LOS ANGELES – They loved it. Now they hate it.
A growing number of celebrities, athletes and self-promoters are burned out and signing off of Twitter. Many have become 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, it is selling potential investors on the idea that its 232 million-strong user base 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.
Twitter on Wednesday set a price of $26 per share for its initial public offering, which meant the company’s stock could begin trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. The price values Twitter at more than $18 billion and means it will raise $1.8 billion in the offering.
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 any songs. “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, she tweeted, to “fully enjoy the little details in life I miss because I’m too busy here.”
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 overdoers suffer from a “fear of missing out” (FOMO), said Tom Edwards, vice president at themarketingarm, a Dallas 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 said. “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, said his Twitter following is like “portable equity” that gave him an edge over more established writers earlier in his career. He now has 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 couldn’t pull himself away.
“It’s also like a prison. You can’t check out,” he said.
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 @ button?” he asked.
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.