Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey was digging deep at the company's San Francisco headquarters last week. At an emergency morale-boosting session, he urged staff to post messages on Twitter expressing their commitment to the embattled social networking firm.

"There is no other platform as powerful or as inspiring," one ad exec duly tweeted. "I want to say I was there," wrote another. Another posted a drawing showing how "your comfort zone" and "where the magic happens" are two distinct places.

Dorsey will need more than upbeat tweets to reboot the company as an internet darling. Its share price is in freefall, collapsing from US$69 ($106) two years ago to little more than US$16 today. There were hopes for a turnaround last October, when Dorsey - one of Twitter's founders and its first chief executive - returned to the top job. But his reappearance hasn't helped the share price: it is down more than 40 per cent since his return was confirmed.

Twitter has been through seven product heads in six years, and is failing to attract new users. Investors constantly compare it unfavourably with Facebook, Silicon Valley's most feted company.


Shareholders also worry that Dorsey may not be giving the problems his full attention because he is simultaneously overseeing the difficult birth of his second company, payments firm Square, where he is also chief executive.

Twitter now claims to have 320 million users every month, 79 per cent of them outside the US. But the numbers are not growing rapidly, and Dorsey has made user growth the key to his turnaround effort.

Facebook, by contrast, had 1.59 billion global users as of December 2015, but its closed, selective network is very different from Twitter's outward-facing publishing platform.

Adding to the pressure, many of Twitter's staff are based in Silicon Valley, where talent is highly prized and easily poached. Last week the shares lost 4 per cent when it emerged that four of the company's most senior executives were to leave. Product head Kevin Weil, engineering chief Alex Roetter, media head Katie Jacobs Stanton and HR chief Brian "Skip" Schipper are all said to be taking a break.

In an attempt to reassure staff and investors about the stability of the company, Dorsey tweeted his thanks to the four, saying, "They are absolutely amazing." He immediately handed their roles to two other executives, who would, he promised, be working "day and night" on the company's development.

Just days later, Twitter announced the appointment of new marketing chief Leslie Berland, whose job will rely on her ability to convince consumers and advertisers of Twitter's usefulness.

Some tech insiders think that will be a tough job. "I'm not very optimistic about Twitter," said one partner at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. "I think Twitter is on a slow decline, and I'm not necessarily sure what feature set they could bring out that's going to ramp up their user growth."

One Twitter backer said his investment was on its way to becoming part of the "furniture of the internet", like Wikipedia. That is not a compliment in Silicon Valley, where start-ups are obsessed with showing exponential growth and promise for future development.

- Guardian