As we enter the last months of 2017, it's time to think about what's coming in the next year - and the best way to do that is with predictions.
Given that we follow the latest social trends and changes fairly closely, we feel we're pretty well placed to make some educated guesses as to where each platform is headed. This week, we'll be publishing our thoughts on what you can expect - we started with Facebook yesterday, and today, it's Twitter's turn under the microscope.
Here's what you can expect from Twitter in the next 12 months.
Twitter in 2017
Twitter's had another tough year in 2017.
Things started out pretty good, the platform registered a jump in monthly active users in Q1, and their efforts to boost engagement seemed on track. But their Q2 results failed to build upon those numbers, and the platform has also, once again, been caught up in controversy surrounding their inconsistent approach to enforcing platform rules, while additionally being investigated, along with Facebook, as part of the ongoing probe into role social media platforms played in the lead-up to the 2016 US President Election.
One of the biggest questions for Twitter stemming from the probe into political interference has been the prevalence of bots on the platform, with investigations finding huge networks of fake accounts – some in the hundreds of thousands – which have been tweeting and retweeting information to make it seem more popular, or to support, say, a certain political candidate, helping to amplify their messaging.
The impact of such bots is hard to definitively measure, but at such huge numbers, they clearly skew Twitter’s usage data. Thus far, Twitter’s generally shrugged off questions about bot activity - likely because any significant crackdown would see their reported user numbers take a big hit. But if the platform wants to better quantify ad dollars and encourage use, they may be better served acknowledging that they’ll never compete with Facebook on user counts, and working to eliminate more suspicious accounts in an effort to improve transparency.
Now, that’s probably easier said than done - and for their part, Twitter has introduced new measures to better detect and remove inauthentic accounts. But with the controversy surrounding their perceived inaction, Twitter may need to conduct a wide-scale investigation into bots, and implement tougher process for removing them from circulation.
Image Recognition-Triggered Ads
This one sort of went under the radar, but at an event to showcase their upcoming projects last November, Twitter outlined their plan for new image-recognition triggered ads, which could be activated by taking a photo of, say, a billboard and tweeting it. Once tweeted, Twitter’s AI would recognize the image and respond with a ‘reward’ for the tweet.
This type of fast, interactive advertising seems to fit perfectly into Twitter’s style, but we’ve seen almost nothing about them ever since.
Expect Twitter to make a move on this in early 2018 as they work to keep up with image-based advances from other platforms. As image-recognition becomes the norm, all platforms will need to introduce some level of similar capacity to move with consumption trends.
One area that Twitter does seem to have an advantage is in customer service, with various studies showing that Twitter is the social platform of choice for customer service-related queries.
With Facebook looking to make moves on that category with the development of bots, Twitter needs to be looking to improve their offerings on this front to maximize their advantage, and work to their strengths.
Twitter has added their own, bot-like tools and options, but there’s still more opportunity for Twitter to improve, and become the key platform for this type of interaction.
The fast-paced, public nature of tweets makes it the perfect avenue for such queries – if Twitter can better highlight and facilitate such, with improved tools and connection options, and increased awareness of the benefits, they may be able to grow this significant area of their business.
Twitter recently confirmed that the 16 live shows they announced back in May at their NewFronts event have received advertiser commitment and will all be produced, and Twitter will be keen to promote all of these new programs to boost the value of video for their ad partners.
As such, expect to see Twitter test out new ways to push video content to the fore. They’ve already tried adding alerts for happening live streams in the Explore tab and highlighting them on the sidebar on desktop, but Twitter will also likely look to better promote their video content to more users, with their new ‘Happening Now’ in-stream module likely a key starting point.
Feel the roar of the crowd, no matter where you are.— Twitter (@Twitter) October 10, 2017
We're rolling out a new way to see what's happening now, starting with sports in Available on Android and iOS starting today. https://t.co/lmBFCK4DG0 pic.twitter.com/cv4wL8hCxA
Raising awareness of the great content that’s present on Twitter has been a key challenge for the platform, one they haven’t mastered yet. Maybe the addition of a dedicated video tab in the app would help, in addition to the existing options.
However they do it, you can expect to be made more aware of real-time video content on Twitter in 2018, which could help boost the value of their video ad options.
Refining 280/Expanded Text in Tweets
I don’t know about Twitter’s 280 character tweets.
Originally, our constraint was 160 (limit of a text) minus username. But we noticed @biz got 1 more than @jack. For fairness, we chose 140. Now texts are unlimited. Also, we realize that 140 isn't fair—there are differences between languages. We're testing the limits. Hello 280!— Biz Stone (@biz) September 26, 2017
Twitter needs to try things, for sure, they need to explore new avenues and challenge their existing model to stimulate growth. But 280 character tweets make timelines look cluttered, and I’m not sure they add to the overall Twitter experience.
But then again, many others say they’ve come around to 280 characters, and that they do add to their usage – and really, the usage data itself will tell the tale. If more people tweet more often because they have more characters, Twitter will push it out to more users, which makes perfect sense.
But either way, I’m not sure 280 solves Twitter’s key issue.
One of the key usage behaviors Twitter seems to be looking to address was the expansion to 280 is the prevalence of people using screenshots of text to convey longer messages.
The expanded character count does that, to a degree, but still, most of those screenshots go beyond 280 anyway. Wouldn’t they be better served adding in a text option which automatically included scannable text as an image?
Or maybe they should consider their reportedly in development tweetstorm option, which automatically numbers longer passages of text for tweet-by-tweet consumption.
Both of those options seem better suited to the Twitter process.
As noted, the usage stats will decide, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Twitter rolls back their 280 experiment, and rolls out something else.
Twitter also needs to improve their algorithm targeting to ensure users are alerted to the content of most relevance to them.
They are getting better on this front, as reflected in their engagement stats, but there’s still some room for improvement, particularly in their Explore tab, where they recently introduced personalized topics (and Nuzzel-like popular articles in your network).
The topics and tweets included are still fairly broad, so it’s not an essential option as yet, but Twitter could look to implement a Reddit-style 'top tweets' approach to separate categories, which may help make it more relevant. They’ve sort of done this with Moments, but there needs to be something more to make Explore a truly essential reference point.
This is almost a perennial question now, but you can bet that if Twitter’s numbers don’t start to show any significant improvement, there’ll be renewed talk about potential suitors for the platform.
They may not have as many interested buyers as they once would have, but Twitter's still a cultural force, with a heap of audience data.
The numbers will dictate the tale, but if Twitter’s not seeing an uptick mid next year, expect calls for a new CEO, and maybe new ownership entirely.
And maybe, at a lower price point, it might actually happen this time.
Overall, Twitter's future doesn't look overly optimistic at this stage, but there's still a lot to like about the platform, and a lot of opportunity. Harnessing that into a functional business has been a challenge for the network, but they may still find a way. And Twitter remains a key platform of choice for many.
Tune in tomorrow when we take a look into the future for Instagram.