Tag Archives: twitter

The Weird Things That Come Up with Twitter Earnings

(This post was originally on the Voce blog) 

Twitter announced its quarterly earnings and other updates yesterday. In short, monthly active users are up (though they seem to be using some creative math to make that case, which led to the inevitable investor discomfort) and revenue grew while losses shrunk. Sounds like good news, no?


Of course not,because this is Twitter. The investor call yesterday has led to a number of stories that seem to appear in the wake of each such call such as “people don’t get Twitter” and over-analysis of comments by interim CEO Jack Dorsey (himself the subject of plenty of hot takes) about how Twitter continues to question the reverse-chronological timeline.

Perhaps Twitter was easier to understand back in 2007 or 2008, before Facebook became the juggernaut it is now and when we were all still pretty entranced by personal blogging, which Twitter closely resembled, mostly because both use the reverse chronology as their core feature. So a whole group of people who were committed to their blogs jumped into Twitter and said “Oh yeah, I totally get this.”

Now though that group of users is at least two or three generations (in terms of internet users) in the past and the current group of young people (I refuse to use the term “millennials”) has their own set of preferred apps and communications tools. In some cases – Snapchat and the like – those completely do away with profiles, timelines and such conceits in favor of focusing exclusively on what’s happening RIGHT NOW. But in other cases – particularly Instagram – the same model Twitter uses is in place with people needing to set up accounts and profiles and the feed of updates displaying in reverse chronological format, with new photos right there at the top and no algorithm deciding what is or isn’t relevant, at least not yet.

So maybe it’s not that the format in which updates are displayed is the major sticking point. Maybe it’s just that Twitter, as I’ve long maintained, will never be a mass audience product.

It’s telling that Twitter’s active user count shot up like it did as a result of adding people who receive updates via SMS and don’t visit the site, use an app or heavily engage with other people’s updates. They are part of what I suspect is a large contingent of users who enjoy getting updates but don’t see the value in engaging or doing much publishing of their own. They want to use Twitter as a news service, essentially, and not as an engagement and conversation platform. Or they just want to lean back with Twitter while watching The Bachlorette and see everyone’s updates but not participate themselves.

And maybe that needs to be OK. There is only one big reason why that wouldn’t be something Twitter – and the endless array of analysts covering its every move – wouldn’t think these are still valuable users and that’s advertising. By going public years ago and needing for its every move to be one that increases revenue, Twitter is no longer the “use it as you see fit, that’s cool” place it was in its early days. Now if you’re not engaging and posting actively you are a missed opportunity.

I’m a big fan of a messy Twitter. I like the unfiltered stream and find those who don’t are the same one who, years ago, said they were ditching RSS feeds because they got all their news on Twitter, thereby showing they failed to understand either. I get that doesn’t work for everyone, which is why I continue to believe if the company *were* to introduce tools to better manage the feed (Lists already exist, but it’s not something most people use) they need to be opt-in.

Twitter was easier to explain – and for people to understand – when “microblog” would suffice. Now, though they need to face a world where it’s not necessarily the difficulty to define or understand that is keeping people away but the fact that the world of communication has simply evolved past what it offers, while a core group of committed user keeps it alive. In other words, it’s Twitter’s choice whether to change core functionality to adopt features that might appeal to a group that would never use it regardless or focus on maintaining a tool whose current features continue to appeal to a smaller but devoted audience.

Pew’s Study on Teens, Tech and Social Media: Five Things To Know

(Post originally published on the PNConnect Blog)

Pew has released a massive new study examining the technology and social media habits of teens in the United States. As usual there’s a plethora of interesting data in the study but for companies looking to incorporate this information into their social media marketing plans here are the big takeaways:

