COLOGNE, Germany—A year ago, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey pitched marketers on live video as being a key area of growth for the platform. Now, it appears that those ambitions have shifted slightly, likely due in some part to Amazon snagging the livestreaming rights to this year’s NFL games.
During a 30-minute talk with WPP CEO Martin Sorrell at Dmexco—the two-day digital marketing conferencing happening this week in Germany—Dorsey made multiple references to Twitter as a platform where any kind of content—text, photos, videos—can reach people with specific interests, seemingly downplaying the platform’s push into livestreaming.
One of the main topics Sorrell grilled Dorsey about during the keynote was why Twitter hasn’t achieved the same kind of momentum and advertiser interest that other tech companies have—namely the duopoly of Facebook and Google. In 2016, WPP spent $300 million with Twitter, but Sorrell expects to spend the same amount this year.
“Our clients would really like a third force,” Sorrell said. “They would like to even out, to balance out the digital ecosystem because Google and Facebook, according to most pundits, account for about 75 percent of digital advertising.”
“Our brand awareness around the world is unlike any other platform—the aspiration of our brand, what our brand stands for, is something that few companies or organizations have achieved,” Dorsey said.
The problem, he said, comes down to simplicity and finding the company’s focus. Dorsey said that narrowing the company’s focus over the past couple of years is paying off, primarily with the company’s move to start reporting daily active users. “That’s the leading indicator for how valuable we are to people and to the world,” he noted.
While platforms like Snapchat and Pinterest have eclipsed Twitter in number of active users, Dorsey played up two important aspects of Twitter: Its influential users and an open platform.
“I think a lot of people underestimate about us is the power of conversation, the power of the zeitgeist that we have on top of how people think and feel,” Dorsey said. “It’s not about these absolute numbers—it’s about the fact that you can actually go to Twitter and you can see what people actually think about what you just announced, the policies that you’ve taken down or put up.”
Shifted video strategy
Over the past couple of years, Twitter’s focus has increasingly moved towards video to increase the number of users and time spent. Twitter has also upped its live programming significantly through deals with the NFL, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed and more.
Sorrell said that live programming “has had a very significant impact,” for advertisers but Dorsey repeatedly tried to downplay video as the dominant format, instead focusing on Twitter as a source of information.
“The more that we can do to help people follow their interests in real time—whether it’s served with text or images or video or livestreams—the more relevant they’re going to be,” he said. “There is no other platform with the amount of selection and comprehensiveness that we have.”
Dorsey acknowledged that getting consumers to that information has been a challenge, and the company is using data science and machine learning to make it easier for users to find content on the platform. “It doesn’t matter if it’s text, an article, a video or a livestream. We should deliver what matters most to you in the moment with that content.”
The remarks are a departure from Dorsey’s talk last year when he strongly emphasized live video as a key area for growth. Since then, Amazon won streaming rights to this year’s NFL games.
Sorrell asked what Twitter’s relationship with Amazon will look like in terms of creating NFL content this year.
“Our strength is what people are thinking, what they’re feeling—in the cases where we can actually stream the content live right to our app, that’s awesome but it’s not necessary,” Dorsey said. “Even if the NFL for instance were to be broadcast somewhere else, like an Amazon, the conversation still happens on Twitter.”
Livestreams help Twitter “potentially reach people that a television screen wasn’t able to,” Dorsey said. “But we can’t optimize just for these live experiences … only a very small market could see something live. The whole world can see it after it happens and our job is to make sure that we show you what mattered.”
In terms of advertisers, Twitter’s historical lack of a focus has had an impact, too.
“We need to simplify it and differentiate it—it’s been a little too complicated for our advertisers to use in the past. We can make it a lot simpler.”
Another area of challenge is measurement as advertisers have increasingly demanded more metrics and stats to validate their campaigns, particularly with third-party measurement companies.
“We have not focused enough on ROI and measurement, so that is a big focus for us,” Dorsey said. “We want to make sure that every advertiser who comes to Twitter can see that it works.”
Sorrell spent a decent amount of the talk talking about President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter and the hot-button issue of Twitter’s accountability as a platform for free speech while also policing issues like fake news and extremist content.
Sorrell then asked Dorsey if Twitter is a technology company or a media company. “Every voice on Twitter is valuable to someone, it’s just a question about who values it.”
In regards to Trump, Dorsey noted that his tweets have been consistent since Trump created an account in 2009.
“I think it’s really important that we see how these leaders are thinking—not just government leaders but CEOs in organizations—so we can hold them accountable,” Dorsey said. “I would rather it be out there as fast as it can than let it be dark somewhere.”
Dorsey himself has taken to Twitter to speak out against Trump’s policies, most recently with DACA.
“Every issue of policy that comes up that we disagree with, I’m personally going to tweet about it, but the company does as well,” Dorsey said. “Even though we are listing his account as a microphone, it’s important that we hold our leaders to some kind of accountability.”