I love Twitter. And I hate to see Twitter struggling. I’ve invested a lot of time and effort to reach my personal success with the help of Twitter.
But while the community on Twitter is awesome – and does hold some truly special qualities for participants unmatched by any other social platform, Twitter is a business – and as a business Twitter is in trouble. It shouldn’t be… but it is.
Twitter has been struggling to monetize its platform – that’s no secret. And as a business that means you’ve made mistakes – or you aren’t just there yet. At the same time, stories about Twitter’s upcoming death have been greatly exaggerated. As a social network and a communication platform, it is “too big to fail.” Everyone who is a member of the community knows, it’s thriving, it’s active, and it’s helpful.
That leads to a question – what the hell is going wrong with Twitter?
Let me answer this.
What Twitter is Doing Right
Before I get into what Twitter is doing wrong, I want to highlight what Twitter is doing right – you don’t get to where Twitter is without making a few right decisions on the way.
And while I do see a pretty clear path to final success for Twitter (and they aren’t taking it) – I want to make it abundantly clear that I adore Twitter – and I adore many of the clever business decisions they have made in the past.
Twitter has real-time built into its core – and that is a good thing. It distinguishes Twitter from any other social network out there as the only real-time source of information.
Twitter never started to mess with that – and I’m all for it. Being able to see real-time conversations the President of the US is having is still fascinating (whether you want to see them or not).
And just as they didn’t mess with the real-time part, they never messed with the 140 character limit – and that is also a good thing!
The 140 character limit is what defines Twitter – it makes it a network for tidbits of information. A network for the discovery of curated content – and a network that doesn’t eat your time because you have to come up with complete blog posts to take part.
And finally, Twitter remained relatively unfiltered – which is also important to the regular Twitter user. I’m not a fan of Donald Trump’s tirades – but being able to follow them on Twitter still, has a certain fascination.
In fact – unlike other social networks in the past (MySpace comes to mind), Twitter never messed up their communication system by diluting what makes Twitter… Twitter.
It may not sound like a lot, especially since most of what I listed above highlights actions Twitter didn’t take, but I see this as quite an achievement. Not messing up Twitter’s core by trying to turn it into a more shinier version of itself has a lot of merits.
Now that I have this out of the way, there are some features and aspects that Twitter should absolutely mess with to both improve the user experience – and its rating as a business.
The following is my idea of how Twitter could easily be turned into a money making business machine – one that it is still adored by its users!
Scratch and remove that “Twitter is what’s happening” claim and replace it with something meaningful
“Twitter is for news.”
That’s something that is often stated as the use case for Twitter. Twitter themselves claim to be for news – among other things. Their current idea for a tagline is:
“Twitter. It’s what’s happening.”
They highlight this claim with their current landing page for new users:
Well, while this seems like a bold claim at first – it’s not: What is happening now is over soon. And there are many other ways to stay up-to-date with what is now. It puts Twitter in direct competition with news outlets and yellow press media – and while it sure is part of what people are using Twitter for, … Twitter is and should be so much more!
If you are an avid Twitter user, think about what you are doing on Twitter. If Twitter was “just for news,” it would be a pretty empty place. It would just be people tweeting what is currently going on and the rest of the world reading.
But that is not happening. Instead, everyone reads, comments, reaches out to others, asks questions, reaches out to support lines of companies, makes jokes, makes political statements, …
For those who are active participants of the platform – 317 million monthly active users (and 100 million daily active users) are sending 500 million tweets a day – Twitter is definitely not “just for news.”
Twitter is not the New York Times. It’s where people discuss what’s in the Times… and in the Washington Post, on Fox News, ESPN, CNN, what is happening on Game of Thrones, … It is also where people discuss the concert they are going to tonight or the dinner event they are currently attending. And so on.
Here is what it really is about:
“Twitter is what’s important – for you, right now.”
I just came up with that – but hey, @Jack Dorsey, feel free to use this.
While this may seem like only a slight change, it’s not. It changes the whole market. It changes who they are selling ads to, it changes why companies would be buying ads. It changes the competition. And it changes their appeal to new users.
Twitter Is All About the Search Feature
What’s Twitter’s competition?
As a social network, we’ve always seen Twitter as competing with Facebook. It always seemed kind of natural, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are the stars of the early social network boom at least the only ones still remembered today – again, anyone here who remembers MySpace?
But should they be competing with Facebook? Should they go after the same market? Are they really in the same market?
Twitter, as a social network, is closer to Pinterest than it is to Facebook. My most used feature on Twitter is the search functionality. When something is important to me, all I need to know is its hashtag, and I can keep up-to-date. When I need support from a company, I search for their Twitter account and can contact them right away (and often get instant answers).
Just like on Pinterest, search has become the most important feature for Twitter for many, many users. But, while Twitter does have powerful search features for those who know how to use it, the average Twitter user probably doesn’t know that they exist.
Social Media Marketers often claim that to utilize Pinterest, you need to see it as a search engine – if that is true, then the reality is that Twitter should see itself as a search engine (at least partly).
But not just any search engine: A search engine that returns what is important to each and every user – right now.
A real-time search for important stuff. Important, to you, right now!
