Reports of Twitter’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Yes, the social network is experiencing slow growth. Sure, Twitter is implementing a slew of changes that will transform it into a website very different from the text-based social network we’ve come to love. And maybe you’ve gotten bored with it. That doesn’t mean we’ll be attending its funeral any time soon.
Early adopters will no doubt decry Twitter’s evolution—and I’m one of them. I’m not a fan of the new Twitter that copies features from Facebook with abandon, and I’m definitely not alone. People who have used the service for years have become accustomed to the way it looks and operates; we’ve become the Twitter elite that gets how Twitter works, with all the silly hashtags and Twitter canoes, and we don’t want more people coming in to rock the boat.
The thing is, Twitter can’t be considered a dead social network until it has time to live among the masses. And to appeal to a larger audience—one that isn’t just tech bloggers, media, early adopters and their ilk—it needs to change.
Twitter, as we know it, might be dying. But much like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, Twitter needs to experience radical change before it can really fly.
Not A Town Crier, But A Friendly Companion
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has historically referred to his social network as a “town square,” with millions of people sharing news and events with each other in 140-character spurts in real time. But Costolo dropped his metaphor during Twitter’s first quarter earnings call on Tuesday.
“We think of Twitter as this companion experience to what’s happening in the world,” he said.
Twitter itself is acknowledging the changes. It’s come to realize the “town square” metaphor doesn’t resonate with the masses, and it needs to reposition itself as an accompaniment to, rather than an authority on, what’s happening around its users.
Twitter as a companion service means that people don’t necessarily have to tweet or contribute all the time just to enjoy the greater community that solely exists on Twitter.
The company’s move to become the most popular “second screen” experience is a perfect example. Twitter wants to be the application everyone is using while watching television, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people must tweet simultaneously. Sometimes just following their favorite celebrities’ statuses or reading hashtag threads will be enough.
For instance, on Monday’s “The Voice,” banter between coaches Blake Shelton and Adam Levine found its way to Twitter. Shelton tweeted rival coach Levine’s cell phone number, which was retweeted almost 40,000 times. As a fan of “The Voice,” watching the duo tease each other without being privy to it firsthand might produce a bit of FOMO—or fear of missing out—and could prompt new Twitter users to sign up just to take part in the fun.
Twitter also announced Tuesday it has grown to 255 million monthly active users, up from 241 million last quarter. Still, investors don’t feel Twitter is growing fast enough: Those growth numbers fell below analyst expectations, and as a result, Twitter shares fell shortly after the company released its earnings.
An Expected Shift
Indeed, Twitter has a slow growth problem, but it’s not for lack of awareness. Twitter is unavoidable: Tweets are embedded on news outlets around the world, broadcasters read tweets while calling sporting events, and it’s almost impossible to watch live television without seeing an advertisement incorporate a hashtag or an @-mention.
People are aware of Twitter, they just don’t know how—or why—they should use it.
The company has made significant changes to its core product in an effort attract a broader audience and boost user growth. Most notably, the company completely redesigned user profiles by ripping off a more user-friendly service—Facebook. The Facebookification of Twitter certainly has its downsides—we don’t want another place for friends. But as its slow growth demonstrates, Twitter, as it is right now, isn’t enough.
Twitter also hinted at more tweaks to its direct message product, a feature that has seen its own share of updates in recent months. A more robust messaging service that complements its companion app strategy will hopefully encourage even more people to use the application.
Try as it might to convince users otherwise, Twitter still faces an identity problem. It’s struggling to become a must-have application for everyone, while those of us who rely on it for news and events are slowly becoming dissatisfied with the way it seems to be diluting itself to appeal to a broader audience.
Twitter is taking a risk—it’s making changes to get more people on the service that alienate the people that helped build it up in the first place. It’s a risk Twitter is willing to take, because getting the next 255 million people on Twitter is worth making a few dedicated users very unhappy.
Lead image courtesy of NYSE