  1. PI_2015-04-09_teensandtech_01These teens are almost always online. More than half say they go online several times a day. And most of that is happening on mobile devices, with 91% of teens saying they use those devices to go online at least some of the time. Tellingly, those without mobile access to the internet go online less frequently. This is fast on its way to becoming the default on-ramp to the web.
  2. They’re mostly on Facebook but they aren’t loyal to any one site. 71% of teens say they use more than one social network. Interestingly, Google+ is used by the same percentage of those who DO only use one network as Instagram, 13% in both cases. So while Facebook continues to dominate – it’s used most by 41% and exclusively by 66% – it would be a mistake to pick a single channel to focus marketing efforts aimed at this demographic on.
  3. Income dramatically influences what networks are used. With the exception of Facebook, usage of other networks (Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter) increases as household income increases. Facebook is the only one with an inverse relationship with income, with usage decreasing as incomes rise. Not only does overall usage change with income levels but frequency of usage does as well.
  4. Gender and age play pretty big roles as well. As the report states, girls are more drawn to visually-oriented networks like Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr. Meanwhile, Instagram is the most-visited platform among those 13-14.
  5. The report points out that a lot – 33% – of teens in the survey use a messaging app like Kik, WhatsApp and others. Not only does this mark a substantive change in behavior from social media (these apps aren’t build around the stream or feed like Twitter, Facebook and so on) but it means they’re more interested in communicating with each other as opposed to broadcasting their updates to a wide – and sometimes unwelcome – audience. And these apps are more likely, almost twice as much so, to be used by Hispanic and African-American teens as white teens.

You can read the entire report, which breaks down usage of each of these and other networks in detail, here.

It’s not Tweets that impact box-office, it’s word-of-mouth

A new study has been released that shows just how much a tweet about a movie impacts the box-office results for that movie, according to Variety.

According to the study, the value of a Tweet on box-office is highest about a month out from release, around the same time serious advertising kicks in though obviously well after the release of the first trailer and other assets. The closer to the actual release date, the less it’s worth since, presumably, people are making longer-term decisions about what movies to see. And the farther out from release, the less other press there’s been about the movie, press which isn’t always positive.


There are other factors – the sentiment of the Tweet obviously matters, as does a statement of intent or call to action, and things will vary from genre to genre. And there’s a common sense conclusion in the story about how the buzz that’s happening in the sweet spot identified here can help studios project box-office a bit.

Also of note in the story is the admission that each Tweet isn’t just a thing in and of itself. The people doing the research also gave it a value beyond the one person since it’s assumed, that opinion is shared by X number of people who haven’t spoken up themselves. What that multiplier might be isn’t stated outright, unfortunately.

As always with stories like this, though, the thing that comes to mind is that the focus is too firm on Twitter or other social platforms. So what’s labeled here as “Twitter buzz” or something similar is actually word-of-mouth. It’s people recommending a movie (or whatever else we might be discussing) to the people they know and who know them. And as study after study points out, people put a lot of value on what the people they know have to say and what they value.

That’s true of just about everything and is incredibly important to remember whenever discussing social media. Twitter, Facebook and other networks are just tools that facilitate the spread of word-of-mouth, which is often peer-to-peer in nature. They change the scale at which that happens, absolutely. But they usually don’t change the fundamental nature of the recommendations that are happening.

So when we talk about “how much is a Tweet worth” in regards to movie box-office, computer sales or anything else, keep in mind that this is all about word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth that’s scaled, sure, but it’s still just that.

Twitter isn’t a traffic generator so stop thinking it is

A lot of people today are discussing this piece by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Thompson takes issue with Twitter effectiveness as a traffic-driving platform, citing that it sends a minuscule number of click-throughs and that many of his tweets saw very low engagement numbers.

His take-down piece ends with this:

It’s fair to come away from these metrics thinking that Twitter is worthless. But that’s an unsophisticated conclusion. The more sophisticated takeaway is that Twitter is worthless for the limited purpose of driving traffic to your website, because Twitter is not a portal for outbound links, but rather a homepage for self-contained pictures and observations.

twitter-bird-blue-on-white.pngThe very thesis that Twitter is and should be a traffic-driving platform is not only a relatively recent development but also not backed-up by any rudimentary experience with it. For at least a couple years after it first launched Twitter wasn’t about “Look what I just published'” but more cleanly and clearly about conversation. It was about trading jokes, discussing topic and more and it wasn’t until the media companies and social media rockstars with their endless lists of tips came along that it became about the links.

