer Anthony Noto focused on Twitter's daily active user totals, which rose by 12 percent compared with this time last year.

But even that figure is disappointing, considering the company posted 14 percent daily user growth three months ago. More important, Twitter still doesn't disclose how many daily active users it has, making those figures even murkier to interpret.

Meanwhile, sales for the second quarter fell 5 percent from the same quarter a year ago to $574 million. (That beat Wall Street's modest projections of $537 million.) But investors clearly don't care about that. They want to see more people using Twitter.

First published July 27, 10:45 a.m. PT.
Update, 4:29 p.m.: Includes additional comments from analysts.

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