Twitter, what happened?
It feels like very recently Twitter was changing the face of news, enabling a new speed of information propagation and connectivity, and doing so at global scale. When the platform first debuted at SXSW, it showed immense promise for becoming a uniquely valuable platform, not just to its users and future shareholders, but to society overall.
In fact, it was Twitter that introduced citizen journalism, alerting the world to major events like China’s massive earthquake, the Osama Bin Laden raid and the announcement of the royal wedding. It was Twitter that positively shaped new communities and movements, from #BachelorNation to #BlackLivesMatter. And it was Twitter that helped propagate trends like Man Crush Mondays and Throwback Thursdays.
As Twitter grew, it stood apart from other social media as an organization on a mission “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers."
But since Twitter’s IPO, advertisers and shareholders have become skeptical of the platform’s ability to scale and drive meaningful audience engagement through products like premium video, Moments and direct messaging, which have struggled to attract users and create deeper experiences. Twitter also suffers from comparisons to Facebook, which has successfully harnessed its insights to stand apart as a sophisticated network and recommendation machine, and to newer messaging platforms that have inherently deeper connections.
After a disappointing earnings call this week, many are questioning if Twitter can find its footing again. The problem is that Twitter has been so focused on becoming an advertising platform, it has lost its way as a societal engine. Rather than using innovation as its most powerful form of marketing, it has tried to mirror the moves of other platforms and has been outflanked by the competition at each step, revealing to marketers and investors that it doesn’t have the same level of insight or depth – or an indispensable role in users’ lives.
So what should Twitter do to unlock the power of innovation? Go back to the core of the Twitter brand.
What defines Twitter is not an individual feature, but rather its mission to make the world better informed and to allow anyone to tell or share a story. This mission remains key to recharging the network effects that power growth.
Here are three things Twitter can start doing to put it back on track:
1. Deliver on Twitter's promise for everyone. Many users may not have yet had the full Twitter experience or the awesome value it provides. New users, those who have never tweeted themselves, and even casual users still have opportunities to discover the sense of community and rich sharing of opinions and ideas the platform delivers at its best. Twitter should focus on the user experience, and improving it for new, passive and casual users, in particular. For example, trending content should be editorial, creating lists should be fluid, easy and fun, and the moment a new user joins should shape their onboarding. In light of more recent criticism about negative aspects of the platform, there is also a prime opportunity to use the power of the Twitter brand to reinvigorate its promise by meaningfully addressing user-targeted abuse and curbing misuse of the platform.
2. Explore what the brand gives Twitter license to be beyond the platform. Experiencing live events through Twitter is a transformative experience. While TV newscasts are now underlined with a stream of tweets and conversations about what’s trending in social, Twitter is still synonymous with a digital platform. It would be exciting to see what Twitter on TV looks like, and how it ties back to the core experience. Twitter could start by taking a cue from founder Evan Williams, whose follow-up project Medium effectively bridges the platform and the content together in interesting ways.
3. Accelerate evolution. Core product enhancements aside, the evolution of the platform will also come from a more ambitious partnership and acquisition strategy. For example, Twitter is already a huge customer service platform. How could it take a bigger claim on commerce? Twitter is where celebrities build their brands. How could they further monetize this?
The growth of Twitter was fueled by an enthusiasm for a new paradigm of idea sharing, creating a world where any voice could be heard. We still need that. Twitter must remember that even if the immediate environment is fluid, the mission has not changed.
Ivan Kayser is Redscout's head of strategy in New York. He tweets at @IvanNYC