It’s been a rough few years for Twitter. The microblogging social media network has seen stagnant user growth, fierce competition from Snapchat and Facebook, and managerial musical chairs.
When co-founder Jack Dorsey returned in early 2016, stockholders thought that things would go back to normal. The excitement was short lived. Now in 2017, Twitter’s stock price continues to tumble, and not even the President’s incessant tweeting can help bolster the buzz.
Twitter appears to be spiraling to an early death. While nothing is guaranteed, there are a few red flags that could signal Twitter’s troubles.
Signs of Twitter’s Demise
- Slow Monthly Active User (MAU) Growth – One of the key metrics for any social media network is Monthly Active Users. Measuring a number of people on the service isn’t enough, you also have to measure a number of users that actually post on the site. In the most recent quarter, Twitter reported 319 million monthly active users, up about 0.6% from the previous quarter. Facebook, for comparison, has 483 million daily active users, Snapchat has 158 million daily active users and Instagram has roughly 600 million MAU.
- New Features, Minimal Results – Since Dorsey’s return, Twitter has tried its hand at several new changes to bring back the excitement. These include:
- Twitter Moments – a list of curated content by Twitter’s in-house team. The new feature had advertisements and initial buzz but was later de-emphasized in favor of a new “Explore” section on the app.
- Quality over recency – tweets in a user’s timeline are now sorted by highlights of tweets you missed “while you were away.” Twitter argued that this makes the timeline more interesting, while others saw it as complicating Twitter’s immediate or live aspect.
- Livestreaming – Twitter has been doubling down on their livestream investment, Periscope. But lately, Facebook has been eating away at their potential for livestreaming growth. Some of their major network partnerships have been snatched up, such as the NFL switching partnership to Amazon, instead.
- Major Layoffs and Leadership Changes – In October 2015, Twitter laid off up to 336 employees, which is roughly 8% of the workforce. The company has also seen numerous shifts with the board and top executives. Despite Dorsey’s permanent position as CEO, he is still splitting his time as CEO at Square, preventing him from assuming a lot of his managerial roles at Twitter.
How Twitter Can Improve
Despite the pessimism of investors and the general public, Twitter still has room to improve. And if it wants to survive, it’ll have to undergo some dramatic changes. Here are a few of our suggestions:
- Encourage better conversations – Twitter needs to do a better job at threading conversations. Currently, the system for a reply to a tweet differs between the mobile app and the website. Twitter needs to develop a way to make it easier to follow a back-and-forth interaction between users.
- Tweet length – The 140 character limit was designed for an era of SMS updates. It no longer has a place in today’s internet. Twitter should take a page out of Instagram’s decision to remove the square size limits. They have already removed limits for attached media, quoted tweets, and most recently, username handles.
- Dorsey needs to quit Square – Dorsey is still CEO at his other company, the credit card processing company. If Dorsey wants to assuage concerns of both investors and the Twitter workforce, he’ll need to take on the Twitter CEO’s responsibilities full-time.
- Remove spammers/ bots – Twitter has always had a problem with spam accounts and bots. While it has taken strides to eliminate thousands of fake accounts, Twitter will need to cultivate a more realistic, human environment.
- Better Curation and Context – There is a lot of noise on Twitter. Tens of thousands of tweets are sent every minute, and finding the ones that are worth your time would take too much energy. Machine Learning can help make sense of the noise, providing explanations for trending topics, and grouping similar tweets despite not sharing a common hashtag.
- Livestreaming – Facebook Live has been more popular and aggressive than Twitter’s Periscope. If Twitter is still serious about being the go-to place for live events, it will need to create more partnerships with professional content makers, or create more incentives to get people onboard.
- Sponsored Content and Ad-Free Paid Subscription – Twitter has had a tough time with profitability, and the best way around this might be to adopt a similar advertising strategy like Facebook or YouTube. Sponsored Tweets already exist, but they need to do a better job of providing value. It might even be worth exploring a paid subscription, perhaps at $5 a month, for users who do not want to see ads in their feeds.
- Audience – It’s about time that Twitter hit the mass market. To do that, it needs to determine who its audience is, and what they want. Do they want more celebrity followers or people who read the news? Currently, it’s not clear who Twitter is for. Once they can answer these questions, then they can move towards providing more content and features for users, and grow from there.
The Long Road Ahead
It won’t be easy for Twitter. Their next closest competitor, Snapchat, is already set to outpace their user growth. But even in their desperation, there is still value and potential in Twitter. Major cultural figures including artists, athletes, and political figures still take to Twitter to reach their audience. Twitter’s immediacy has catapulted national movements, including the #BlackLivesMatter protests and the Arab Spring Uprisings.
It’s still too early to tell how Twitter will make use of their livestreaming platform. Changes can be made, but it will take the same bold leadership and innovation that the company thrived on when it began.
Read our blog post on how brands are using Twitter for customer service, and the best practices for using it yourself.
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