Has Twitter lost its direction in 2018?

by Elizabeth Flynn – 11th December 2018

In its simplest form, Twitter is a microblogging platform that was designed to connect people with similar interests and behaviours. It is one of the original players in the world of social media and since its launch in 2006, 1.3 billion accounts have been created. There are now over 330 million monthly active users and 92% of the world’s leaders actively used Twitter in 2017.

However, earlier this year (2018), the number of visitors to the channel reportedly dropped by a million and with 330 million active users overall, is this figure worth considering when factoring Twitter into your marketing mix? Twitter might argue it’s about quality not quantity as it reports an increase in overall daily users by threefold to 60,000 tweets, but what does this really mean for their future? Has Twitter become a one-way conversation with everyone talking, but nobody listening?

In terms of its audience, the fast-paced channel’s usage tends to drop as age increases, with the largest proportion of users aged between 18 and 29. The platform is not just popular with the average social media consumer though, it attracts an unprecedented mix of journalists, world leaders, politicians and celebrities, making it the immediate destination to find trending news and updates.

When a significant event occurs, such as a terror attack, national election or natural disaster, users will often sit glued to their news feed, hitting refresh in an effort to feel part of, or connected to something that’s immediate and visceral. It’s interesting to note that journalists make up nearly 25% of verified users, however, it isn’t necessarily polished journalism, but real-time, eye-witness reports and citizen journalism. Twitter is completely different to any other platform thanks to its raw, timely content.

However, over time, changes to the platform’s algorithm have made it difficult for users to follow conversations and stories in a natural, chronological format. This, coupled with a perceived lack of desire to verify reliable information sources, have made the authenticity of tweets questionable. More concerning is the continued level of harassment and trolling that users are experiencing. Twitter has come under fire about how it continues to manage abusive users and this has led to a dis-engagement for many with the channel as a result.

Twitter says it is committed to cleaning up the site, addressing the issue of “problem behaviours” such as trolling with more than 70 million accounts being removed or deleted in May and June this year. It is difficult to see how the platform will ever be rid of this negative behaviour, unless the fundamental set-up of the platform is altered.

Twitter has also been dealing with the huge number of ‘Twitter bots’ that dominate the site. These accounts are operated by bots that use the Twitter API to control accounts and automate tweets and responses to others. Twitter estimates that 23 million of its active users are bots and these accounts have even been accused of attempting to influence political discourse, with Twitter admitting that more than 50,000 Russia-linked accounts used its service to post automated content about the 2016 US election. Twitter has begun to take action though, as they describe: “In May 2018, our systems identified and challenged more than 9.9 million potentially spammy or automated accounts per week. In Q1 2018, we suspended more than 142,000 applications in violation of our rules – collectively responsible for more than 130 million low-quality, spammy Tweets.”

So what’s happened in 2018 to reignite our interest and engagement with the platform?

The biggest update has been the usage results from its 280 character limit increase, which the platform has attributed to increased engagement overall. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said: “One of the things we were watching for is to see if the if the average tweet size would go up as a result, and it has not. People do have the room — we’re seeing less abandonment of tweets. But we’re also seeing a lot more engagement. We’re also seeing more retweets, and we’re seeing a lot more mentions. And we’re also seeing people get more followers and return more often.”

In August Facebook stopped the cross pollination of tweets from Twitter as part of its change to its API platform to prevent third-party apps from auto publishing posts to Facebook. This could be both positive and negative news for Twitter users, as posts will have to be crafted specifically for each individual platform, but this is far more likely to produce better results in the long run, particularly with regards to hashtags (they aren’t as effective on Facebook).

However, since the introduction of Periscope in 2015, there haven’t been any other big developments emanating from Twitter, and this has raised questions around the investment plans for the channel. Minor changes have included introducing an ‘accounts you should unfollow’ feature, however this feels contradictory – surely Twitter is about bringing people together, not disconnecting them?

So where does this leave brands and business who have relied on the channel in the past to build and engage with consumer audiences? The truth is that brands are finding greater opportunities to promote their products and services on more creative platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, with fewer limitations.

Twitter remains remote with no ability to link in with and create deeper connections with people socially. Due to the complex nature in how the algorithm presents tweets and information, it’s become hard to follow a coherent story and so has gradually become more of a broadcast platform, a way to see snippets of information and stories, rather than getting a deeper understanding of a brand, story or emerging situation. Less desirable with brands perhaps who want to tell a cohesive story and create a stronger level of engagement. The appeal is still certainly there for individuals who want to broadcast a single message, often in a time sensitive environment, rather than start a conversation.

So what does 2019 hold for Twitter?

There is certainly still a place for Twitter in the marketing mix at the moment, and hopefully the platform will release some new developments over the next twelve months to demonstrate its commitment to its future. It excels as a platform for communicating at events and to share news with your audience, but it’s debatable whether it’s a platform for sharing a longer-term conversation. It’s clear that when considering social media platforms, Twitter has a role to play but, as ever, it’s crucial to consider carefully the most suitable content for the platform and adapt it accordingly. As always, your strategy to developing your chosen platforms should never be a one-size-fits-all approach. Each channel should be treated as individuals, with specific objectives, tone of voice and content to give true value and meaning to your audience.

Look out for our blog post next month which looks at how Instagram and Facebook are in a constant battle for your business.