Twitter, in Four Sentences

Terry Teachout

Back in 2015, Wall Street Journal columnist, author and arts critic Terry Teachout had a few choice comments to make about Twitter — then as now one of the more controversial of the social media platforms.

With the passage of time — as well as significant elections, referenda and other socio-political developments intervening — it’s interesting to go back and read Mr. Teachout’s comments again.

From his perspective, in 2015 Teachout had postulated that the essence of Twitter could be boiled down to four statements, as follows:

  • How dare you talk about A, when B is infinitely more important?
  • If I disagree with you, you’re almost certainly arguing in bad faith — and are probably evil as well.
  • You are personally responsible, in toto and in perpetuity, for everything that your friends, colleagues, and/or ancestors have ever said, done, or thought.
  • (Statements #2 and #3 do not apply to me.)

Looking at these statements, it’s pretty remarkable how little has changed.

Or has it? What do you think?

[In an interesting side-development, Terry Teachout’s own Twitter account was hacked in 2018 — several years after he published his statements above.  As he recounts here, trying to get all of that sorted out with the social media platform was it’s own special kind of misery, even if ultimately successful.]

Facebook’s bad publicity in 2018 lands it at the top of the “least-trusted technology company” list.

The trust is gone …

One has to assume it’s a citation Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has tried mightily to avoid receiving. But with a massive data breach last year and poor marketing decision-making accompanied by a wave of bad publicity, it shouldn’t come as a major shock that Facebook is now considered the least trusted major technology brand by consumers.

The real surprise is by how much it outscores everyone else. Really, Facebook’s in a class by itself.

Recently, online survey research firm Toluna conducted a poll of ~1,000 adults age 18 or older in which it asked respondents to identify their “least trusted” technology company.

The results of the survey show the degree to which Facebook has become the “face” of everything that’s wrong with trust in the world of technology.

Here’s what Toluna’s found when it asked consumers to name the technology company they trusted least with their personal information:

  • Facebook: ~40% of respondents trust least
  • Amazon: ~8%
  • Twitter: ~8%
  • Uber: ~7%
  • Google (Gmail): ~6%
  • Lyft: ~6%
  • Apple: ~4%
  • Microsoft: ~2%
  • Netflix: ~1%
  • Tesla: ~1%

The yawning gap between Facebook’s unflattering perch at the top of the listing and the next most-cited companies — Amazon and Twitter — says everything anyone needs to know about the changing fortunes of company image and how fast public opinion can turn against it.

About the only thing worse is not showing up on the Top 10 list at all – which is the case for Oath (the parent of Yahoo and AOL).  That entity has become so inconsequential, it doesn’t even enter into the conversation anymore.  That’s a “diss” on a completely different level, of course. As Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is … not being talked about.”

What about you? Do you think that Facebook should be tops on this list?  Let us know your opinion below.

Putting the best face forward at Twitter.

tdWhen business results look disappointing, one can certainly sympathize with the efforts of company management to explain it away in the most innocuous of terms.

This may be what’s behind Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s description of his company’s 2016 performance as “transformative” – whatever that means.

Falling short of industry analysts’ forecasts yet again, Twitter experienced a revenue increase of only about 1% year-over-year during 2016.

Monthly active users didn’t look much better either, with the total number barely budging.

While I have no actual proof, one explanation of tepid active user growth may be that Twitter became the de facto “place for politics” in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election — which didn’t actually end in November and continues apace even today.

Simply put, for many people, politics isn’t their cup of tea — certainly not on a 24/7/365 diet, ad nauseum.

Quite telling, too, was the fact that advertising revenue showed an absolute decline during the 4th Quarter, dropping below $640 million for the period.

Even more disturbing for investors, the company’s explanation about the steps Twitter is taking to address its performance shortfalls smacks of vacuousness, to wit this statement from CEO Dorsey:

“While revenue growth continues to lag audience growth, we are applying the same focused approach that drove audience growth to our revenue product portfolio, focusing on our strengths and the real-time nature of our service.”

“This will take time, but we’re moving fast to show results,” Dorsey continued, rather unconvincingly.

One bright spot in the otherwise disappointing company results is that revenues from international operations – about 39% of total overall revenues – climbed ~12% during the year, as compared to a ~5% revenue drop domestically.

