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The Drum

What's next for Twitter?

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We’ve seen more innovation from Twitter in the last few months than in previous years, and it seems like the platform has come out of the post-Trump era with a renewed sense of purpose and opportunity. With all this innovation, what’s next for the platform?

Now in its 15th year, having famously been formed in early 2006 by the team behind podcasting app Odeo after a "daylong brainstorming session", Twitter was originally intended as an internal product for the team to better communicate (sounds familiar to anyone who knows the story of Slack but that’s for another post).

Following this auspicious launch, the microblogging site has since emerged to become a hugely powerful tool for journalists, media organizations, and celebrities looking to connect with and disseminate information to their audience directly. However, Twitter has been plagued by a lack of innovation (when is the edit tweet button coming?), stalled user growth and is awash with misinformation and bots putting many new users off the platform, especially the Gen Z audience.

That said, few platforms can boast being a daily habit for some of the world’s biggest celebrities, politicians, pop and culture icons, and media and entertainment powerhouses in the way that Twitter can. Its influence far exceeds its current business standing but having banned Trump from the platform following the violent insurrection on the Capitol on 6 January, the platform has looked to move on and capitalise on its four years of almost free publicity thanks to the former President. Disinformation has declined by up to 73% following the former President’s Twitter ban according to a study conducted by research firm Zignal Labs.

The research exposed that Trump’s tweets were retweeted by supporters at a remarkable rate, no matter the subject, giving him a virtually unmatched ability to shape conversation online and sow misinformation. Following the banning of @realDonaldTrump, Twitter also went after more than 70,000 accounts linked to spreading the Q-Anon conspiracies online ensuring that the root causes of what had emerged following a tumultuous US election were being appropriately addressed.

A New Chapter

In the months since, the platform has been looking to turn attention away from politics and back on the product. First they launched “Fleets” – Twitter’s answer to Stories on other platforms, which it launched at the back-end of 2020. This was an overdue addition to the way users could share information on the platform and Twitter’s first step into ephemeral content.

This was closely followed in late January by the pilot launch of Birdwatch, a community-based approach to tackling misinformation on the platform. Birdwatch allows people to identify Tweets they believe are misleading and write notes that provide informative context. In the first phase of the pilot, a select group of users can leave notes on a separate Birdwatch site as well as being able to rate the helpfulness of notes added by other contributors. These notes are being intentionally kept separate from the main Twitter site and app whilst the company accesses the effectiveness of the tool in producing context that people find helpful and appropriate. As Twitter’s vice-president of product, Keith Coleman said: “Eventually we aim to make notes visible directly on Tweets for the global Twitter audience, when there is consensus from a broad and diverse set of contributors.”

This innovation was followed in mid-February by the news that Twitter was launching not one but two new features: Communities, and Super Followers. Communities was the platform's answer to Facebook Groups and an extension of the work they have been doing around topics to encourage new and existing users to more easily engage with and follow conversations around areas of interest and passion points. Super Followers is a bigger swing for Twitter, looking at monetizing engagement on the platform for its biggest and most ardent users. Seemingly having watched the success of platforms such as Substack and Patreon, Twitter is looking for ways to help creators profit from the content they share. With Super Followers, Twitter users will be able to charge their followers for access to additional content, such as a subscription to a newsletter, access to a fan community, bonus tweets, or even just a badge on users’ profiles to show they support an individual.

Earlier this month Twitter made another product announcement, confirming that their beta test of Spaces, their audio room feature and Clubhouse competitor, will roll out to the wider public later in April. The early signs have been positive for the product with many suggesting that Twitter's existing social graph gives it the edge over Clubhouse from an audio perspective. Twitter also seems to be moving at a quicker pace to respond to challenges from other platforms.

As Kayvon Beykpour, head of consumer product at Twitter said in a recent interview with The Verge: “With Spaces, it’s interesting because... fundamentally, I think people for the last 15 years have been using Twitter to talk and to talk about their interests. It’s just so basic, but in a way, I think the rise of this audio renaissance that’s happening right now is interesting because it’s taking technology that has fundamentally existed for quite some time and putting a user experience around it and fidelity around it that allows people to engage in that same job of just having serendipitous conversations with people, but doing it in a way that is synchronous rather than asynchronous, and powered by the human voice rather than text.”

What next?

Here are my two predictions for Twitter in the coming 18 months (beyond that I think it’s anyone’s guess); firstly, that Twitter is to go long-form, moving even further away from its 110 character origins to offer users the chance to post longer-form written and video content. Secondly, I predict they will double-down on Live making the most of a key advantage of the platform in its ability to break in-the-moment stories from around the world.

Let’s break those two down a little further. Why do I think that Twitter will embrace long-form written content? Because it needs to give creators the opportunity to offer greater value to their followers. This value exchange from creators to followers is seemingly the driving reason behind Twitter’s acquisition of newsletter platform, Revue.

As Mike Park, vice-president of publisher products at Twitter said following news of the acquisition: “Many established writers and publishers have built their brand on Twitter, amassing an audience that’s hungry for the next article or perspective they Tweet. Our goal is to make it easy for them to connect with their subscribers, while also helping readers better discover writers and their content. We’re imagining a lot of ways to do this, from allowing people to sign up for newsletters from their favorite follows on Twitter, to new settings for writers to host conversations with their subscribers. It will all work seamlessly within Twitter.”

Twitter moving beyond the single tweet to allow users to post longer-form articles and even regularly-timed newsletters from within Twitter opens up a world of opportunities for writers and content creators. It also positions Twitter differently from other platforms as a place to go to absorb deeper content on a particular topic or from a specific writer as well as understanding their views in a snapshot from their tweets. It neatly positions Twitter as a frontrunner in breaking news and editorial journalism of any kind. This opportunity for followers to delve into deeper content from creators, as well as brands and organisations, also results in longer use times per visit and greater share of attention, metrics all social apps are looking to improve. This should support new and greater opportunities to monetize that attention, though as Kayvon Beykpour told the Verge when asked about Super Followers: “Our goal is not for Twitter to make money. Our goal is for creators to make money.” Twitter clearly sees the power of its platform is in its most influential and followed users and it wants to keep hold of them, if that means finding ways for them to make more money then it seems Twitter is okay with it.

The second area I think we are going to see Twitter develop new tools and products for is around breaking news and in particular, live video. Twitter really has the opportunity to own the social experience when it comes to live events and breaking news and so this feels like a no-brainer. When you consider that Beykpour who leads the product team at Twitter was the co-founder of Periscope, which Twitter acquired back in 2015, you can see why more developments and tools around Live video make sense.

Twitter recently announced it was shutting down Periscope and you can see much of the early development of Periscope in the current Live features available on Twitter. I think the team at Twitter will double down on Live Video offering creators new ways to share, view, and engage with live videos. I also think we will see more work around curation giving new and returning Twitter users easier ways to find and view live video.

Facebook leads the way in Live video and reportedly sees six times more interactions over traditional video on the platform with live videos getting an estimated 10 times more comments than regular videos. But having seen a 62% increase in Live video views in 2020 compared with the previous year and with a clear market focus on breaking news and events, Twitter still has a huge opportunity in live video. The recent announcement of Communities also provides Twitter with further opportunities to engage users with live videos around topics they are passionate about.

Providing more tools for both creation and discovery of live video along with a move to capture more long-form editorial content are two huge opportunities for Twitter to maintain its momentum and build upon its recent product development success. Let’s see if they take it.

Tom Jarvis is founder and chief executive officer of Wilderness.