There's been much written about the challenges faced by Twitter. User growth has remained flat while other platforms have advanced, and advertising revenue, likely as a result, has also been lower than expected. Twitter turned to co-founder Jack Dorsey for the position of CEO in an effort to re-invigorate the company, and thus far the results haven't shown any major progress, though Dorsey has outlined his key pillars of focus for the platform moving forward.
- Refine and Simplify the Product
- Maximize Live Video
- Encourage More Creators to the Platform
- Ensure Users Feel Safe to Express Themselves
- Work with the Development Community
These are the core items that Twitter's identified as being most important in their efforts to re-awaken the platform and raise awareness of its benefits, and they've been busy working to bring focus to each in different ways.
On the first point, Twitter has today unveiled two new video ads in which they focus on the platform as the place to go to see what's happening in the world.
See what's happening - politics on Twitter.https://t.co/xaJo3PmYn5- Twitter (@twitter) July 25, 2016
They've also announced a change in their marketing approach, introducing "a new look and feel in our marketing that reflects the people around the world who make Twitter what it is, highlighting the diversity and expressiveness in all its color and vibrancy".
So will these efforts work to promote more interest and action on Twitter?
Ahead of this week's Q2 earnings announcement, here's a look at how the platform's currently tracking on each objective.
1. Refine and Simplify the Product
With user growth in decline, one of the main issues repeatedly noted by non-users has been that Twitter, as a platform, is confusing. @ names, hashtags and the constant flow of the Twitter stream (at a rate of 6,000 per second) can be overwhelming for those not in the know, and many simply don't bother trying to work it out.
To address this, Twitter's sought to highlight the best the platform has to offer.
Their first big move here was the introduction of 'Moments' in October last year, a new way to uncover the most relevant tweets on selected subjects.
Originally titled 'Project Lightning', Moments is curated by a team of editors within Twitter, enabling them to cut out the junk and trend-jackers in order to present a refined, clarified stream of tweets on a selected, trending topic.
It's an interesting addition, and it's been given prime placement within the Twitter interface, but thus far, Moments hasn't become a major driver of growth - in their most recent earnings announcement Twitter noted that Moments had driven a 6% increase in visitor time on site among non logged-in desktop users in the US, UK and Brazil. Which is growth, for sure, but relatively minor for such a significant addition.
In addition to Moments, Twitter's also sought to refine and simplify the Twitter experience by streamlining the actual tweet process and integrating outside functions. They're removing @ names from the character count when replying to tweets, changing the system so you'll no longer need to put a full stop before including an @ handle if you want everyone to see it, and they've also added a Periscope button into the tweet composition window to make it easier for people to "go live".
And whether you're a fan of these changes or not, all of them are functional and effective in making the Twitter process easier to understand and use. But at the same time, they're also relatively small, they're not shifting the needle in any significant way. Will they be enough to boost the platform and get more people into tweeting?
2. Maximize Live Video
Where Twitter's making it's most significant bets is in live video.
Live-streaming is fast becoming the new focal point for social platforms, and the new battleground for attention dominance. And while Facebook's making a big push with its own live-stream offering, Twitter, which got in first with Periscope, has signed a slew of new broadcast deals which they're hoping will help showcase the true value of Twitter's real-time stream.
The first major deal on this front came back in April when Twitter signed an agreement with the NFL to live-stream Thursday Night Football matches next season. That was obviously big news - and various groups, including Facebook, were reportedly in the running to win the rights to such coverage - but it also raised a question as to what live sports on Twitter might actually look like and how much benefit it would provide the platform.
We got our first look at this recently when Twitter hosted live-stream content from Wimbledon as part of a deal with ESPN.
Given the rise of second screening (a study last year found that 87% of consumers now use a second screen device when watching TV) and the real-time nature of Twitter, integrating the two makes sense, and Twitter's since announced a range of additional live TV partnerships, including deals to broadcast content from the NBA, MLB and NHL, all of which include at least some level of original programming that will air exclusively on Twitter.
This is a major element of Twitter's rejuvenation plans - possibly the biggest part of the process. If it works, Twitter will gain exposure to a whole new range of users in fans of these sports, which could help them showcase the platform's strengths and get more of these people to become regular users. And when you consider that these sports have a combined fan base of more than 52 million on Twitter, and 55 million on Facebook, you can see how that exclusive content could result in a huge amount of exposure for the platform. There's a lot riding on Twitter getting it right - which, ultimately, could result in Twitter becoming a much more significant consideration in your marketing plans.
But while there's clearly a massive shift towards mobile video consumption, TV still remains a major element in how we watch and interact with such content. The first platform to work out how to successfully integrate their live-stream broadcasts into our TV sets will be best placed to take their offering to the next level. And Twitter, through its exclusive content deals, may be as well placed as any to make a big step on this front.
This is the area you really need to watch.
3. Encourage More Creators to the Platform
This has been a particularly problematic area for Twitter. Earlier this month, reports circulated that Twitter-owned Vine has been struggling of late, with a slew of executive departures and many of the app's top creators moving on to newer platforms where they can reach bigger audience and, most importantly, find more significant monetization opportunities. Making things worse, Facebook's also reportedly been offering big contracts to Vine and YouTube creators to get them to broadcast exclusively on Facebook Live instead, with some prominent creators being paid up to $24,000 per video posted to Live.
