We need to talk about Twitter, and in particular, its latest efforts to increase monetization, and ramp up its development of new features and tools to incentivize popular users.
Over the past few months, Twitter has significantly accelerated its development velocity, with new features like Fleets, Twitter Blue, Super Follows, Spaces, Communities and more all coming in quick succession.
Twitter Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour recently lauded the efforts of his team on this front, crediting internal culture, and a new strategic vision, for its improvements. But the question here is ‘are these really improvements?’
Twitter’s trying a lot of things, for sure, and it needs to in order to maximize its potential - and there’s no denying that Twitter has dragged its feet on this front for too long. But are its experiments actually going to pay off?
And if they don’t, what then?
The most obvious case in point, of course, is Fleets, Twitter’s own take on the social Stories format which was essentially a worse version of Instagram or Snapchat Stories within the Twitter system.
Twitter launched Fleets for all users in November 2020, then shut it down last month, giving it less than a year of operation before pulling the pin. Which it should have done, and Twitter received some praise for having the courage to test something new, then admitting when it had failed.
But in the same vein, Twitter’s other experiments don’t really seem to be paying off either, and if Twitter’s going to stick with its approach, and shut them down too when they don’t produce, that could eventually paint a poor picture of its internal development processes, and the understanding of its executive team in regards to what works, and what doesn’t, in building the platform.
Today, TechCrunch has reported that another of Twitter’s experiments is also stumbling in its early stages, with its Super Follows creator subscriber offering only generating around $6000 in its first two weeks.
Super Follows is only available in the US and Canada right now, and two weeks is not an indicative enough time period to write it off as a failure, especially considering that creators will need time to formulate their paid subscription offerings in order to entice people to subscribe to them. But $6000 off the back of a product launch is not great, especially when you also consider that Twitter has over 37 million daily active users in the US.
At the minimum price point for Super Follows ($2.99), that would suggest that only 2 thousand users – or 0.005% of Twitter’s US user base – has subscribed to anyone in the app. And that’s at the most generous estimate.
There’s also Twitter Blue, its subscription add-on option which enables users to pay for additional features like tweet recall and new color options.
Twitter Blue is currently available in Australia and Canada, and we don’t have any stats on usage as yet, but the options on offer are not overly compelling, and it’ll be interesting to see whether people are willing to keep paying a monthly fee to access these new features (anecdotal sentiment seems to suggest that most subscribers found the features interesting, but not worth the extra cost).
And then you have Communities, its latest big push to expand tweet engagement, and maximize usage.
Twitter launched Communities last week, and again, we don’t have any definitive data on its performance as yet, but a quick look through the current communities on offer doesn’t suggest that it’s ‘taking off’ as yet.
The idea of Communities makes sense – people don’t always want to share their comments with all of their followers, so Communities provides a way to have more enclosed group discussion in the app.
But in practice, the process has some flaws.
For one, given that most regular Twitter users have already curated a list of people they want to hear from in their feeds, Communities doesn’t serve any significant purpose in keeping up to date with topics of interest. It could, of course, enable you to find new tweet discussions to join, which could expand your tweeting activity, but the invite-only process means you have to know someone already in a community to join, limiting your options on this front.
Twitter could remove the invite-only provision, but that would then open Communities up to every spammer and junk tweeter who feels like signing on, so there does need to be some vetting in place (already, giving every new member 5 invites is problematic in this respect).
But the biggest reason that Communities doesn’t seem to be catching on is engagement.
Prolific tweeters already have far more followers on their personal handles than they’ll reach within a Community, so tweeting exclusively to Communities, only to see less engagement, doesn’t seem like an overly appealing prospect.
Again, it’s still too early to say, but right now, it doesn’t seem like an ideal fit, and it could end up being another failed experiment for the platform.
What about Spaces?
Spaces, which latched onto the Clubhouse-led audio social trend, still seems to be showing some promise, and could still become a bigger element in the app, with the public nature of Twitter providing the best exposure potential of the current audio social platforms on offer.
But discovery remains an issue, and when you also see Clubhouse’s popularity in decline, it could be that audio streaming isn’t as big a game-changer as some had anticipated, and without adequate tools to highlight in-progress Spaces to every user, it’s hard to see Twitter making anything major out of the option, at least on a broad enough scale to the move its usage needle in any major way.
Of course, all of these tools are still being developed, and it could be that they all, eventually, gain enough cumulative traction to help Twitter boost its performance, and there are other experiments like Professional Profiles that show promise in their own ways.
But the question, as noted, is what happens if these new tools don’t catch on, which could be the key consideration in Twitter’s next shift.
Because while Beykpour overlooked this element in his reasons for Twitter’s increased development momentum, the real major motivator here is Twitter’s board, and a group of investors who forced their way onto it last year, in a bid to oust current CEO Jack Dorsey over concerns with his direction at the company.
Those board members, from Elliot Management Group, are not convinced that Dorsey, who also heads Square, is the right man to run Twitter, and they made a deal with Dorsey and Twitter’s management team last year on growth targets and momentum, which lead to Twitter’s renewed development focus, announced at its Analyst Day back in February.
If Dorsey and Co. don’t meet these targets, it’s fair to assume that changes are coming, and that could see the end of Twitter’s executive structure as we know it, and a whole raft of new changes coming to the platform.
So while ‘culture’ and other factors are playing a part in Twitter’s new development focus, the truth here is that Twitter needs at least some of these bets to pay off, otherwise it stands little chance of meeting these targets. And while it is on track now, and usage is steadily rising (particularly in developing markets), the risks for the platform are very real, and the initial response data is likely provoking concern in this respect.
But Twitter needs to experiment, it needs to test, it needs to try new things in order to maximize usage, while the broader ‘creator economy’ shift also forces its hand, in some respects, in attracting and maintaining creative talent.
The problem is, most of these additions are solutions looking for problems – they’re additional pieces in the Twitter puzzle which look like they should be there, but maybe, ultimately don’t fit.
There’s still much to come, and Twitter does have opportunity on several fronts. But it’ll be interesting to see just how many of these new projects gain traction, and what that means for those approving their launch.