4 ways for Twitter to stay relevant
How can Twitter get ahead in the social advertising space? Columnist Brad O'Brien discusses four initiatives that will help the platform thrive and resonate more with marketers.
When asked where my clients put their social advertising dollars to drive real ROI, I frequently find myself saying, “Facebook is like the Google of social, and Twitter is like Bing.” I hate saying it, but it’s the reality.
Facebook dominates in terms of ad dollars and performance and has the user base and engagement to back up growth that doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. As you’ll read later on, some burgeoning, not-yet-public platforms like Pinterest and Snapchat may be in a better position than Twitter to take ad revenue from Facebook.
In this article, I’m going to outline four things I think Twitter needs to do not just to survive, but to thrive.
Be laser-focused on driving advertising revenue
In the second quarter of 2016, Facebook drove a whopping $6.24 billion in advertising revenue (up 63 percent year over year). That’s compared with Twitter’s $535 million (up 18 percent year over year).
While Twitter’s ad revenue is increasing, it’s not happening anywhere close to fast enough. When your fiercest competitor is driving over 11 times more revenue than you, it exposes a clear need to focus on the viability of your advertising offerings.
Investors are responding to this discrepancy as well: Facebook’s shares are valued over six times higher than Twitter’s.
Social platforms rely solely on advertising to drive revenue, and advertisers are choosing to put those dollars on Facebook over Twitter. Facebook has slicker options for ads, better audience targeting features and an algorithm that simply converts at scale better than Twitter’s.
What I see with our clients, and hear from other industry experts, is that achieving scale with Twitter advertising is extremely difficult. Twitter needs to give advertisers a reason to believe that their dollars are well-spent and that there is real scale potential on the platform.
Increase user base and platform engagement
For Twitter power users, these next few figures may sting a little. At the end of Q2 2016, Facebook reported 1.71 billion monthly active users (MAUs), up an impressive 15 percent year over year. By comparison, Twitter claimed 313 million MAUs, up just three percent year over year.
That means Facebook has nearly five and a half times more active users than Twitter, at a year-over-year percentage growth rate that is also five times higher. Even more sobering for Twitter, users are spending a staggering 35 minutes per day on Facebook, compared with just one minute per day on Twitter.
A (much) smaller user base that is not engaging on the platform creates a serious issue for Twitter. It also ties back to my first point of increasing ad revenue. If Twitter is suffering from a low user base and, even worse, an unengaged audience, it can’t capture ad revenue impressions anywhere close to the range of Facebook.
Furthermore, Twitter is not collecting invaluable user behavior data to feed back to its algorithm. Not being able to captivate an audience and keep their sustained attention is Twitter’s Achilles heel.
But it’s not just Facebook that’s overshadowing Twitter’s ability to attract and retain active and engaged users. Recently, Snapchat surpassed Twitter’s daily active user base.
Even Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted in June at Recode’s technology conference that Snapchat messaging is “very modern” and that Twitter can be confusing and alienating at times. Pinterest is quickly catching up to Twitter as well, with monthly active users just two million shy of Twitter. This is impressive, considering Pinterest mostly caters to a female audience.
If you can’t innovate, imitate
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and, in the case of Twitter, it could be a much-needed tactic to remain competitive. I can understand not wanting to copy someone; I’m very prideful myself (Ask for directions? Never!). But Twitter execs need to put the pride aside and realize that imitation may be a necessary evil to keep their company in business.
Borrowing features from other successful social platforms is a way to stay relevant, respond to your demographics’ needs and wants, and, most importantly, provide convenience for users, so they don’t need to hop around between several apps.
Take Facebook, for example — they are no strangers to copying, and their most recent addition of Instagram Stories is basically a direct rip-off of Snapchat. Call it what you want — copying, mimicking, feeding into your anxieties or simply “adapting” — it’s always worked for Facebook. So much so that Facebook even copies Twitter. Facebook Live is the counterpoint to Twitter-owned Periscope.
There are signs that Twitter may be conceding to imitation, as evidenced by their latest ad reporting exports looking very similar to Facebook’s. I’d suggest also mimicking Facebook’s highly successful Lookalike targeting capabilities to allow advertisers to go after conversion-based acquisition goals at scale.
Make a major acquisition or merger
My last suggestion for Twitter would be to consider making a major acquisition, being acquired, or merging with a similarly sized up-and-coming platform/app. Pull a Facebook, and buy out a budding rival.
Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram has allowed it to imitate with minimal risk. Instagram Stories may crash and burn, but it almost doesn’t matter; Instagram itself is still a powerhouse, and in this case, it allowed Facebook to compete directly with up-and-comer Snapchat.
As a former SEO, I’ve also dreamed of Twitter and Google making their relationship official. Tweets in search results is a start, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for potential integrations.
Given that Google and Facebook do not necessarily play well together, Twitter stands to align itself with a digital powerhouse. Imagine if you could target Twitter users based on searches they’ve made in Google — that would certainly give Twitter a real intent-driven leg up in the social advertising space.