And that push is definitely having an impact - as per Business Insider:
"Ray William Johnson, best known for his videos on YouTube, began promoting his Facebook page as a place to find "more videos" on YouTube in the description of a video posted in early May. Since then, Johnson has greatly reduced the amount of YouTube content that he posts, all while upping his posts on his Facebook Page to a near-daily rate. Johnson has not been active on Vine for some time now. His last post on the platform was at the end of January."
In order to stem the tide, Twitter's introduced a range of measures to better ingratiate themselves with their creative community, including improved Twitter/Vine profile integration, enabling users to display their Vine loops and connect to their Vine presence direct from Twitter.
They also recently announced longer Vines (up to 140 seconds in length), giving creators more of a canvas to work with in an effort to keep them from turning to other platforms to maximize their potential.
And on Twitter, they've brought in a new 'Engage' platform to help influential users keep track of their tweet mentions.
But it's in their monetization efforts where Twitter needs to put more focus. On this front, they're also introducing pre-roll ads on Vines with 70% of the revenue going back to creators. This is only one of various measures on this front, but it underlines Twitter's emphasis on maintaining ties with creators and keeping influential users on-platform.
This remains a problematic area for Twitter, particularly with bigger players lurking. If those other platforms can offer better reach and more opportunity for revenue generation, it'll be hard for Twitter to keep up. Driving audience growth and engagement is obviously their key to influencing interest in this regard.
4. Ensure Users Feel Safe to Express Themselves
One area that Twitter has been making moves on - or, at least, one that's been in the media spotlight of late - has been on trolls and harassment. As former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo noted back in February 2015, Twitter "sucks" at dealing with this problem, and it still remains a difficult challenge today.
But recently, Twitter took a very public, proactive step on this front. After actor Leslie Jones announced that she would be quitting the platform due to hateful comments she'd received - most notably stemming from controversial Brietbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulos - Twitter moved to act, with Jack Dorsey himself calling on Jones to get in touch with him to resolve the issue.
Evidently, Jones took Dorsey up on his offer, and shortly after, Yiannopoulos was permanently suspended from the platform. And while Yiannopoulos had a history of pushing the limits of Twitter's user agreement, he did have more than 338,000 followers on the platform at the time of his banning, so clearly there were some who agreed with - or were entertained by - his controversial comments.
The case is being held up as an example of Twitter finally working to address the issue of on platform abuse and bullying, regardless of a users' personal standing - or following, as it may be. In addition to the high profile suspension, Twitter also announced that it's upping its efforts to stamp out such behavior.
"We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it's happening and prevent repeat offenders. We have been in the process of reviewing our hateful conduct policy to prohibit additional types of abusive behavior and allow more types of reporting, with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted. We'll provide more details on those changes in the coming weeks."
In addition, some have suggested that Twitter's recent announcement that it's opening up verification process to more users may also be part of a wider scale effort to remove anonymity from the platform. If everyone on the platform was a verified user, with their personal information logged and attached to their presence, it'd likely reduce such attacks. Because your real name would be linked to those responses, your identity. There's nothing to suggest this is definitely the intention of the wider verification push, but Twitter is most definitely approving more users. Watch this space.
5. Work with the Development Community
Twitter's had a strained relationship with the dev community, but they are working to rectify this, providing new developer options and tools to better facilitate utilization of their platform.
But more importantly, at least from a general user perspective, Twitter's also working to implement their own apps and solutions that could, in effect, replace many third party tools and apps which have become more commonly used than Twitter itself.
For example, Twitter recently launched their new 'Dashboard' app to simplify the process of tracking keywords and responding to mentions.
The tool, similar to the aforementioned 'Engage' app (though more in-depth), helps users track key terms, schedule tweets and keep an eye on their analytics, all in one place - and natively within Twitter. Tools like this could enable Twitter to take back control of their data and platform, and through closer ties with the dev community, Twitter could develop better, more intuitive and intelligent features which may lead to more users coming to Twitter itself more often, as opposed to scheduling through a third-party app.
Facebook's taken a similar approach, making it more appealing for Page managers to post direct, as opposed to via third party platforms.
Now, that's only scratching the surface of how Twitter might benefit from closer ties with developer community, but you can see, through their existing relationships and recent upgrades, Twitter is working to facilitate better ways for dev terms to work with the platform.
Overall, Twitter still has a long way to go, and as noted, those live-stream broadcast deals remain the company's biggest upcoming bet. As such, this week's Q2 numbers might not reveal a lot - even if they're down, or relatively flat, which is what we'd expect, the live-stream partnerships haven't come into effect yet, so Twitter will still have that to fall back on to maintain investor confidence.
Can Twitter pull off a major shift through exclusive live-stream content? Do those early examples of the process give you enough assurance that Twitter's on the cusp of something big?
One thing that is certain, there's a lot of untapped value in tweets. How well Twitter can showcase them will be key to the next stage of the platform's journey.