After reporting slow revenue growth and decreased demand from advertisers, Twitter may be facing a grim future – perhaps even of the MySpace variety.
Earlier this week, the micro-blogging platform also announced in a blog post that they are opening up Moments, the platform’s curated news-feed, to a broader group of creators and one including “influencers, partners, [and] brands”. It shows a greater determination from the company to increase ad revenues.
To gauge current opinion on the struggling social network’s future, we asked our digital marketing colleagues to look into their crystal balls and divine whether Twitter has the capacity to save itself.
Here’s their take on what’s good, what’s bad – and what’s still uncertain:
Lucky for Twitter, it’s still arguably the best platform to distribute news.
In fact, Malcolm Gray, social media manager of entertainment company Live Nation, noted Twitter is the first place many consumers go for breaking news and trends.
“Twitter still punches far above its weight in current events and news,” agreed Christopher Penn, vice president of marketing technology at data-driven PR agency Shift Communications. “In an election year, Twitter receives disproportionate attention, which means greater audience awareness and engagement for everyone.”
However, Matthew Kaskavitch, social media manager and lecturer in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado Denver, noted Twitter is considering implementing an algorithm instead of showing tweets in reverse chronological order, which would help advertisers, but come at the detriment of user experience.
“Twitter users turn to Twitter for the latest news, particularity when things [websites] are breaking. However, for Twitter to monetize, [it needs] to lure advertisers with the tools needed to target specific audiences and keep people consuming and avoid information overload. Those two things are at odds with each other, which is why Twitter is stuck in a tough spot.”
At the same time, access and engagement is another huge weapon in Twitter’s arsenal.
“No other social media site makes it so easy to get instant access to celebrities, key influencers and fans around the world,” said Liz Kelly, founder of Goody PR and UCLA Extension instructor on new media marketing. “The main lesson is that engagement is the most important thing on Twitter. Twitter could be even more popular if [it] provided users with more listening tools to interact with more likeminded people.”
However, Twitter is a noisy platform, said Eric Quanstrom, CMO of sales prospecting software KiteDesk.
“Once any individual reaches more than a few hundred…followers, the ratio of noise to signal is quite heavy,” he added. “Anyone that has hundreds — let alone thousands or millions — of followers knows they cannot even remotely keep up with the feed.”
And that’s part of the reason Twitter has struggled with advertising, Quanstrom said.
“If you cannot get people to pay attention to their own feed, you cannot reach audiences cost effectively,” he added.
What’s more, according to Tom Siebert of PPC, SEO and content marketing agency Wolfgang Solo, Twitter’s biggest — and mostly unacknowledged — problem is that a lot of its users are “bots and shills.”
“The bot echo chamber during the election season so far has been crazy,” he said. “Most people know it [and] Twitter is losing…credibility for it, but refuses to admit it.”
To wit: Look no further than the recent experience of SNL and Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones.
“Long term, I think they get increasingly marginalized,” Siebert added. “And it’s such a cesspool of anonymous hate, it’s tough for advertisers to really want to get on board, especially when the ROI is questionable.”
Further, John Turner, CEO of feedback tool UsersThink, noted even basic changes in the product, such as requiring email verification when setting up a new account, could do a lot to stop trolls from setting up new accounts.
But Turner also said Twitter has an onboarding problem and “Twitter seems to be avoiding dealing with either concern, by both adding extra features to [its] product that only confuse things, and by seeming to make no product changes to deal with trolling and harassment.”
As a result, Turner said he thinks Twitter is still a wonderful platform for marketing and interactions and the pseudo-anonymous nature can be beneficial for some users who don’t want to fully represent themselves, but if they don’t do more to help new users and deal with harassment, it will begin to shrink.”
And it is Twitter’s reluctance to change at a pace relative to other networks that might be hindering its progress as well.
“Users always complain that Facebook is changing things, but you’ll notice they’re the ones who have figured it out and are consistently growing and making profit,” Kaskavitch said. “Twitter needs to continue to take calculated and bold action to progress [its] platform forward.”
