Twitter May Be Facing Problems But It’s Finally Beginning to Understand Its Role

Sculpture of Twitter's logo | Aulia Masna/AdDiction

Sculpture of Twitter's logo | Aulia Masna/AdDiction
Sculpture of Twitter’s logo | Aulia Masna/AdDiction

Twitter’s user growth is suffering according to the company’s latest financial report but Twitter’s role as the place for breaking news, hot takes, instant reactions, live commentaries, and direct reporting remains as strong and sought after as ever while advertisers are excited over its new brand oriented features.

During the most recent US presidential debate, the NBA All Star game was happening at the same time. Twitter allowed people who don’t have immediate access to the television broadcasts of both to follow and post their reactions of the events simultaneously. Its ability to also show live and recorded videos and images delivers a rich experience by which the audience can actively participate.

Twitter is also the place to immediately air public opinion over government decisions. The Indonesian government’s plan to block –and subsequently unblock– Tumblr from the country within 24 hours on Wednesday, 17 February, was highly affected by the public’s reactions on Twitter.
Indonesians on Twitter used the hashtags #BloggerMelawan, #SaveTumblr, and #TolakBlokirTumblr to voice their rejections over the ban in an attempt to get the government to unblock the website.

Director of e-business at the Ministry of Communication and Informatics Azhar Hasyim on Wednesday told the news site Detik that the government will block access to the blog network Tumblr within two to three days after it discovered that the site hosts pornographic images.

By late Wednesday evening however, after seeing overwhelming public outcry against the decision, Ministry spokesperson Ismail Cawidu said that they have reversed the ban.

A similar outrage on Twitter was part of the reason the Transport Ministry in December 2015 reversed its hasty decision to declare transport app Go-Jek illegal following a strong lobby by the land public transport organization. President Joko Widodo’s tweet against the decision ultimately represented the key driver of the reversal.

This shows the power of Twitter as a crucial tool for the public to voice their opinions clearly and loudly and affect government decisions. Despite all the talk of Twitter stagnating and losing users, it remains an important part of public discourse and a channel for democracy.

Twitter’s latest financial report revealed that it has a positive revenue position and a significantly increased number of advertisers. However, it has lost two million users over the past quarter, it lost senior executives, the stock price remains lower than its IPO price of $26, and it issued a revenue guidance far lower than expected.

Which leaves us with the question, how is Twitter going to survive? Clearly it’s an important platform but given its recent misfortunes, Twitter as a company is growing increasingly fragile.

Though the company is convinced that the user growth problem will be dealt with as Twitter evolves, it’s still a much smaller player than Facebook and may never be as big which makes it far less appealing to advertisers. In terms of audience size and profile, Twitter simply isn’t big enough or diverse enough to be a compelling alternative.

There have been more changes to Twitter as a product in the past two months than in all of 2015, and there are still more to come throughout 2016. It remains to be seen whether those new features are enough to arrest its falling numbers or even reverse them and it’s still unclear if those steps, positive as they may be, are what the company needs.

Brand experience
From the advertising point of view however, Twitter is doing quite well. Out of its $710 million in revenue, 90% of it came from advertising and 86% of that came from mobile ads, though the majority is still from the US. It has 130,000 paying advertisers which is nearly 90% more than in 2014. This shows that it’s still an attractive platform for brands to deliver their message and interact with consumers. The company’s FirstView video ad product will also deliver a much higher return for advertisers as their ads will be shown more prominently on the user timeline while the new modified timeline has been said to increase user participation.

The latest addition though, will make Twitter an even more valuable platform for brands to conduct customer support. Twitter has begun to allow brands to shift public customer support conversations to direct messages (DM) where they can conduct conversations better given the 10,000 character limit in DM and the new ability to send video messages. Additionally, Twitter is partnering with customer feedback specialists Delighted to allow companies to run Net Promoter Score surveys over DM, which typically are done over SMS or email.

Live feed of the world
Twitter is not just the pulse of the Internet or a customer support channel, it’s the live feed of the world. It’s where people go to to find out what’s going on but it’s not the place where friends and families hang out like Snapchat and Facebook are.

In framing Twitter as such, perhaps the service doesn’t really need to match Facebook in terms of user numbers, just enough so that it can become a destination or reference for those looking for information and context to current events. The company claimed that its newly implemented algorithm-modified timeline will bring much more interaction and user participation on organic tweets and live events are already benefiting from this change.

Twitter needs content publishers or creators the way YouTube does as the value of the service and the company directly depend on the ability of these creators to produce content and attract audience.

As they say in the newspaper industry, today’s news is tomorrow’s wrapping paper. Being just a news delivery site carries little value once the relevance passes but Twitter has more than 300 million active users doing so many different things on Twitter and 80% of them are on mobile devices. This means Twitter has a mountain of data that it can work with beyond delivering news and updates. The ability to process that data into something uniquely meaningful and valuable is the key to Twitter’s progress.