As Twitter prepares to light the candle on its 10th birthday, the site is at somewhat of a crossroads.
Revenue-wise, Twitter is growing as an advertising platform. More businesses, small and large, are paying for Promoted Tweets. Major brands are taking advantage of exclusive ad units such as the branded hashtag emoji and First View.
Will McInnes, CMO at Twitter Marketing Partner Brandwatch, was really impressed with what Twitter has done on the advertising side:
Twitter has clearly got their game together on the commercial side. Their earnings announcement shows good financial results that make you feel proud. Achieving their revenue targets, successfully innovating with new formats on the commercial and advertising and marketing fronts is good news. The product is where Twitter needs to focus now as product innovation will be key to driving much-needed new users. Also, there’s a clear commitment to shareholders to build out the portfolio for marketers – they’ve zeroed in on that commitment, and I’m completely confident that they will do it.
However, many users find Twitter either too confusing or too much to keep up with. During its latest earnings conference call on Wednesday, CEO Jack Dorsey repeatedly talked about how he wants to emphasize the site’s real-time nature, but make it a more accessible platform:
We’re focused now on what Twitter does best, live. Twitter is live. Live commentary, live conversations, and live connections. Whether it’s breaking news, entertainment, sports, or everyday topics, hearing about and watching the live event unfold is the fastest way to understand the power of Twitter.
Twitter has always been considered a second screen for what’s happening in the world and we believe we can become the first screen for everything that’s happening right now. And by doing so, we believe we can build the planet’s largest daily connected audience.
Twitter faces a major problem: stagnant user growth. Twitter actually lost 2 million monthly active users in Q4 at a time when that figure should be skyrocketing up. For the advertising side to continue to grow, it stands to reason that Twitter needs an increasing amount of people to be advertised to. To be fair, the company noted in a letter to shareholders that the site has gained more users in early Q1 2016.
— Cory Johnson (@CoryTV) February 10, 2016
Unless you’ve been on Twitter for some time or know exactly who you want to follow, Twitter can be a lonely experience — full of speaking into a void and trying to engage with people who have thousands of accounts they’re following. Combined with a firehose of information, it’s easy to see why many people sign up, check Twitter out, then leave.
But what can Twitter do? In addition to focusing on still being live, Twitter has integrated new features to make the site more user-friendly, such as Moments and Show Me The Best Tweets First. The company is trying to balance the wishes of power users who have been on the site for nearly a decade with the casual users who currently lack engagement motivation.
Many users haven’t been a fan of a more algorithm-based timeline, as the raw flow of information is one of Twitter’s distinguishing features. Twitter announced Moments with a splash; Dorsey said that the tweet-curating feature has been successful so far:
Moments has proven to be a fantastic way to tell a story, so it’s a collection of tweets in chronological order. We’re seeing a lot of positive activity with Moments in the timeline and people tweeting Moments.
When a Moments is in a tweet, it’s opened with higher-than-average click-through, which is really awesome. So we want to focus a whole lot more energy on enabling people to tweet out Moments, but also more people to create these Moments as well. But it all goes back to that focus on the timeline and making the timeline better and better and better and better.
Louis Gray, the senior program manager of Google Analytics, has an idea. Gray notes that the constantly-live flow of tweets can be a “detriment” to people who aren’t ready for all of that information.
He acknowledges that the people who love the live stream of tweets aren’t really in the majority, and that a personalized experience would be a smart next step for Twitter:
So imagine you’re one of the millions of users of Twitter (or Facebook, etc.) who doesn’t check in every day. On the rare occasion you do visit, you’re not seeing a feed of updates from people who matter to you most. You’re instead seeing a feed of updates from people who post the most. And quantity rarely was quality. When your selling action to those most likely to leave your service is to give them something low quality and off topic, that’s a problem. And yet, for many services, that’s the default.
Twitter should be personal just for me. So should Facebook. And LinkedIn. And the web at large. And my phone and car and so on. If a dichotomy is set up between something that’s smart and personal against one that isn’t, I know I’m going to give the service a chance to give me a better experience — and if not, I should always be able to go back.
Readers: What could Twitter do to entice new and novice users?