Twitter has 271 million users who are active and logged in, but then there are many more visitors who never announce themselves. This is the biggest challenge facing CEO Dick Costolo, and he's not ruling out any changes, including potentially filtering what users see rather than serving them every message.
There are hundreds of millions of unlogged-in visitors, two to three times more than are registered, according to Costolo, who made the claim announcing his company’s results today.
The trick is how does he make money from a user who's just stopping by, and the answer already is having profound effects on how Twitter envisions its future as a potential media behemoth.
"We're in a position to reach the largest audience in the world and every person on the planet," Costolo said, a bold claim as his team goes up against Facebook with 1.32 billion identifiable users.
Still, Twitter is ubiquitous in media when it comes to sensational, political and cultural news. Costolo pointed out that big news events drive user involvement on Twitter—the World Cup, the downed plane in the Ukraine, NBA owner Donald Sterling, etc.
It's a level of real-time relevance that’s hard to match. And even if a person is not a regular user of Twitter, they likely have seen a tweet scroll on a news channel or embedded in an online story.
It's this type of reach that makes Twitter so appealing, though its prospects for advertising are tougher to crack.
"There are Twitter mentions and 'at handles' on every screen, so much more prominence than Facebook," said Gian Lavecchia, MEC’s managing partner of digital content marketing.
Costolo said Twitter for now is focused on building the best experience for these potential new users who come search and browse Twitter, but don't have their own accounts.
Ad revenue grew 129 percent year over year last quarter to $277 million. That was enough to silence critics of its users growth at least momentarily, but even Twitter has admitted that it can be hard to initiate new users who are sometimes confused by the geeky lingo of the service.
Costolo said his development team will "continue to improve the experience for logged-out unique visitors."
Twitter already has new profile pages that are more appealing for a visitor checking out a celebrity’s timeline, for instance, and the platform is virtually unrecognizable from its early text-based days. It has a more “media forward” design—videos, photos, gifs, Vines, etc.
Costolo said Twitter is still very much in a trial-minded phase.
He was asked today if Twitter would ever go with an algorithm like Facebook has, which only serves messages it thinks are most relevant. Right now, Twitter shows users every message sent by the people they follow.
“We’re not ruling out any kinds of changes,” Costolo said.
If messages were filtered, it would be a big change for brands used to showing up in all their followers’ timelines.
But changes could be in order because Twitter still has to find a way to get those masses of visitors to become active users, and it has already tinkered with experiences that deliver information to users with a few clicks.
During the World Cup, there was a hub that was easy for users to follow along with their favorite team and messages from players.
Twitter is focused on “delivering immediate value to new users when they come to the platform,” Costolo said.
And what exactly that all entails going forward will be intriguing to watch.