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Where Twitter went wrong with Vine

Vine faces closure

Vine launched with much fanfare in 2013, heralded as the cornerstone of social innovation. But the fast moving digital world takes no prisoners, and failing to iterate leaves a product stale. As Twitter prepares to take Vine offline, The Drum explores how such a promising product could meet such a sudden end.

Vine founder Rus Yusupov issued a poignant message to budding entrepreneurs yesterday that speaks volumes about today’s (28 October) news that the business he nurtured and sold to Twitter is gone as quickly as it shot to fame - “Don’t sell your company”.

Vine may have been clipped but it will always have a special place in the history of web culture. Apart from YouTube, no other platform has arguably had as big an impact on the rise of internet celebrity fandom. Turning it into a commercial prospect was an obvious issue given the rise of live-streaming and competition from Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram but were Twitter right to axe something that clearly had so much potential?

It is no secret Twitter is struggling to push profits. Its stock price has gone down from $24,87 a share to $17,40 in less than a month. A flurry of reports and rumours about Twitter's failure to attract a buyer mean the social network is “cutting costs and buttoning down for rocky roads ahead”, said James Whatley, planning partner of innovation at Ogilvy & Mather London. This streamlining is evident in its decision to lay off hundreds of its staff in sales, marketing and partnerships.

In times of austerity, a business always looks to the least profitable - relative to cost of running - elements. In this instance Vine - an underserved, unexplored part of the business - has fallen victim.

Failure to establish a monetisation model

Media experts believe Vine had all the ingredients to become a key revenue spinner for Twitter but they feel a failure to pump time and investment into the service from the outset, stalled its growth trajectory. While it’s parent made small updates to the video platform’s design, creation tools and viral hooks, a sustainable monetisation model never materialised. There were no ad formats for brands to purchase, meaning brands that did use the platform, which include Domino’s and Pepsi could only rely on organic growth.

As a result, the costs of running the services were too high. In March 2015, when Periscope launched, Vine was effectively replaced by a shinier model.

New features and much more support from Twitter to show Vine as a viable advertising option for marketers would have helped, suggested Hannah Beesley, social director at Iris. Programmes like Niche were “too little too late” for the platform, she said.

“If you are going to acquire a new company, understand its strengths and potential drawbacks. Have a long term plan and listen to your audience. Vine was a buzzing community in the early days, much like Snapchat is now but Twitter failed to capitalise on that,” Beesley advised.

“Vine are probably now wishing they’d been bought out by Facebook.”

The birth of ‘influencers’

When Vine made its debut three years ago it was an exciting, fresh offering, that arrived amid the advent of video advertising. At the time, GIFs and 6-second looped video were a new and unexplored medium. Vine’s fresh format sparked creative experimentation from influencers that saw some quickly build strong followings. In the last year, only 4% of the content in Vine was branded, claimed

Florence Lujani, social team lead and head of influencer relations at JWT, so the platform has to thank influencers for keeping it alive with entertaining, relevant content.

The rise of these influencers saw marketers attempt to exploit their knowledge of the service's nuances, particularly when it cam to what content audiences want to see rather than just what brands want to say. Influencer marketing has since taken off across social media, with Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat honing in on the opportunity.

Twitter’s failure to convince the most prominent stars on the platform to stay, including Esa Fung and WeeklyChris, as well as celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, as new players such as Snapchat entered the market promising more creative scope through its many products.

“Fans were loyal to the creators they loved, not to Vine as a platform,” Beesley said, “It seems a bit of a shame as Vine was the precursor to the rise of video in today’s landscape.”

To that end, Vine was the Snapchat of 2013, opined Justin Marshall, vice president of partnerships for emerging media at Possible. "It reminded the ad industry that branded content can be fun, entertaining, and not suck.," he continued.

Twitter arguably failed to push Vine’s creative canvas forward, taking its whim to a new level, and making it *the* creator-first platform, drawing the next Zack King’s out there. Instead, it "minimized the platform to an ad unit, forgetting why people took the effort to download the app in the first place: It was fun," Marshall explained.

"For platforms wanting to keep creators and audiences coming back day-after-day, Vine’s death is a harsh reminder to not let the race for ad dollars distract from what makes you appealing. Make a great experience or people will simply stop coming."

The disappearance of Vine raises questions as to where the influencers that were loyal to the platform will move to. Socialbakers vice president of product and chief strategist Moses Velasco suggested that YouTube might create a Vine-like platform in its place, in order to fill the “looped video void”.

What’s next for Twitter?

Ogilvy's Whatley suggested that Twitter bringing the ‘Go Live’ feature into the main app could be the social network preparing to axe Periscope next, and suggested if this is the case, the micro-blogging site should move quickly.

“Facebook is stepping up its attempt of owning ‘live’ and, combine this with the focus on one-to-one messaging with brands via Messenger, is encroaching on Twitter’s heartland once more.

“In December last year, Ogilvy Digital Trends 2016 put forward a theory that Twitter’s place in the digital ecosystem could be eroded by its competitors. We didn’t want to be true then. We don’t want it to be true now.”

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Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

All by Jessica