In 2021, Twitter users were commonly greeted with shiny new features threatening to change how they share what’s happening in the world. This represented a step-change for the social media company that once upon a time labored over making even the smallest change to its product, be it doubling the character limit or adapting the chronological feed. David Wilding, head of planning at Twitter, talks The Drum through a recent change of heart and surge of innovation.
Twitter’s new features have been coming in thick and fast. After rebuilding its ad product in February, it started asking people to consider whether they did actually want to send harmful or offensive tweets. Conversation settings for ads soon came in, as did the opportunity to ‘Amplify’ in-demand video from some 300+ media partners with pre-roll.
Meanwhile, acquisitions of media subscription service Scroll, and newsletter platform Revue (watch your back Substack) set the tone ahead of the launch of Tip Jar (like a tweet, toss a coin), Super Follows, Fleets (like Stories) and Spaces (watch out Clubhouse). These gave off a new sense of hunger from the service that started out as a place to throw thoughtful SMS to hungry early adopters and has held a steady user plateau for a few years.
Wilding admits: “Historically, we’ve been a bit of a one-product company,” but after some soul-searching from boss Jack Dorsey (literally) it found renewed confidence to build out its unique selling point.
“When you write a tweet, you write it over the words ‘What’s happening?’, it’s subtle but it means that Twitter’s the best place to see what’s happening in the world. That logic encompasses all our products. It’s social, Twitter is less about look at me and more about look at this.”
For Wilding, these efforts underpin a belief that Twitter should evolve and give people more ways to have a conversation. And that brings us to Spaces, audio chat rooms that can be launched by accounts with more than 600 followers. Clubhouse was talking a big game with its chat product, but many of those rooms were distributed on Twitter. Twitter moved in, offering users a place to put faces to the names of followers and have the ‘nuanced’ conversations the platform is accused of being immune to at times.
Wilding says: “It’s a more intimate place and an enhancement of Twitter.” He’s been very hands-on with Spaces, jumping in for Eurovision chats and quizzes. He teased the coming launch of ticketed spaces, co-hosting, better accessibility options (like captions) and more discovery options. The product is still in its infancy, as most of the new ones are.
Under the surface, it’s clear that Twitter wants to jumpstart growth by implementing basic revenue options for creators that more content-led sites like YouTube and Twitch have long offered. Twitter has always served as a means of distributing content, and separately the means to pay for it. But that is changing with ticketed spaces, Tip Jar, Scroll and Revue. Users now can exchange money to support the things they love, which could incentivize more creation, well-structured thought and fandom.
Wilding admits that all the new developments landing this year may seem “chaotic”, but they’re all part of the strategy.
What brands need to know
With these new features, there is an opportunity for brands to get involved. They could use Spaces to extend their campaigns into an audience with a penchant for getting things talked about in the press and other media.
P&G took a Space during the Oscars as part of its Widen The Screen campaign, reaching a peak of 5,000 attendees. Thoughts now go to how these can be distributed and shared in future, and at the moment it is a period of “experimenting with what works”.
Much of the same soul-searching went into why brands should use Twitter. Wilding believes: “It’s simple, there are two reasons; one is to launch something new, and the other is to connect with what’s happening.”
To connect with what’s happening, Twitter offers takeover products, be it a timeline takeover to be the first ad a user scrolls through, or a trends takeover (examples include ITV properties the Euros and Love Island).
A lot of these are video-led. “Over the last four or five years as video came to the platform, more and more brands became comfortable with effectively extending their marketing on to Twitter – they didn’t need a separate strategy.”
But outside of the ad products, Wilding encourages creative use of Twitter’s mechanics too. Tesco extending its drive to support local pubs performed well, for instance.
Pubs have had it tough this year. So, as good as our deals are, this week we’d rather you support your local pub (as long as you feel safe to do so). Because right now, #EveryLittleHelps.
— Tesco (@Tesco) April 12, 2021
“A smart piece of marketing that’s thoughtful and empathetic and that goes down very well on Twitter. Don’t only use Twitter insight data [when planning a campaign], however,” he laughs.
Said data shows a surge in conversations about ethics, mental health and social good this last year. But brands’ attempts to enter these conversations are not always welcome. Starbucks is reportedly considering a departure from the Facebook platform, for example.
“A lot of brands feel they kind of have to be in these conversations – choosing not to is also a decision,” says Wilding.
BT Sport recently put a lot of resources into researching racism and hate on social media to give its message a firm leg to stand on. Not every brand puts the work in to have such a stance, or worse, get accused of using the issues to hide their own shortcomings. “You can use Twitter to change the world for the better, there’s lots of activism and people calling things out, and lots of progress being made. But you won’t be able to please everybody.”
Twitter recently enabled brands to block replies earlier this year. Twitter’s research outlines that responses were on average about 20% negative and around 10-15% positive. It might sound worse than it is – if we could see them, would responses to the same ad on TV warrant any different feedback, or worse?
Wilding concludes: “If you’re going in for the right reasons, and you can explain your position, then, by all means, it’s a really good place to make progress and change – just recognize that you will probably get some pushback...”