Twitter in Crisis: 5 Things You Need To Know
Twitter stock hit its lowest point last week after Jack Dorsey’s earnings call confirmed user attrition and an year-over-year loss of $500 million dollars. While this is abysmal news for investors in Twitter, the tea leaves for marketing and communication professionals aren’t necessarily so grim.
In an essay on Slate, Will Oremus compares Twitter favorably to social platforms Facebook, Snapchat and Whatsapp, by pointing out that their utilities are quite different.
Facebook is primarily used for one-to-many messaging in closed circles, while Snapchat and Whatsapp are primarily used one-to-one (or possibly one-to-few). He describes Twitter: “Twitter is, at its core, a public forum for information, conversation, and ideas.”
Vox’s Timothy Lee writes that the utility that Twitter provides (sifting through large amounts of social data) is far more useful for someone in the media than a typical end user.
From the user perspective, Twitter remains as useful or as useless as it ever was. Twitter hasn’t substantatively changed to the end user (unless they used one of many deprecated third-party tools to access it). Twitter is a thing that exists in more or less the same state as most people know it.
As Gizmodo’s Kate Knibbs points out, Twitter isn’t in a death spiral because it’s not growing – it may just be going through a middle-age crisis.
As with most middle-age crises, something has to change. What I want to do in this piece is share five things that communication professionals and marketers should know about how Twitter’s poor financial performance may impact how they use the Twitter platform in the future.
1. Legacy users are the most reliable Twitter users
It makes intuitive sense that if user growth has stalled that legacy users constitute a large portion of Twitter users, and there is some research that reinforces that thought. Even bleaker than the growth statgnation reported in the Twitter quarterly number? A recent report by analytics firm 7Vine showcases the importance of long-time Twitter users even more suggesting that the number of US users of Twitter may have decreased by 33 percent from 2013-2015.
Takeaway for communication and marketing professionals: When considering Twitter in your social strategy and tactics, know that you are (most likely) preaching to the choir.
2. Platform changes are on the horizon
One of the biggest takeaways from Jack Dorsey’s earnings call (besides the financial and user numbers) were the proposed changes to the platform. Here’s a synopsis of a few notable changes:
Changing the .@replies and @replies features
Presumably to take away some of the idiosyncratic aspects of the network that many people find confusing, Dorsey stated that Twitter would change this feature to make communicating directly with people (and directly with people but visible to all) easier to do.
Another feature Twitter just introduced is the capability to see the “most popular” Tweets in your stream first (this is a euphemism for filtering similar to Facebook). This “show me the best Tweets first” filtering is currently an opt-in feature available for desktop, iOS and Android.
Filtering objectionable content
Twitter recently formed the “Twitter Trust and Safety Council” which solicits input from 40 advocacy groups to filter objectionable material from Twitter and to make users feel safer to use the platform.
Longer tweets and miscellanea
There are also some other features that Twitter will likely roll out this year but weren’t mentioned promimently, including long-form Tweets, Twitter camera and Q&A.
Takeaway for communication and marketing professionals:Twitter is acting quickly to improve and/or their features to improve and/or change the perception of their investors. It’s incumbent for communication and marketing professionals to understand these changes and how they will impact current Twitter tactics and strategy.
3. Perception changes may be on the horizon
Lost in some of the earnings coverage of Twitter was an anti-defamation lawsuit brought by actor James Woods against an anonymous Twitter user who intimated that Woods used illegal drugs. The court ruling in Woods’ favor may force Twitter to reveal the identity of the user, calling into question perceived anonymity on the platform.
Takeaway for communication and marketing professionals: If public perception of Twitter anonymity changes, it may be interesting to understand if that diminishes the user population in the future.
4. There is no clear replacement for Twitter (today)
To Will Oremus’ point about Twitter’s unique utility: there isn’t an evident replacement for Twitter. Facebook is a series of closed networks, Google Plus doesn’t have the user demographics to generate consistent conversation around niche and trending topics, on down the list of not-quite-right substitutes.
To Timothy Lee’s point, Twitter’s social utility to the media doesn’t seem portable to any other network (you could also say the same for social customer care, where themajority of users prefer interaction on Twitter).
Takeaway for communication and marketing professionals: There isn’t an evident substitute for Twitter’s utility, but there could be. It’s important not to overreact to the articles (and conversations tagged #RIPTwitter) that anticipate Twitter’s demise due to their stock price. It’s also important to be viligant when Twitter’s features (such as one-to-many open conversations, trending topics, live conversations) port to other platforms.
5. Twitter still has some demographic quirks
Assuming that Pew Internet’s research is consistent with Twitter and 7Vine’s data, there are some unique demographic quirks to Twitter that aren’t seen in other social platforms. For one, Twitter is far more widely used by black and hispanic Internet users than by white Internet users. Also, men are slightly more likely to use the network than women.
Takeaway for communication and marketing professionals: Twitter is still a useful way to reach some Internet users, but it will be interesting to note what demographic data looks like if 7Vine’s attrition data is as stark as they assert.
Conclusion: Communications pros and marketers need to keep their finger on Twitter’s pulse
There are at least 10 pending or recently implemented changes to Twitter cited in this post (I’m sure that there are many more in the works). Jack Dorsey also stated that Twitter intends to invest heavily in Periscope, the live video app that is probably the best in a class of applications with limited utility.
For now, Twitter remains more or less the same as it has always been – a microblogging site with some bells and whistles (Vine, Periscope, etc.). It is also a company under immense financial pressure to perform. Because of this, marketers and communication professionals who rely on Twitter need to insure that Twitter continues to serve their business interests as they make changes to pursue their own.
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