But Gray noted Twitter retains an advantage over other platforms when it comes to live events.
“Whether it’s a Black Lives Matter protest, a political convention, the NBA finals or The Walking Dead, Twitter is the place for communities to gather and talk about their interests in real time. This is still very important,” he said. “Twitter is also still important for keeping people honest. During the recent police shootings in Dallas, Dallas PD tweeted out a picture of a man who they suspected to be the shooter, but due to videos posted on Twitter during the rally, Twitter users quickly identified that their suspect was on the ground and not the actual shooter. This is still the most powerful way for communities to watch and engage with each other.”
And so it’s perhaps not surprising that live content has been an area of focus for the platform lately. In fact, Twitter has made a big push into live sports in particular, including live streams of upcoming MLB and NHL games, as well as a nightly sports highlights show called “The Rally.” This followed announcements of a streaming partnership with the NFL for Thursday Night Football and a live content partnership with the NBA.
“Twitter’s live sports push is its best chance at staying relevant and gaining market share in video,” said Andreas Goeldi, CTO of video advertising platform Pixability. “Twitter is already the platform for advertisers who want to capture viewer attention during a particular event with a lot of focus and immediacy, so extending this to live video streaming is a logical next step.”
The ability to watch sports on Twitter while also following discussions follows a broader trend in media consumption, added Vassilis Dalakas, Professor of Marketing at Cal State San Marcos.
“We’ll still have TVs and still watch, but I think all those other platforms allowing us to watch is a good idea,” Dalakas said. “The cool thing about Twitter…is we go there for social interaction and watching sports for most of us is a social experience, so this will be like a virtual sports bar.”
Luke Watson, platforms expert at live streaming network Roker Media, agreed Twitter’s focus on sports as a content type that demands real-time attention and commands large-scale audience conversions could help the platform maintain mainstream relevancy, not to mention solve a legit problem for sports fans who are blacked out of watching their favorite teams.
“All of that said, will the strategy work? I think that it will require more than sports content to save Twitter,” Watson said. “This, combined with an overhaul of its core products, may be enough to maintain relevance or even grow, but a complete integration of Periscope, which has remained virtually unchanged since it debuted in March of 2015 despite the launch and continual improvement of competitors, would go a long way toward speeding positive change and restoring the confidence of existing users.”
Brian Shin, CEO of video analytics firm Visible Measures, agreed, saying Twitter needs to create a better viewing experience as “from a consumer perspective, [Twitter] is still kind of a mess, even with Moments.”
For his part, Noel McCann, marketing analyst at short-term housing site HomeSuite, is optimistic, saying the live streams and the removal of the character limit “give marketers an opportunity to create more demographic-focused campaigns.”
This will also improve the effectiveness of outreach to potential customers, thus bringing the platform back up to speed with other platforms, he added.
Further, Penn said Twitter is testing reach and frequency buying, which will permit marketers to control how often their ads are seen.
“This feature, once rolled out to marketers, will let us better control spend on our Twitter ads by capping our ads’ frequency – a long overdue improvement,” he said. “Twitter also continues to push for more video ads. If you’re currently executing video ads on other platforms, expect to port them to Twitter with greater ease.”
In addition, Penn pointed to Twitter’s upcoming transition from its existing tagging solution to a Universal Website tag.
“If you’ve implemented Facebook’s new conversion pixel, you have some idea of what to expect,” he said. “Our advice is to use Google Tag Manager to implement and control these many new tags. Doing so will substantially reduce your marketing technology burden.”
What’s more, Penn said Twitter’s Audience Platform expects to offer new options including cross-device ads later this year.
“Twitter cited a 52 percent lift in purchase intent for consumers who saw ads on multiple devices versus one device,” he added. “Overall, Twitter’s focus on driving down cost-per-engagement to be more comparable with other social networks can only be good news for marketers with increasingly tight budgets as we move into the second half of the year.”