Twitter’s brand story needs to be greater than its technology

Twitter hopes a chief marketing officer will be its catalyst for user growth but the chosen marketer will need to eschew its previous focus on product over brand if it is to rediscover its reason for being.

After losing faith in technology’s ability to pull in new users, the pressure is now on marketing to prise the site from the product death cycle it has been locked in for the last 12 to 18 months. User growth in its latest quarter rose by less than one per cent, a statistic interim chief executive Jack Dorsey deemed “unacceptable”. When it comes to its track record of communicating with the masses, it’s self-evident that Twitter has done a poor job as today it is the social media whipping boy. Put simply, it has lost its reason for being.

So what’s a marketer to do? Should they simplify the jargon – the hashtags, retweets and so on – to make it a less daunting experience for new users, clarify how Twitter could be a relevant part of everyday life or do they copy its peers and try to let their high-profile users do the heavy lifting. It’s likely to be a mixture of all three and probably more that will all need to be grounded in the customer experience.

Whoever takes on CMO role needs to understand how to engage Twitter’s three distinct audience groups of inactive users, new users and active users so that any user experience changes chime with customer experience engagement. Customer experience is paramount to any marketing strategy. It’s the way the service is used and that experience is fundamentally more robust than any fabricated piece of advertising creative.

“There is a massive question-mark around the value of being on Twitter when there is a maelstrom of people’s tweets which are impossible to follow,” said Scott Mclean, co-founder and chief executive of The Intelligent Marketing Institute. “Equally there is a question of what is the point of tweeting when you have no sense of receiving any value from that tweet regardless as to whether it is a personal or business tweet. If no retweets or favourites then you have no clue. Unless Twitter can fix these user experience problems, it will continue to struggle.”

These issues were brought into sharp focus yesterday when The Drum asked its readers to tweet (naturally) their suggestions for the incoming marketer. Calls for more ad formats, more characters, more customisation features were among the more popular suggestions that could help Twitter identify some of the flashpoints it needs to address.

Everyone has heard of Twitter. Few people actually know how to use Twitter, according to agency experts who’ve put the social network through focus groups. It may have changed the way people communicate when it launched in 2006 but its expansion as a platform has been fuelled without a clear brand purpose. The decision to appoint a CMO signals Twitter executives recognise this need to pull its sprawling narrative together and possibly take the axe to those products that aren’t giving people value.

Daisy Seymour, director of international marketing at The Weather Channel, which has an army of over 1 million Twitter followers, urged her counterpart to channel the site’s ability to deliver filtered, relevant content into a proposition that talks up its usefulness. “Personalised and contextually relevant content is vital in attracting new and loyal users and this is what Twitter needs to focus on to drive user growth,” she added.

“Another way Twitter can increase its user figures is by ensuring that its advertising messages are not only applicable and unobtrusive, but helpful to the end user. The social media giant should also look to tailor its messaging for each consumer according to their location and interests; this will make the platform valuable to current and potential users.”

News, whether on politics or One Direction, along with discussing live events, have emerged as the main ways people use Twitter. It’s likely then, given the lengths Twitter has gone to trumpet both aspects in the past, that any future campaign will look to reflect the potency of those shared experiences to the masses.

More than half (59 per cent) of UK users in a Yougov and Newsworks survey said that they explicitly joined Twitter to follow news, while 35 per cent are more likely to come back to a website within a week compared to other social platforms. It may not be the new front page yet but there is something interesting in these behaviors terms of why people follow you and what they do afterwards.

“Twitter should be the front page of the internet,” said David Carr, planning director at DigitasLBi.

“They should be having conversations that say to people ‘if you want to know what’s happening’ then come to us and be in that flow of interesting content. I think that idea of flow could be interesting if they can properly articulate what it means for their users. You’ve got lots of brands at the moment trying to be enablers of content, services and notifications to a point where it’s almost annoying people. The smart brand, which could be Twitter, is almost the one that does less and filters that stuff out for people, acting as both enabler and filter.”

Twitter can make money from its users, as evidenced by international and US ad revenues up an impressive 75 per cent and 57 per cent in the quarter. The real problem is the sense that it has lost momentum and this has been interpreted by the market as a faltering business model devoid of a long-term plan. It amounts to what is a massive task ahead for the eventual CMO, who will need to look beyond commercial success and shareholder value to make Twitter more audience-centric.

Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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