Twitter Turns 10: a Bittersweet Birthday

Monday was a monumental day for everyone at Twitter as the company dove into double-digits. An entire decade has passed since co-founder Jack Dorsey posted his first Tweet:

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.03.16 PM.pngIn 10 years, Twitter has become one of the most powerful social media platforms to report news, spur change and spread a movement in 140 characters or less. It is the pop stars like Kanye West, politicians like President Obama and countless other social figures that have made Twitter what it is today. And for that, Twitter said thank you on Monday and remembered some of its most meaningful milestones.

While it is a time to celebrate, unfortunately for Twitter, this 10th birthday party is not all about presents and cake. Several issues have been plaguing the company recently that have left analysts and the public asking: will Twitter survive? 

Birthdays are a time to reflect not only on the great memories but also what you want the next years to bring. I decided to dive in and take a look at what’s gone wrong for Twitter and think about what’s to come in the next decade.

What’s gone wrong?

1. Lack of Growth

User growth has been completely stagnant, plateauing at 320 million monthly users. (Compare this to Facebooks 1.6 billion monthly users…) Not only is this number low relative to competitors but it’s also not increasing. 

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2. Turnover of Management 

Since 2014 when former CEO Dick Costolo replaced several key executives, the c-suite at Twitter has been in what seems like constant motion. Costolo resigned from CEO in June of 2015 and since then 16 high-level managers have left the firm and Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, has taken back the lead of his company. Dorsey is confident that he will hire the right people who are on board with Twitter’s mission yet the shifting of managers and lack of a cohesive team is extremely unsettling. 

3. Stock Price

It’s no surprise that because of #1 and #2 Twitter’s stock price is essentially tanking. The stock price dropped 70% over the past year alone and is trading 30% below its IPO price. Lack of growth and unstable management make investors wonder if the initial high expectations for Twitter were simply over inflated. 

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4. Product Development

Twitter is known as a social media platform that has been shaped by its users. Twitter’s product development has been more like a “hack-a-thon” rather than a strategy. Twitter’s culture is known as “more reactive than visionary” as many of their changes and added features have been in response their users or created by users themselves. Critical features including reply and retweet features where only added to the platform due to user demand. Across the board, one of Twitter’s major criticisms is that the platform is difficult to use and hard  to learn. User experience is lagging. 

5. Lack of Vision

Many people, even after 10 years, are still asking: what is Twitter? And to this question, management doesn’t seem to have a clear answer. This seems to be the biggest problem facing Twitter right now and one that Dorsey is doing all he can to answer. 

“It’s hard to overstate how much companies like Twitter live and die by their products—the apps and websites they build and their constant improvements to those offerings. It’s critical, according to Silicon Valley wisdom, that the products have a clearly defined “vision.” Even more critically, products must emphasize user experience.”

Fortune, Fixing Twitter

After reading the press about the uncertainty in answering the question “what is Twitter,” I was curious to look back and learn just what the initial intention for Twitter really was. In his Ted Talk in 2009, co-founder Evan Williams explained that the fundamental idea behind Twitter was to give users a platform to “share moments of their lives whenever they want..as they happen, which allows people to feel more connected despite distance in real time.” Based on his talk, it is clear that Dorsey and Williams never intended for Twitter to become a worldwide news-reel for major events or a platform for businesses to market their brands. Instead, it all began as a way for everyday users like you and I to share quick and trivial status updates about our days. They never anticipated these global applications from their simple system. A lot can change in 10 years…

What’s next?Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 11.03.49 PM.png

Rumor has it that many changes are in the works for Twitter, specifically an algorithm-based newsfeed and increasing the 140 character limit. The newsfeed changes have already been rolled out with features like “While you were away” and the Moments tab which allow users to see posts most relevant rather than relying on a chronological feed. The ultimate goal is to make it easier for users to follow everything going on in their feeds without being attached to their screens 24/7. 

It stands out to me that these two features are so unique to Twitter. Isn’t the platform all about quick, right to the point updates about live news? An algorithmic news feed where you can post more than 14o characters seems to turn that idea upside-down.

Dorsey is committed to making his baby live long past 10. He’s working hard with his team to revive Twitter, making it more intuitive and easy-to-use, as well as looking to the future by focusing on investing in live-stream video, as shown by the acquisition of Periscope, which I see as a great long-term opportunity. There’s a lot to be done and it’s still questionable whether or not Twitter can make a comeback.

For now, it’s time to blow out the candles and make a wish. 

