Having recently celebrated its 10th birthday, it’s undeniable that Twitter has had a phenomenal impact on the marketing landscape. Yet concerns over Twitter’s future have been widely reported after a rough few months for the social media behemoth.
Last month co-founder and newly reinstated CEO Jack Dorsey admitted that two million users had left Twitter in the last quarter of 2015 and promised to fix its ‘broken windows and confusing parts’ that ‘inhibit usage and drive people away.’
So what are the reasons behind Twitter’s misfortunes, what does this all mean for brands and are Twitter’s days really numbered?
THE NEW ALGORITHM
In one of the biggest shifts in its history, Twitter recently changed its algorithm to serve content to users that is most relevant, rather than recent, in a bid to engage more users.
Whilst Twitter’s key point of differentiation is its timelines, surely going against its real time essence is counter-intuitive for the network? Well, the initial backlash was fierce from users, with #RIPTwitter trending globally following the announcement of the changes in February this year (although this has been abated somewhat with the opt-out function).
The implication for brands is big. Whilst the new algorithm does not discriminate between organic and paid content, to achieve genuine cut-through, companies must work harder to ensure that their content is hyper-relevant and engaging to customers, or risk it being lost. It will be interesting to see how the change plays out and how much more brands may have to spend to reach the top of the newsfeed with engaging content. It seems that forcing brands to sharpen the relevancy of their content is only a good thing for the industry.
Fortune recently summed it up well: ‘The most skilled marketers will still be able to generate organic attention on Twitter […] But those who can’t are going to have to pony up for better placement – which is totally sensible, since these are advertising-driven media companies.’
FROM 140 TO 10,000 CHARACTERS
Another major shift in Twitter’s evolution of late is the reported change from the traditional 140 to 10,000 character limit. In another effort to jump-start user engagement and growth from Jack Dorsey, the new plans were introduced as a response to users posting screen shots of longer content.
Many are saying that the change undermines another of Twitter’s defining features: its brevity. Is Twitter having an identity crisis and trying to morph into its big brother, Facebook?
Twitter reassures us that the extension in characters won’t change anything on the timeline itself. Users will still be able to see the traditional short tweets, only with an option to click and read more.
The good news for brands is that with more characters available, users are likely to spend more time on Twitter – translating as more opportunities to target them.
More characters also mean more data – brands will be able to discover more about their customers, their purchase journey and their preferences. And for those using Twitter as a customer service platform, queries from customers will be easier to resolve with more space available to communicate and a more direct line of communication.
There will also be greater implications for SEO for brands. More characters, means more opportunity to search within Twitter itself. Google has been testing tweets in mobile searches for a while and an increase in characters could seriously increase potential brand visibility.
Worth noting, is that brands will need to be wary of posting content that is too long and wordy and may risk putting users off. More doesn’t always mean better, Google still prefers quality.
FALLING SHARE PRICES
All of Twitter’s troubles have been against the background of falling share prices and lack of confidence from shareholders. After its IPO in 2013 and reports of the platform not succeeding in over taking Facebook – Twitter’s share prices fell to an all time low in January, with shareholders remaining cautious ever since.
A number of technical failures, outages and lack of faith around the ‘Moments’ addition, adding to stagnant user growth hasn’t painted a good picture for Twitter’s fortunes either and have negatively affected share prices.
Earlier in the year, Wall Street firm Mizuho Securities stated that: ‘Twitter has failed to communicate its value to the broader user base and has struggled with product execution in the past […]’ and clearly setting out what needs to be done to address this; ‘For us to get more constructive on the stock, we need to see sustained user growth, better product execution, and margin improvement.’
Things have been so bleak that there have also been rumours circulating about Twitter being brought by private equity and even News International. Whist share prices have stabilised recently, it is clear that Dorsey has a lot to do to stabilise the company and create a bright future for the phenomenon.
DON’T LOSE FAITH
Regardless of the maelstrom, Twitter is still one of the most popular social networks in the world, a phenomenon that has changed the way we communicate and remains at the forefront of real time sharing. Let’s not forget that 320 million global users is no small number; 500 million tweets are sent per day and 23% of all adults online use Twitter.
As Joshua Topolsky recently wrote in The New Yorker, to avoid a Twitter death, ‘The company just needs to find the right way to show the power of [its] connections to a bigger audience, and the value of that audience to advertisers and partners. Not a simple task, but for Twitter an unavoidable one.’
The general consensus amongst industry experts seems to be that if Twitter can resolve its significant managerial problems, stay relevant to new users and nail its advertising products then perhaps the next twelve months of its evolution will look rosier than the last.