Twitter Needs a Product Renaissance to Get Out of Its Current Funk

Executive exodus raises questions around the ad industry

Headshot of Marty Swant

Twitter's had a rough go of things lately, capped off by a round of executive departures over the weekend. What does the San Francisco company need to regain momentum?

"Until some more drastic changes take place with the product, Twitter will continue to lose ad dollars from brands as they focus on Facebook, Google and even Pinterest and Snapchat," said Chris Tuff, director of business development and partnerships at 22squared. "It's time for Twitter's renaissance—I just hope they can find it in time."

Analyst Rebecca Lieb said Twitter is in the "unenviable position" of being always compared to Facebook. While Twitter is widely popular, she said it has a more limited audience and a more limited platform, which might never lead to the hockey-stick growth achieved by other platforms.

Lieb said Twitter needs to figure out how to graduate from merely playing a secondary role in campaigns.

"Twitter is also an important, or has become an important, adjunct to campaigns," she said. "One of the problems it is really struggling with is becoming the centerpiece. But it's almost always a supporting role: 'Let's do this campaign—and we'll give it a hashtag.'"

Last night, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took to his platform to confirm a Re/code report about the departures of the heads of product, engineering and human resources.


Then Jason Toff, the head of Twitter's social video app Vine, said he was leaving to help Google reach its virtual reality goals. Such news comes on the heels of a number of finance and product setbacks. Last week, Twitter suffered several temporary outages. Its stock price has plunged since Dorsey re-entered the role of CEO in October.

"Given the headwinds they've been facing, I think it's not surprising that people are leaving," Tuff said. 

"There's been a lot of swirl over there," Brian Kristofek, CEO at Upshot, said. "I hope these senior executive departures signify tension over some upcoming big bold move. Bold is what we expect from a brand like Twitter, as opposed to an incremental step like increasing the character count to 10,000."

To Kristofek's last point, earlier this month, Dorsey hinted at the possibility of dramatically expanding Twitter's standard character limit to beyond 140. It was just the latest move since he retook the Twitter helm last fall. For instance, in October, the tech player introduced a Moments channel to try to lure people who don't have an account on the social platform. And earlier this month, the company integrated its livestreaming app Periscope into Twitter feeds. 

"Twitter is both in the middle of repositioning itself in terms of its core offering and experimenting with where to go next," added Matt Lang, senior social media strategist at Rain. 

The company seems to be in the process of a number of shifts to put the 9-year-old platform on solid ground. According to a report from The New York Times, Twitter is also in the process of bringing on several new members to its board of directors. It's also reportedly getting ready to hire a new chief marketing officer.

At the same time, while investors and agency clients might have questions about Twitter's future based on the sudden departures, Tribal Worldwide North America president Rich Guest said it's too soon to accurately forecast its next steps.

Guest said he expects Twitter to remain an important social platform.

"I've always expected that there would be additional changes after Mr. Dorsey permanently settled into the CEO role and finalized a plan to revitalize the marketplace's confidence in Twitter," he said. "The key information will be what comes next. … Who will be hired as CMO? How will Twitter replace these departed executives?"

Twitter declined comment for this story beyond Dorsey's Sunday-night tweet.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.