THE BLOG

Trouble at Twitter - Has This Bird Flown?

31/07/2015 11:36 BST | Updated 30/07/2016 10:59 BST

In a recent earnings call, Twitter interim CEO Jack Dorsey and CFO Anthony Noto revealed that, despite some impressive financial performance, their future might be in question.

The problem is, Twitter is struggling to attract new users. Noto even went so far as to advise investors that they should not expect any "meaningful" user growth "for a considerable amount of time."

Last quarter, Twitter attracted two million new users, bringing their total number of users to 304 million. On paper, those numbers may seem impressive, but this marks their smallest increase to date. Also, compare this to Facebook's 1.4 billion users, and suddenly the numbers might even be described as underwhelming.

What's gone wrong? According to Dorsey, Twitter's service has always been too complicated, and on the whole, most people still don't quite understand how to get any real value out of it.

Twitter is popular with celebrities, brands, activists, marketers, and anyone else who's taken the time to familiarise themselves with its unique properties. Yet, unlike Facebook, it's unlikely that your grandparents will be using Twitter any time soon.

Now, you'd be forgiven for thinking of this as a good thing. But in order for a social media platform to survive in our increasingly digital world, it might need to be accessible enough to attract your grandparents.

Investors apparently agree. Once Dorsey and Noto revealed that Twitter has stagnated, shares dropped by more than 10%.

This follows a long period of uncertainty over just who's in charge over at Twitter HQ. In June, CEO Dick Costolo stepped down. Jack Dorsey, who cofounded the platform, is acting as interim CEO.

His appointment, even if temporary, was intended to give their shares a lift. And though share prices soared in the hours before the conference call, Dorsey's candid revelations have seemingly caused investor confidence to fall to an all time low.

Twitter does have plans, though, not just to attract more followers, but also to make their service easier and more engaging to use:

  • Project Lightning, a new feature that's expected to go live this autumn, will allow users to follow live events through curated streams of tweets, photos, and videos
  • An algorithm change may display tweets in order of perceived relevance and value for the user, as opposed to the current reverse-chronological deluge
  • A revised marketing strategy to better communicate why anybody would want to use Twitter in the first place
  • A clear strategy to address the undeniable problem the platform has with trolls and harassment

While this all sounds very promising, no platform is too big to fail. Anybody who loves Twitter has likely engaged in a heated debate with a friend or relative who just doesn't see the point; and countless users have felt forced to flee Twitter in the wake of merciless harassment.

For those who see Twitter as pointless, and for those who think that the platform doesn't do enough to protect its users, these changes might be viewed as too little, too late.

But this does not mean that it's time to jump ship. A global audience of 304 million still offers a world of possibilities. Even if their growth has stalled, Twitter remains a genuinely engaging platform for any private users who know what they're doing; and it still has the potential to be a genuinely lucrative platform for businesses, brands, and marketers.

I'm reminded of two other social media platforms that once felt world-changing, but which now seem almost quaint - Google+ and MySpace. While Google+ is still used by a relatively small yet increasingly less dedicated global community, MySpace now feels like a relic from another age.

Will Twitter go the way of these one-time contenders? I doubt it. No platform that's used by both Beyoncé and One Direction can ever truly fade into obscurity; and a platform that arguably kickstarted the Arab Spring is more or less guaranteed a place in the history books.

It's just that, rather than the global behemoth it has the potential to be, Twitter might always remain a niche affair - embraced by millions, but misunderstood by most.

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