Twitter's moment to prove Wall Street wrong?

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Twitter's all about moments. Its upcoming earnings report is the company's moment to showcase progress beyond user growth amid a market that is sensitive to the slightest failure.

The social media company reports earnings after the bell Wednesday. Wall Street is expecting Twitter to show earnings per share of 12 cents on revenue of $710 million, according to consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters. That's compared with 12 cents per share on $479 million in revenue for the same period in 2015.

Monthly active users, a key metric for many social media brands, are expected to hit 323.8 million, with 67.1 million in the U.S. and 256.6 million abroad, according to StreetAccount.

Though management has focused on user numbers, it may not be the narrative investors want to hear, said Scott Kessler, industry and equity research leader and senior analyst with S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"Monthly active users is not the best way to measure their success, yet that's one of the only user metrics they consistently provide," Kessler said. "It would be nice to get a sense of their perceived reach — mobile vs. desktop, their proprietary offerings. But it's very difficult."

The company has promised major changes to its namesake product to incentivize new users to create accounts and reinvigorate interest among idle tweeters. Indeed, Twitter's latest products, like a new timeline option announced Wednesday, focus not only on usership but engagement, on which the company has not traditionally released numbers.

In 23 countries, the company has rolled out an expanded version of Twitter.com for users who aren't signed in. And it expanded live broadcasting platform Periscope to replay within tweets.

But the pace of innovation isn't moving fast enough for some on Wall Street, including Scott Devitt, analyst at Stifel, who downgraded the stock on Feb. 1, comparing it to downtrodden tech names like Yahoo, Groupon and Zynga.

"Twitter is a product that has never fully developed into a sustainable public company due to either poor strategy, poor execution, or that it was never destined to be one," Devitt wrote in a research note, saying the company appeared to have a "limited sense of urgency."

Users, on the other hand, have reacted with vitriol at signs of changes in Twitter's timeline, with the term "RIP Twitter" trending last weekend after (now-debunked) rumors that Twitter would move away from its real-time focus.

While Twitter has a healthy reserve of cash on hand, it's unclear whether there are plans to return it to shareholders or plow it into new products or acquisitions.

"Private market valuations around the technology areas have collapsed over the last three to six months," Kessler said. "Wouldn't it make sense to capitalize on the opportunities that have arisen? That has to be yes. They haven't done any significant acquisitions since Periscope."

With shares hovering near their 52-week low, down 68 percent over the past year, the earnings report comes as CEO Jack Dorsey mounts an uneven start to his tenure.

Twitter has been rocked by turnover at the top, with departure of at least 20 senior executives since its initial public offering in November 2013, Goldman Sachs analyst Heath Terry wrote in a Jan. 26 research note.

The most recent departures, including the heads of engineering, product, human resources and video platform Vine, prompted Terry to slash Twitter's price target to $28 per share, below the $31 per share Thomson Reuters consensus.

Twitter needs to accelerate user growth: Pro
Twitter needs to accelerate user growth: Pro   

"While we continue to see value in Twitter as a platform significantly beyond its current $12 [billion] market value given its scale and user profile, the continuing management instability is likely to further delay the development of the technology and product that Twitter needs to drive user growth, engagement, and monetization," Terry wrote.

Dorsey himself has been adapting to the demands of leading two public companies — he also head of financial services firm Square. Though Dorsey is one of Twitter's founders, a less-than-full-time CEO may not be the ideal solution given its challenges, said RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney.

Ad-funded Twitter still lags behind Facebook when it comes to monetizing users, generating $1.60 per monthly active user, compared with $2.83 for Facebook, Mahaney said in a Jan. 10 earnings preview note.

It all comes while the stock market has trashed technology stocks that show any sign of tarnish, with companies like LinkedIn seeing a 46 percent stock plunge over the past week despite beating on the bottom line in its latest earnings release.

Though Twitter is a platform promising to tell users' stories in real time, Kessler said he's hoping to hear more of a long-term story when it comes to the company's strategy.

"I would imagine they are going to talk about the success of Super Bowl Sunday," Kessler said. "But they need to be more than tent-pole events that cause people to go to the platform a handful of times a year."

Watch: The COO of Twitter, Adam Bain, will appear on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" Thursday at 10 a.m. ET.