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Articles referenced:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/02/economist-explains-5

http://www.businessinsider.com/twitter-is-turning-10-years-old-march-21-2016-

How Twitter’s CEO Plans to Fix the Company

Twitter’s User Growth Goes Nowhere As It Meets Revenue Expectations Of $710M

http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-make-twitter-actually-useful-1458065159?shareToken=st79669d3689d94d7e9f9837f4dd94554f&mod=e2tw

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 comments

  1. Great post Morgan! I love how you really broke down the problems of Twitter, but at the same time highlighting what made them great and the cool little niches of Twitter. It was really cool to see the original tweets and all the charts and statistics you have. In terms of lack of growth, I think to myself, there are only X amount of people on the earth and you are bound to plateau, however, there are seemingly more people who are gaining access to the internet (whole net neutrality debate from multiple classes ago). One of my favorite parts of your post is that you highlighted what was not working and the start, but also you talked about what is in the pipeline and what we can expect moving forward. Great post!

  2. Really interesting post. I think the charts you used were super informative and relevant. The graph showing the difference in monthly active users across platforms put Twitter’s growth in perspective. You bring up some noteworthy points about Twitter’s strategy in terms of its long term plan for growth. It will definitely be an interesting trajectory and I hope you keep us updated!

  3. ajsalcetti · ·

    Nice summary! I agree with birthdays that it is as much reflective of past as it is about looking forward to the future. Twitter has clear, documented problems, but they are still a brand name in an ever increasing social world. For this alone, I believe they will survive. Despite profitability and not increasing their users as much as other services the last few years, they are the brand household name for quick blurbs and events; that to me is goodwill and reputation in itself. Dorsey trying to take them to the next level is a different story, but they will remain very relevant in this globally connected, 24-hour world. Your comment on the original mission to where they are now sounds similar to FB and how they were a college based online community. Zuckerberg probably never imagined where he’d be today, even for how brilliant he is. I think your comment on the product development is key; just following suit and responding to others will leave you in the dust. They need to make new features that are groundbreaking and unique to them. They aren’t FB and can never been based on how each model is setup, but TWTR has a corner on a very niche part of a very large global market, and that is encouraging for the future. Perhaps a bigger firm like Google, Facebook, etc finds value in acquiring them, but I certainly don’t see them failing and going under given their global importance.

  4. Great post Morgan! I think your points about Twitter’s lack of vision is really the key issue that they have to figure out going forward. Like Andrew said above, its clear that they have locked down a niche portion of the social media news market; I have never understood why they don’t focus on this above the other aspects of their site. I feel like in the past they have been chasing the idea that they can be Facebook, but their platforms are so different that I don’t think this is possible. I really think an effective plan going forward would be to focus on its core product: news. I think the Wikipedia model is relevant because their sole focus is providing accurate information. I think it would benefit Twitter to take a similar approach to facilitating the spread of news.

  5. When I was an undergrad at Arizona State back in 2008 I remember a guest speaker saying that he doesn’t think Twitter will last much longer. So I think the success of Twitter has already probably surprised quit a few people. Although I do think that Twitter might not last much longer. Given all the new social media platforms that keep coming out and Twitter’s tendency to lag in innovation it might loose popularity. I still don’t get what meaningful benefit Twitter has to offer which is not provided by Facebook.

  6. yifanhong04233 · ·

    I like the charts in this post–they are clear and informative! Twitter has been popular for a long time: I remember that I wrote about Twitter in my SAT test…which is a long long time ago. Yes, Twitter has some problems: it is still figuring out a way to keep active users and make profits from them while not harming their customer experience. I am curious to see their effective plans to fix this problem.

  7. I constantly hear about how Twitter is doing in the market, and this is a great background and analysis of some of the factors that are affecting its performance. One important factor you mentioned is the turnover of management and how the shifting of managers is damaging the Twitter team as a whole. This reminds me of the article we read for class, “The Key to Social Media Success in Organization”, on the importance of executives influencing their employees to feel a connection to the brand and its mission. If these high level executives are exiting the firm so rapidly, how can the other employees believe in the company’s ability to reverse the slow user growth and pull through this difficult time?

    Additionally, I also found it interesting that Twitter was not intended to be a worldwide news-reel for major events or a platform for businesses to market their brands. I think this shows an exciting side to social media and it seems like many platforms have evolved into things that the founders never even considered. For example, Snapchat was also not intended to be a place where brands can advertise and we use it to receive updates on what our friends are doing throughout the day.

  8. Interesting post. I dont know about you, but this class alone has radically changed my opinion of twitter. I think its an amazing tool for social influence and its true value is intangible. I dont care about falling stock prices, you cannot but a price on information (unless you are a blackmailer). Yes, twitter needs to restructure their business model before they are bought or beaten. But I think they are in it for the long haul. Bravo, long live twitter

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