Overall however, industry watchers are predicting more in the way of bad rather than good news in 2017. Principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson at digital media market research firm eMarketer put it this way:

“Twitter is losing traction fast. It is starting to shed once-promising products such as Vine, and [to] sell off parts of its business such as its Fabric app development platform.  At the same time, some surveys indicate that Twitter is becoming less integral to advertisers’ spending plans.  That doesn’t bode well for future ad revenue growth.”

With a prognosis like that, can the next big drop in Twitter’s share price be far behind?

What do you think?

“Dying on the Vine”: Why the video sharing service is now history.

vineRemember back in 2012 when Twitter introduced its Vine video sharing service?

Back then, observers were positively breathless in their accolades for the service, with some positing that Vine represented some sort of tipping point in the world of instant communications.

A little more than four years later … and as of November 1, Vine has just been shuttered. How is it that such a vaunted social media platform went from de rigeur to rigor mortis in such a short time?

There are several key reasons why.

Time and place: The year 2012 was a perfect time to launch Vine, as it coincided with when many companies and brands were shifting their focus towards video communications.  At the time, short-form video was a novelty, making it a kind of dog whistle in the market.  But Instagram, newly acquired by Facebook, swooped in and made a big splash, too, while Snapchat attracted younger audiences.  What was Vine’s response to these competitor moves?  If there was much of any, no one seems to have noticed.

Competing … with yourself: Strange as it may seem, Twitter itself ended up competing with Vine in 2015, launching its own branded video playback capabilities.  When something like that happens, what’s the purpose of the older brand that’s doing the same thing?  Twitter’s simultaneous foray into live-streaming was a further blow to a brand that simply couldn’t compete with these newer video services introduced by Vine’s very own parent company.

Commercial viability? — What commercial viability? In all its time on the scene, Vine never figured out a way to sell advertising on its network.  It had a good germ of an idea in sponsored content, but never seemed to capitalize on the opportunities that presented, either.

Knowing your audience: From the outset, Vine attracted a fairly unique and crowd of users, such as people involved in the hip-hop music scene.  It was vastly different from the typical user base in social media – and yet Vine never did all that much to support these users.  As a result, there was little brand affinity to keep them close when the next “bright, shiny object” came their way.

In the social media space, the rise and fall of platforms can happen with amazing speed. Unlike some other platforms, Vine was a big hit from the get-go … but perhaps that turned out to be a double-edged sword.  Vine never did figure out a way to “mature” with its audiences – which eventually left it behind.

In the end, Vine went out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Twitter is looking more and more like the old, hidebound player in social platforms.

tWe’ve been hearing for a while now that Twitter’s go-go-days might be in the rear-view mirror.

But even so, the latest growth forecast for the company still seems pretty shocking for a “new media” participant.

In its most recent forecast of Twitter usage in the United States, eMarketer has lowered its projections of Twitter growth in usage to essentially “treading water” status.

More specifically, digital data research company eMarketer forecasts that by the end of the year, ~52 million U.S. consumers will be accessing their Twitter accounts at least once per month.

That will represent just a 2% increase for the year.

Long-term growth prospects for Twitter don’t look any better. At one point, eMarketer was forecasting growth estimates of nearly 14 million new Twitter users by 2020.  But today, that forecast has been downgraded significantly to only about 3.5 million new users.

In the world of social media platforms, such paltry growth expectations mean that Twitter’s share of domestic social network users will continue to decline. (It’s at around 28% now, which is already a bit of a drop from last year.)

What’s making Twitter seem like such a “passé player” in the go-go world of social media? Oscar Orozco, an analyst at eMarketer, sums up its challenges succinctly:

“Twitter continues to struggle with growing its user base because new users often find the product unwieldy and difficult to navigate, which makes it challenging to find long-term value in being an active user. Also, [Twitter’s] new product initiatives have had little impact in attracting new users.”

Who’s eating into Twitter’s market presence? How about Snapchat and Instagram, for starters.  A host of other messaging apps are also hurting Twitter’s growth prospects.

It hasn’t helped that Twitter has been struggling mightily to monetize its service offering. While it has made valiant efforts to do so, Facebook and LinkedIn have done a more effective job of leveraging their massive user data into attracting advertising dollars.

