The last 12 months have been trying times for Twitter. Disappointing stock performance, stagnant user growth and leadership shakeups are a few of the more noteworthy issues the social network has had combat; not to mention the seemingly bi-monthly negative reactions to questionable platform updates, which a large segment of passionate users simply do not want.
Earlier this month, #RIPTwitter made headlines and was the #1 trend for over a day per the BuzzFeed report of an impending algorithm update, from which Twitter would personalize users’ timelines based on what’s popular and other engagement signals (similar to Facebook). This would be a fundamental shift in the core functionality of Twitter’s timeline, which, for organic content, has been purely chronological.
The uproar forced Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to respond and refute the claim (somewhat). Although Dorsey’s comment about “we’re always listening” leads one to believe that the backlash did have some internal impact on what the original algorithm update was. The outcome of all this is now Best Tweets, which will be an optional feature that can be turned off, seemingly a compromise in appeasing hardcore Twitter users and investors looking for innovation.
Twitter has historically been where people voice opinions, get the latest news and participate in real-time cultural events with people from all over the world. The chronological timeline is what differentiates Twitter from Facebook. So, being a passionate Twitter user and digital marketing agency, there was a need to further examine what’s been happening and where the road ahead could lead.
It’s no doubt that the biggest issue Twitter has faced this past year is stagnant user growth. Since 2012, Twitter’s year-over-year growth among monthly active users has plummeted, and now the total active user base hovers just above 300 million (see graph below).
Source: Business Insider
Publicly-traded social networks live and die by user growth numbers, so it is not a fun topic of discussion on investor calls when year-over-year declines continue to be the headline, while competing social networks thrive. This lack of user growth directly correlates to the lack of growth in advertising investment potential, as scale and reach are key value propositions for any platform.
LACK OF ADVERTISING PRODUCT INNOVATION
Twitter’s active user base has hit a wall, which is likely impacting advertising investment growth and its bottom line. Got it. There’s still something that it should have been focusing on as an alternative priority to milk more dollars with the users it does have: continued advertising product innovation. In comparison to Twitter, Facebook’s advertising interface, targeting, and measurement capabilities are far more sophisticated, polished and effective. It’s not even close. And considering that Twitter’s ad interface is only a year or two younger than Facebook’s, there’s no excuse for the lack of sophistication and ongoing product innovation. It took them four years to give advertisers an ads editor to manage campaigns in bulk.
Meanwhile, Facebook is rolling out new advertising products left and right. From increasing the precision of targeting and audience data, to providing unique awareness lift metrics (Brand Recall), to further enhancing performance and integration with E-commerce, Facebook has dwarfed Twitter’s advertising product roll-outs, in terms of frequency and providing new value. The point is, all of these product and targeting enhancements Facebook is investing in are exciting for advertisers and incentivize advertisers to find additional dollars for tests. The same cannot be said for Twitter.
As mentioned earlier, the algorithm PR debacle was another indication that Twitter is having an identity crisis. Does it want to be a unique platform? Or does it want to be like Facebook? While the algorithm update and the expansion to a 10,000 character limit are Twitter’s attempts to make it wider-appealing to acquire new users, it’s not only being counterproductive to its loyal base, but also putting marketers in a pickle as to how they should leverage Twitter as an individual platform going forward (should these updates pan out). If Twitter updates its algorithm to be like Facebook and expands its character limit to be like Facebook, why would marketers put time and resources there?
Nina Hale, Inc. likes to look at the entire social ecosystem and determine the unique nuances of each social platform and align them to our clients’ businesses (vertical, priority audience segments, etc.). A component of this process is looking at the unique functionality of each platform and how the content and engagement approach should individually reflect it. So there could be a scenarios where, simply based on prioritization, Twitter gets severely de-prioritized or cut out of the mix all together if it removes the core elements which made it a different environment and community in the first place.
WHAT SHOULD MARKETERS BE THINKING ABOUT?
Brand and agency social teams should be paying attention to these developments if Twitter is currently a platform you’re investing content and/or paid dollars in. There does not need to be an immediate change in approach based on announcements or unconfirmed reports. But at the minimum, talk with the appropriate teams and partners about potential scenarios and what the approach would look like at a high level.
Additionally, keep a close eye on analytics to see if there is any fluctuation in performance data that might be attributed to a platform update. This way, you’re not relying on second-hand industry data to tell you what the likely impact might be.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR TWITTER?
The honest answer is, no one is quite certain. Perhaps, there will be another shift in the C-suite or a groundbreaking feature update or product roll-out that adds value to current users AND drives a boom in new user growth. One likely possibility to keep an eye on is a major acquisition by another giant tech company. Oracle? Google? Who knows. Wall Street has already predicted it. If that does happen, it’ll be #RIPTwitter in a whole different light.
Header image courtesy of Twitter