$TWTR trended upwards almost 2 percentage points Friday following a late-night tweet from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer saying he’d amassed 4 percent of the social media company’s outstanding shares.
Ballmer, whose Twitter page says he lives in Washington state, sent the tweet at 10:13 p.m. Pacific time. It was posted on a new account that was not verified as of Friday morning, creating some confusion in the media and among investors. The former Microsoft CEO already had two Twitter accounts, @stevebmicrosoft and @clippersteveb, where he’d share thoughts on the Los Angeles Clippers, the professional basketball team he purchased in 2014. Ballmer had promoted the new account on his existing accounts in recent, which gave journalists more confidence that the account was real.
By day’s end, Twitter had verified @Steven_Ballmer, putting the blue check next to his name that lets investors and the public know that it’s really him — or at least someone authorized to tweet in his name.
(It’s too bad Twitter didn’t save him some characters and make him @Ballmer, which someone created in 2008 and has never used. @Ballmer would be a pretty baller Twitter handle for a basketball team owner.)
The technology billionaire’s announcement of his investment, which totals roughly $800 million, amounted to an endorsement of the direction Twitter has taken lately. In recent months, the company has named Jack Dorsey the permanent CEO and laid off 8 percent of its staff, after a summer that saw Twitter stock drop below the price of its initial public offering in November 2013.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment on Ballmer’s new account or his reported stock purchase. A company representative told Marketwatch that the Securities and Exchange Commission only notifies them if someone owns more than 5 percent of Twitter’s shares.
Ballmer’s purchases make him the third-biggest individual shareholder in Twitter, as Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal report. Company co-founder Evan Williams owns 6.8 percent of the company, while Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal owns more than 5 percent. Dorsey holds 3 percent.
It remains to be seen whether the investment will ultimately be wise for Ballmer. If Twitter’s new Moments product and the renewed focus on Dorsey attract and retain more users, Ballmer’s investment could pay off in the long run.
But the former Microsoft CEO’s judgment on consumer and social technology hasn’t always been rock-solid. While Ballmer increased Microsoft’s revenues and maintained its dominance over enterprise productivity software and operating systems, he badly misjudged the iPhone’s potential to reinvent mobile computing. Microsoft made an early investment in Facebook in 2007 that performed, but the companies have ended up parting ways in the years since, after integrating their search and social products.
Microsoft also acquired Yammer for over $1 billion in 2012, while Ballmer was CEO. Yammer makes social messaging software for businesses that feels not unlike “Twitter for Business.” In the years since, Slack has come along and eaten Yammer’s lunch in many ways, with businesses and media companies — including The Huffington Post –rapidly adopting the platform.
Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia did not move the needle on the company’s share of global smartphone market, and eventually led to thousands of layoffs under Ballmer’s successor, Satya Nadella. Nadella has since reinvigorated the company’s fortunes with Windows 10, improved tablets, its first laptop and continued investment in cloud computing.
It’s not clear what influence Ballmer will have on Twitter, as Kara Swisher observed, but it’s going to be interesting to see how or whether he uses his new account to express his thoughts on the platform.
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