If your job were to make Twitter bigger – perhaps your title is “Head of Growth” – you’d be forgiven for not being in a party mood this week as the network celebrates its 10th birthday.
The figures are well-reported but let’s remind ourselves: a net loss of £63m for the last three months of 2015 and user growth flat at 320 million monthly users. Investors are not impressed. There’s an atmosphere of decline. People are grumpy.
Meanwhile, Facebook has 1.5bn active accounts and counting, WhatsApp has 900m, WeChat has 650m and Instagram has 400m. Tumblr, Q Zone, Facebook Messenger and QQ also all have more active users than Twitter. You might have to Google a few of them.
Time for a meme.
So is the little blue bird about to crash land?
Absolutely not. There are fundamental changes underway that mean it doesn’t need active users to grow. It needs audience and, boy, is Twitter chasing eyeballs.
Have you noticed how the ‘social network’ has been behaving more like a broadcaster or media company recently with far more people passively consuming content than creating, sharing, liking and responding? This is its future and the company’s product offering is already reflecting this like never before.
Take the newish ‘Moments’ feature. Many who wanted to understand the atrocious scenes that took place this week in Brussels, where terrorists attacked and killed dozens, would have headed straight to Moments to find a digest of the most important statements, pictures and video. You’ll find at least as much informative content there as on any news site and you don’t have to log in to view it; you don’t even have to be a member.
Then there is the embedded tweet feature. You can barely read a newspaper or magazine website anywhere in the world without coming across a tweet in a news story or feature pretty soon. You can click on those tweets, follow conversations around them and see previous and subsequent tweets by the author for context. And you can do this without even being a member, let alone logging in.
Or how about search? Google’s results now include a row of tweets – whether or not you’re logged in to Twitter. Try it. You won’t find Facebook, Instagram or Linkedin posts there but you’ll see what the world’s prominent tweeters think about any given issue. Same with the live auto-playing video or trending hashtags or image galleries or lists and on and on and on.
I’ll say it again: none of these ways of interacting with Twitter require you to be a member but they instantly turn you into a user.
And we’ll see more of this sort of innovation in the future – the rumoured 10,000 character limit is surely more about increasing the ways people can consume content than promoting conversation.
Here’s Twitter’s reinstated CEO Jack Dorsey in an interview published this week on Bloomberg Business:
“In the past, when people heard about Twitter, they assumed that the way to use it was you had to tweet about something. I think more and more people are seeing it as, ‘I can just see what’s happening in the world. I can see what’s happening about any event’.”
While active users – and the group of an estimated 150m who actually tweet – aren’t particularly growing, the total audience is huge. Some even estimate it at one billion. If you can’t monetise that and push on to the next billion and usurp your competitors and indelibly mark the global conscience with your brand, then you shouldn’t be “Head of Growth”.
In fact, let’s have another meme.