2 February 2016 | Team Tamar

Twitter’s quitters: the beginning of the end?

lifting-a-dreamer-2009Unless you’ve been hiding under a digital rock, you’ll undoubtedly notice that the future of Twitter is causing quite a bit of debate at the moment. Whilst some are going as far as to declare the ‘End of Twitter‘, most commentators are in agreement that the future of the social giant is uncertain.

A number of big events over the past 12 months seem to have exacerbated the micro-blogging service’s apparent decline. From the departure of a large number of staff in 2015 (followed by some major management names in early 2016) to some contentious and apparently unpopular changes to the service – speculation is rife that Twitter has lost its way and doesn’t know how to find it again.

But whilst commentators are keen to predict Twitter’s downfall, their competitors don’t seem quite so sure – with Facebook recently cited as trying to change their own service to be more like its rival. So what’s the real story with Twitter – and what does this period of uncertainty mean for users and brands alike? Let’s take a look…

What’s the story?

The reason for the current rash of nay-sayers is a culmination of several different factors, many of which point to a company which has lost its direction. Here’s the topline on the biggest changes:

Dick got the chop

When former CEO Dick Costolo jumped-ship back in June, many speculated that he left due to the major stock price fluctuations that occured after Twitter went public. This stock market uncertainty can be blamed on Twitter’s lack of massive profits – and uncertainty about just how Twitter planned to start printing money in the future. Whilst the average Twitter user probably didn’t notice many changes during this period, the markets certainly did.

Jack jumps back

The loss of Costolo resulted in a triumphant return for techy-sweetheart Jack Dorsey – one of Twitter’s original team and a man famed for his creativity and innovation. Whilst Dorsey’s return should have signalled a renewed confidence in Twitter’s future, it actually seems to have had the opposite effect – perhaps due to a lack of innovation in the wake of his return. Several Twitter UI changes are being rumoured (we’ll get onto those in a moment) but none seems to be cause for much celebration.

An end to brevity?

9810_10155119452985072_5619676768166948531_nA number of new features have launched or been announced in the past year, but none of them have caused much more than disgruntled annoyance – or at best apathy – from the global userbase.

The launch of ‘Moments’ – a curated list of tweets which help to describe trending news – seemed to be met by most users with annoyance, being placed as it was next to the ‘Mentions’ tab. It’s an easy mistake to make to click on Moments when trying to access Mentions, so it was hardly surprising that users felt conned into trying the new service.

The removal of the ‘star’ (aka Favourite) button – replaced by a slightly more user-friendly ‘heart’ – was seen by many as a move to make Twitter more like Facebook, and to phase-out a feature which many users had been using for almost a decade. Whilst the fuss caused by this change seemed to die-down pretty quickly, it was another sign that Twitter was losing the features that made it… well, Twitter.

The change to DMs – allowing users to Direct Message people even if they weren’t being followed by them – caused a massive furore when it was launched, particularly with users who failed to notice the ability to turn this feature off. It also seemed to be a move ripe for misuse, with no obvious positive benefit.

Whilst it hasn’t yet been launched, the last few months of 2015 saw huge amounts of speculation that Twitter is going to remove its 140 character limit – opening tweets up to 10,000 characters.

The big growth slow-down

More importantly than any speculation, the hard numbers didn’t seem to be pointing to positives either. Prior to Dorsey’s return, user growth had slowed dramatically, peaking at 320 million at the end of Q3. Not only that but on home soil in the US, Twitter has been overtaken by services like WhatsApp, Instagram and even new-boy WeChat. All signs point to Twitter’s growth having plateaued. And whilst 300 million is by no means a small user-base, a lack of growth will always be a worry to the financial markets, pointing as it does to a risk of decline.

Growth slow-down at HQ, too

Whilst Twitter’s user-base has seen a big slow-down, the headcount at the company’s Californian HQ has also seen some major changes. After 300+ redundancies in October, a number of high-profile executives also made some major changes to their LinkedIn profiles last month.

What does the future hold?

So whilst the dramatic fluctuations in stock valuation aren’t an immediate worry for Twitter (they could easily raise more funds – though their cash reserves wouldn’t necessitate this for a long time) the bigger worry is user perception. With services like WhatsApp and Instagram now dwarfing Twitter – and new contenders like Ello and Peach launching all the time – Twitter could quickly become passé if users don’t stay on board.

988854_10155119453840072_203491946363440238_nIt’s not all disaster though – Twitter’s core user-base are still using the service on a very regular basis, and some of the world’s most influential trendsetters use the site as their foremost channel for communicating with their audience.

You only had to look at the feverish excitement surrounding the Star Wars ‘The Force Awakens’ release (celebrated on Twitter with some beautiful new emojis – another thing Twitter is doing well at) to see that millions of people have their daily lives enhanced by the site. The upcoming US presidential election is another area where Twitter traditionally comes alive, and is sure to see a flurry of activity to remind users why they love to tweet.

Facebook is looking to become more like Twitter – and ironically, Twitter’s rumoured move to switch off the 140 character limit would seem to be a move in the opposite direction. Twitter’s desire to get in on the ‘long form content’ game is clearly one way that they want to remain relevant and useful to brands as well as users – and whilst users might moan about it, it’s changes like this that will reassure investors and traders alike.

So what do brands need to know? Well, for starters any changes Twitter makes in the coming months will inevitably be good for brands and advertisers. If they’re going to regain the confidence and trust of investors, they need to prove that they can overcome the mistakes of the past and develop new and popular ways of generating revenue from their user-base.

Whilst revenue is a clear target, Twitter also need to improve the way that advertising and ‘natural’ content co-exist – something that Facebook and Instagram have been praised for in recent times. And any change to that will surely be a good thing for brands using Twitter as a platform to communicate with consumers.

Whatever the future holds for Twitter, you can be sure they’re not going to go down without a fight – and that 320 million people will be hoping things improve for their sakes too.

Team Tamar