Also, anyone who knows anything about Twitter knows that Twitter’s main feature – the Timeline – makes link traffic a sketchy proposition at best. If you look away from Twitter for more than 30 seconds you’re going to cycle through two or three complete rotations of your Timeline, meaning everything that was published in that time is lost to the stream unless you go chasing after it. So you’re dealing with an audience at the tail end of this chain:

All Twitter > Those Who Follow You > Those Who See Your Tweet > Those With the Time and Inclination to Click Your Link

That’s a pretty small subset and shows that Twitter, as anyone who’s run any sort of actual content program could tell you, isn’t going to be your big traffic generator. There are other reasons for that, but the arrangement of the unfiltered stream is the biggest. Certain things will sometimes take off on Twitter, sure. But it’s never, at least not in its current incarnation, going to be a major source of traffic to a story.

That’s not to say, though, that Twitter doesn’t have value for a publisher or individual writer. But that value isn’t always best expressed by click-throughs and site traffic. There’s brand awareness, there’s customer/reader loyalty and so much more. Engagement can and sometimes should be the primary goal.

Yes, Twitter wants to keep readers within its environment. That’s no surprise. Facebook has the same goal and both have made their desire to host more and more media content themselves very clear. That calls into question the entire idea of using social media as a traffic engine since the end goal seems to be to send none at all.

All of this is me spending a lot of time on an op-ed that has the shakiest of foundations: It’s a case study based on one individual’s experience and informed solely by their prejudices and opinions. That in and of itself would be grounds for discounting this without further analysis. But too many people over the last couple days have been giving this far more credence than it deserves.

Twitter makes its play for the casual user

twitter-bird-blue-on-white.pngTwitter has laid out what seem to be their plans for the first half of 2015. We can look forward to:

  • The ability to record, edit and share videos natively within the Twitter app. While they seem to say this will coexist alongside Vine it’s easy to take the next step and guess that Vine functionality may one day exist solely within Twitter and Vine cease to exist as a standalone app.
  • Further “experiments” with how “relevant” Tweets are surfaced in someone’s Timeline. The post certainly leaves the door wide open for the much-discussed algorithmic feed that would mimic Facebook’s to an extent but it also hints at giving you a prioritized recap snapshot for the period you were away from Twitter so you can catch up.
  • A way to fill up the Timelines for those people who haven’t put the legwork into following a bunch of people. It’s easy to expect that these “personalized” timelines will be to some degree filled with the accounts Twitter thinks someone will engage with most.
  • A revamped Direct Message experience. The end goal here seems to bring DMs more in line with other messaging apps, though details here are the light.

Put all of that together and you can see the company is focused on two audiences: Light/casual users and big media companies.

The first is absolutely being targeted with the changes that are being made to the timeline. While it’s still unclear as to whether those changes will be opt-in/out or not, the idea of seeing “top stories” immediately upon returning is meant to appeal to those who maybe don’t have Twitter open all day or who don’t have other ways they’re keeping up with the news. In fact, here Twitter may have an advantage over Facebook. If Twitter can indeed figure out how to surface stories that are important and not just highly-engaged with (as Facebook) does then it can retain its standing as the place people go for news while Facebook stays as the place for people who want to watch that Christmas ad with the penguins.

The second is being targeted because they’re the ones behind the accounts (along with celebrities) who are most likely to be used to fill in the Timelines of the people who don’t build their own. And even if a “top news” recap does skew more toward actual news, these are the accounts who are likely to be included in that recap. Finally, they’re going to be huge users of Twitter’s native video capabilities, particularly if (as rumored) it includes auto-play, which brands love and the audience loathes.

It remains to be seen how this will all play out, obviously. But now Twitter is on the record with where they’re heading in 2015. How all this will impact brand publishers can only be guessed at right now. There are certainly potential upsides (more exposure though the display of “important” updates) and downsides (if your posts stink they may not be deemed important *enough*), but the devil will be in the details. More certainly to come.

Twitter takes next step toward curated, algorithmic Timelines

Twitter_512x512Twitter yesterday published this post about their continued “experimentation” with people’s Timelines. Specifically they are looking to keep finding ways to bring in tweets that you “might miss out on” but which may be interesting to you. And here’s how, according to the post, they’re going to make that determination:

  • Activity on accounts you already follow
  • Popularity of the Tweets
  • How people are interacting with those Tweets

But then it ends with this thought:

“As the timeline evolves, we will continue to show you Tweets you care about when they matter most.”

