Twitter has something special. Twitter works. Twitter is just not Facebook and Twitter is not an ecosystem.
As Fast Company articulates:
Twitter executives have always preferred that you not compare their company to Facebook. While they definitely want Twitter to become the world’s biggest social media company, they say they don’t want it to resemble, in any way whatsoever, the world’s biggest social network. “Twitter is a real-time information network, not a social network,” Twitter cofounder and then–CEO Ev Williams told Fast Company in 2010.
As a real-time information network, events break on Twitter. Real movements occur over Twitter. A lot can be accomplished in 140 characters. To me, Twitter created a global town square. At its best, people sign up for Twitter, find interesting content and topics and join an existing conversation. Twitter enables people from various countries, people that would never meet in real life, to connect and share ideas. That is a big achievement.
Has Twitter lost its way at times? Yes.
When one of the early backers calls your company a weed that wouldn’t die, then that has some pros and cons. An optimist would cling to its accomplishments, Twitter survives because at its core is an amazing opportunity. At its best, Twitter enables users to find their own way. At its worst, Twitter micro-manages and stifles its user base.
In the following post on Medium, author Owen Williams formulates this point:
The thing is, much of Twitter’s success wasn’t even invented by the company itself. Hashtags were invented by users. Retweets were invented by users. Twitter’s first iPhone app wasn’t built by the company.@mentions probably weren’t even invented by Twitter.
Now that Twitter is a public company, the new investors stress about discouraging user numbers. When Twitter reports quarterly results, then investors want Facebook growth numbers. The investment community does not appreciate long-term focus and it takes a strong CEO to remain committed to the long-term in the face of analysts. (See here for a take on Dick Costolo.) However, Twitter is still producing fantastic numbers.
So as people continue to sign up for Twitter, then can Twitter do a better job of encouraging engagement? Yes, if Twitter remains unfocused on finding the best personal stream, then DAUs will continue to decrease.
Owen Williams continues:
I’ve written extensively in the past that Twitter has a huge problem with onboarding. It still misses the intrinsic value of the service — personal connections — in favor of getting you following brands and personalities on day one.
The pro and con of user generated content is control. Twitter started as an open system that enabled its community to build the social norms. The system allowed developers to create tools to help the community. As Twitter matured, then it somewhat naturally, wanted to control the system and blocked some developer tools.
The song and dance of Twitter continues as it tries to be everything to everyone. The successful companies focus on one thing to engage and impress customers. They solve problems. Twitter solved a huge problem for many people, it gave them a voice.
To a degree, then Twitter is attempting to fix the problem. Twitter introduced Fabric in October 2014. Twitter provided tools to help the community help themselves.
The Fabric platform is made of three modular kits that address some of the most common and pervasive challenges that all app developers face: stability, distribution, revenue and identity.
Twitter made other strides as well. As it returned to its roots, then Twitter remembered the global nature. Twitter created opportunities to engage developing and emerging market users through SMS. As the smart phone revolution enables everyone to own a computer, many people in these markets do not have email. Most consumer internet services are designed for identification through email, so Twitter enabled people to sign up through their phone number. More actions of this nature help the global marketplace.
Additional items include the Buy with Twitter.
Today we are beginning to test a new way for you to discover and buy products on Twitter. For a small percentage of U.S. users (that will grow over time), some Tweets from our test partners will feature a “Buy” button, letting you buy directly from the Tweet.
Actions that drive commerce through Twitter will help incentivize small business sellers to engage in the community. The business presence on Twitter are branding initiatives. In particular, small business owners can find and engage with potential consumers. If Twitter remains focused on the global town square, then commerce is part of the town square. Granted, this has a double edged sword (it could turn into Facebook and feeds over run with ads and product offers).
Additionally, Twitter recently made some announcements to encourage more video (and here the ability to learn from Vine should be critical to success). Video seems like the preferred form of content over the next year, so providing content in the form users prefer makes sense. It shows Twitter might be thinking about its users.
The best inventions on Twitter were created by users. Now, new users don’t know how to engage because the system is designed for “revenue generation” and not user communication. The early adopters “just got it” which has an intuitive quality to the explanation. Twitter could not verbalise the “it” and until they can, which is to understand why Twitter exists, then they will have trouble with user growth (and ultimately with Wall Street).
At the core, there is something special about Twitter. It does work, but presently, there is a disconnect between the mass audience and network. Twitter should concentrate on why they are special. The rest will flow.
Of note: I am long TWTR.