But search, while powerful when you want it to be, is sadly underutilized in Twitter’s activities. There is no easy to use front end for Twitter’s advanced search features, no utilization of it in the mobile app, no focus on what you can do with search in the onboarding of new users, no focus on the user experience.
Instead, Twitter seems to be overly focused on making slight changes to its newsfeed – without thinking about their core use case for registered users. If I’m following a sports event on Twitter, I couldn’t care less about my newsfeed.
Most Twitter users don’t give a damn about the “While you were away” section of the newsfeed – and if you’ve been a bit careless with who you follow, it’s probably broken anyway.
Fix search! It shouldn’t even be that hard. It’s a front-end problem, as the core functionality is already developed and has been for years.
Twitter Is All About Discovery
I said, just like Pinterest, Twitter is about search. Well, Pinterest has another very important aspect – and so does Twitter.
Pinterest is about Discovery: Need a new jacket? People go to Pinterest to find stuff that would suit them. Need an idea for your gardening endeavors? Pinterest has got you covered.
Pinterest has its core use case of being a place for idea discovery – “The World’s Catalog of Ideas.”
If Pinterest is the catalog of ideas – then Twitter is “the Catalog of People.” People that are important to you – and people that tweet important stuff for you.
As said, Twitter is what’s important – for you and right now!
That is why Donald Trump is so heavily invested in Twitter – he has understood (or maybe it was a lucky shot) that ranking high in the catalog of people is tremendously helpful if you want to make it as a politician.
But while we all know who Donald Trump and Elon Musk are, discovering users on Twitter is somewhat underdeveloped. Because getting recommendations on who to follow that are somehow meaningful to me is kind of impossible.
It shouldn’t be that hard of a problem to solve – and it wouldn’t need to mess with Twitter’s core functionality. From an algorithmic point of view making these recommendations can be done through analyzing the actions of the users – and other networks like Instagram or Facebook are already doing this.
Don’t just Offer the Same Ads as Everybody Else Does
Twitter, like most social networks, is trying to make most of its revenue through ad sales. But, contrary to all the others, it doesn’t seem to be able to make enough money of its’s advertising system. Why is that? Well, in my opinion there are a couple of reasons.
What companies is Twitter competing with regarding ad sales? Quick – state what comes to your mind first?
The first company that comes to mind is Facebook, right? Maybe LinkedIn?
What should also come to mind if you’ve been reading this article until now carefully is Pinterest. And Pinterest should be the only competition Twitter thinks about!
Why? Because Pinterest is successfully monetizing a discovery and search-based platform on a large scale. And Twitter is the same thing – with the added benefit of being real-time based.
However: That doesn’t mean Twitter should just copy the ads that Pinterest already offers and hope to find the same success.
In fact, all existing advertising systems on social platforms are pretty similar. For Twitter, that means Promoted Tweets, Promoted Accounts, Promoted Trends.
Pretty boring – and what I can have on every other social network as well.
They shouldn’t be, and Twitter has a chance to be different – and totally different at that. The key advantage is again: Real-time.
Twitter is mightily important because it has life discussions about events. The Superbowl is such an event – and we all know the value of Superbowl ads, right? Could this be leveraged for ad sales? High-value ad sales?
It should be – because event ads on Twitter should be worth a shitload of money, as you can see by the following example:
During the 2013 Superbowl there was a power outage – and while millions of viewers were left in the dark, Oreo tweeted this:
Power out? No problem. pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC
— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) 4. Februar 2013
The marketing value of this was so big that it left some people wondering if the power of this single Tweet was higher than that of a regular Superbowl ad.
That is the power that Twitter has in its hand and has to monetize.
What if Twitter would have event ads – that you could book for upcoming events. Payable by reach.
This is not a finished concept – but it is a reality that Twitter should have a Superbowl in ad sales almost every week. These aren’t the kind of ads that social media marketers like myself would be buying – we want laser focused ads payable by single leads.
These are the type of social media ads that Coca-Cola or Budweiser would buy. Or Red Bull. Or GoPro. Mercedes. …
And Twitter has millions of events to monetize. Think Football World Cup (anyone remembers #BraGer?), US Elections, Brexit, Olympics, conferences, marathons, …
The idea would be to introduce a class of ads that no other social network can offer. Event ads would also be scalable – small time marketers like myself could buy ads for … conferences for instance.
In a perfect world, Twitter would let event holders monetize their events by participating in the sales process – but that might just be me being wishful.
So is the situation in Twitter land really that dire? Is Twitter a dead man walking?
No, quite the contrary. Twitter is too important to disappear. Twitter isn’t just for news – Twitter is news, every day. A tweet by the president of the US currently causes articles on every news portal of the world – almost daily.
Those who are claiming that Twitter is dying completely underestimate the cultural importance Twitter has achieved for the world.
When was the last time Donald Trump shared something on Facebook?
The reason for this article is not that Twitter is dying – the reason for writing this was that I believe Twitter is on a good way. I believe Twitter only needs small adjustments to make it take off.
Twitter already has taken steps into the right direction in some aspects of this post. The “Moments” feature (although underutilized and not marketed enough) puts a strong focus on curation.
I look forward to a world with a thriving Twitter business.