Facebook is a cash machine … LinkedIn does a respectable job … while Twitter seems almost hopeless by comparison.

After flying high for so long – even to the degree that many companies still speak about social media as one mashup term “Facebook-Twitter-LinkedIn,” Twitter’s decline is all the more surprising.  Poignant, even.

For many people, what’s “breaking news” isn’t breaking on traditional news media outlets.

First it was Jon Stewart. Now it’s social media. 

(AP)
(AP)

If you suspect that Americans are increasingly getting their news from someplace other than the standard TV/cable, print and online news outlets, you’re right on the money.

In fact, research conducted by the Pew Center in association with the Knight Foundation during 2015 reveals that the share of people for whom Facebook and Twitter serve as a source of news is continuing to rise.

More specifically, nearly two thirds of the 2,000+ Americans age 18 and older surveyed by Pew (~63%) reported that they’re getting news reporting from Facebook.

A similar percentage reported receiving news from Twitter as well.

That compares with ~52% reporting that they received news from Twitter back in 2013 … and ~47% from Facebook.

Although both of these social networks now have the same portion of people getting news from these two sources, the Pew research discovered some nuanced differences as to their strengths.

smnA far bigger portion of people follow “breaking news” on Twitter compared to Facebook (~59% versus ~31%), which underscores Twitter’s strength in providing immediate “as-it-happens” coverage and commentary on live events.

Seeing such behaviors, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that both social networks have been implementing more initiatives that strengthen their positions as news sources even more:

  • Facebook has launched Instant Articles, a functionality that allows media companies to publish stories directly to the Facebook platform instead of linking to outside websites.
  • Facebook has also introduced a new Trending sidebar that allows users to filter news by major topic categories such as sports, entertainment, politics, technology and science.
  • Twitter has introduced live events to its roster, thanks to its purchase of the live video-streaming app Periscope.
  • A related Twitter initiative, dubbed Moments (aka: Project Lightning), allows anyone – even a person without a Twitter account – to view ongoing feeds of tweets, images and videos pertaining to live events.

According to Pew, news exposure is on social media roughly equal among all demographic factors including gender, ethnicity and income. The one exception, of course, is age.

All of these developments underscore the fact that the “traditional” TV, print and online outlets are no longer dominant when it comes to news consumption. And it’s highly unlikely that the trend will ever be reversed, either.

Twitter’s Continuing Monetization Challenge

Press reports have been pretty consistent over the past year or so about the underwhelming financial performance of Twitter.  Here’s the trend line for Twitter shares of stock since the beginning of 2014:

 

Twitter share price trend

 

… And beyond the financial performance, I’ve been writing about Twitter’s fundamental business challenges off and on for well over five years now.

While Twitter undoubtedly has its place in the social realm — its place in “breaking news” is a biggie — it remains a frustrating platform for advertisers, which is one reason Twitter’s business model has turned out to be less effective than Facebook’s.

Recent stats from eMarketer reveal that over 50 million Internet users in the United States are accessing their Twitter accounts via any device at least monthly.

That equates to about fifth of U.S. Internet users — and nearly three in ten people active on social networks.

So … this means that many people are seeing ads on Twitter. And that’s confirmed through an evaluation conducted by Cowen & Company which finds that well over half of U.S. adult Twitter users are e encountering ads on their Twitter feed at least every 10 or 20 tweets.

Predictably, most of the advertising pertains to retail, app installations and travel. Those are pretty relevant as broad advertising categories.

It’s just … many Twitter users aren’t finding the ads effective.  Here’s what Cowen’s findings show in terms of user feelings about Twitter advertising:

  • Ads on Twitter are relevant and/or insightful: ~3%
  • Ads are OK: ~26%
  • Ads are not really relevant: ~45%
  • Ads are usually a poor fit: ~14%

These results suggest that advertisers need to improve their targeting capabilities significantly if they wish to reach the right audience segments with relevant messages.

More fundamentally, current attitudes about Twitter advertising pose continuing challenges for Twitter as it attempts to further-monetize its platform. The tepid performance of Twitter shares since the beginning of 2014 underscores how the company continues to cast about for answers to that fundamental challenge.  I wonder when (or if) the company will ever figure it all out.