I completely understand what Twitter is trying to do. They want to make the experience, specifically the on-domain experience, more engaging for new and non-power users by bringing up material they feel is relevant. So they’re using those signals (and whatever else) to judge what people are mostly likely to find interesting and, as they say, fill holes in the Timeline with those posts.

But the problem is that the final statement quoted above doesn’t jive with the idea of an algorithmic feed. By definition an algorithmic feed shows the posts *other people* care about, making the assumption that by association you will as well. If other people find it interesting you will too, so we’re showing it to you is the logic.

Let’s start with a simple premise: Social networks, when you first set up a profile, are an opt-in mechanism. If I want to get updates from X (where X can be either an individual, a brand or a fictional character) then I will take the positive action of clicking the Follow/Like/Subscribe button. These are the updates I want to see because, for whatever reason, they’re important or interesting to me.

Then one of two things happen: Either users keep following more and more accounts until their feed gets overwhelmed or they decide that, nope, that’s good and stop at just a select few. (Note that I’m excluding those who completely give up, either deleting their account or abandoning it and becoming “Inactive” accounts.)

Those in the second group may not feel any need to see more posts. They’re good where they are and anything additional is likely to be confusing and unwelcome. For those who fall into first group, tools already exist to help them determine a good signal-to-noise ratio, most notably Lists. But Lists are something that’s not a great user experience either on-domain or through Twitter’s native mobile/desktop apps. The best option there is Tweetdeck or an outside tool like Hootsuite. There are options though.

Plenty of us like the stream, even if we also use tools that allow us to curate based on our interests. The key, though, is that those tools are in our control. If I want to remove someone from a List I can. I don’t need – nor do I want – Twitter determining who it feels I should see as important. Just because something is popular among the people I follow doesn’t mean I need to see it. NYU’s Jay Rosen has dubbed it the “Ice Bucket Feed” since it’s more likely to show posts that have been engaged with by others, as the Ice Bucket Challenge was on Facebook, but engagement doesn’t automatically translate into importance.

To be clear, I’m not against Twitter trying to increase engagement and subsequent usage. But, as I’ve stated before, it needs to at the very least have an opt-out option that’s permanent until I say otherwise. One of the constant frustrations is every day going to Facebook and LinkedIn and changing them to “most recent” as opposed to the feed that shows what it thinks I’d be most interested in. I don’t want to outsource what I see to these networks.

Twitter needs not just active users but ad revenue

Twitter_512x512John McDuling at Quartz says Twitter is closer to fixing the problem of what to do with its passive audience – i.e. those who see tweets but never log in and create themselves – but I don’t think he actually says what that solution might be.

The “problem” is that people are engaging with Twitter or seeing updates from Twitter in ways that don’t translate into them becoming active users. Or, for that matter, that they aren’t even registering to become users int the first place. So they may see a tweet embedded on another page or something but that doesn’t prompt them to actually get onto Twitter and get involved themselves.

McDuling offers one suggestion for making things a bit more welcoming for people with the idea of providing a curated Timeline around a single event/theme like the World Cup. That makes a lot of sense and Twitter has played around with ideas like that both on their own and with the ability to create Custom Timelines, though that’s something that’s only available on the power-user tool Tweetdeck. But it makes sense to continue this notion and offer someone like the NFL the ability to add a custom experience for, say, Bears fans at NFL.com/TwitterBears or something like that. Bring in curated tweets, offer custom video and so on. Make it a destination.

But I think McDuling overlooks something big: Ads. While user acquisition is certainly an important thing they should be focusing on I think Twitter also needs to look at ways to monetize the logged-out user experience. I’m not more a fan of advertising than anyone else, meaning I tolerate it as a necessary tool that’s in place so that I can enjoy “free” entertainment and other content. But now that Twitter is a public company I don’t think they can continue to hold Wall Street’s interest by just focusing on how to get more people to sign up. There will always be X percentage of people who are never going to sign up, so the company needs to figure out how to still make money on those individuals.