In a road show video for institutional investors, senior Twitter executives are effusive. "There's an incredible leveling of the playing field that gives every voice the ability to echo around the world instantly," says Twitter CEO Dick Costolo in the video. "And that democratization of content creation and sharing, facilitates these connections."
Democratization of content? It's this kind of philsophizing that may explain why Twitter's IPO isn't resonating loudly. If eBay is a vast bazaar to hoard stuff; and Facebook is a utilitarian planner to track friends, Twitter can be an infuriating rant about everything and nothing, the serious to silly.
"I hated Twitter at first. I thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen," said Mark Schaefer, a social media consultant. "Then I realized it's a real-time, global brainstorming session," he said.
Navigating Twitter also isn't plug and play. "It's not intuitive like Facebook or YouTube," owned by Google, said Schaefer, author of "The Tao of Twitter." YouTube is about videos. Facebook is about preening in front of a digital mirror: "I'm being fabulous. Like at meee!"
But Twitter requires more effort. You have to say something. Witty. Terse and poetic even. And just showing up and being boring can actually cost you in followers dumping you. Crickey! And there's a distinct whiff of preciousness about Twitter. That the insidery platform is the domain of tech-savvy hipsters and millennials—with a
dissident Chinese artist and
POTUS thrown into the mix.
"Twitter is beloved by a much more connected person, who understands the pace of a real-time world," said Solis. "The experience you have on Twitter is what you make it. I don't follow people who tweet pictures of their food."
The social platform, of course, offers the allure of wooing more business and fans like Justin Bieber. If you could only embrace your inner ego and crack the darn code.
(Read more: On eve of expected IPO, Twitter has new top bird)
"Twitter is kind of the opposite of Facebook. It dominates among younger people, and it's hardly used at all among older people. Facebook is the other way around," Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter told CNBC on Monday. "I actually use the social media site to promote me as a brand," said Pachter, who has more than 36,000 Twitter followers. Not bad for a relatively unknown sell-side analyst.
And it's precisely Twitter's ability to explain its brand-building potential—and construct a narrative around such marketing opportunities—which will shape the company's profitability. The social messaging platform at its core is about connecting people with similar interests in real time—advertising's holy grail.
Twitter hopes to create a layered, mobile ecosystem of content creation, distribution and discovery among like-minded users. That's according to its S-1 filing, which is required to be a publicly listed company.
"People connected based on interest is incredibly valuable to advertisers," Altimeter Group's Solis said. "Twitter will be defined by its success in training the marketplace to understanding their value."
Twitter's business model is grounded in selling advertising to everyone from the big brands to small- to medium-sized businesses. So far portions of Madison Avenue have taken a nibble. But will the hoards on Main Street bite?