Many people consider Twitter to be on death’s door, almost flatlining and barely breathing. But, in the words of one Monty Python character: “I’m not dead!” Well, at least not yet.
Twitter had its shares of missteps in 2016, including an exodus of executives, including its CTO and COO, and a failure to sell itself in a highly-publicized bake sale. One of the reasons that sale fell through was the problem Twitter has with trolls and abuse, which has driven off many high-profile users. And its CEO Jack Dorsey is only part-time on the job, as he’s also CEO of Square.
So why am I confident that 2017 will breathe some new life into Twitter, besides our new Troll-in-Chief taking office soon? Let me count the ways…
1. Jack Dorsey’s Listening Tour
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey certainly showed his interest in taking public commentary seriously when he issued a public call for feedback at the cusp of 2017, asking what the microblogging service ought to be doing better. His request drew hundreds of responses circulating around four themes: curbing online abuse; allowing an edit function; providing users better management of topics and interests; and offering easier ways to track conversations.
His tweets on the four requests — brief, of course, given he was limited to 140 characters — show where Twitter may put more emphasis this year. He said that following topics was the strongest request and that being more topic- and interest-focused “opens up a lot.” He also noted that conversations, while a huge part of what makes Twitter magical, are simply very difficult to follow, and promised to make that easier. So it looks like we can bank on anticipating more ease in those departments.
The others are a bit thornier. It’s one thing to offer a quick fix to edit errors, for instance. But if the President of the United States uses Twitter in such a way that his account becomes the most powerful publication in the world — and it’s a guarantee that his tweets will be included in news stories — Twitter is no doubt part of the public record. It’ll have to do more development to ensure accountability if it chooses to steer toward an edit function.
2. Fighting Abuse
When it comes to abuse, meanwhile, Dorsey acknowledged that a ton of work is necessary ahead and that the “biggest ask” was for greater transparency around its actions. And then, as if on cue, Twitter swiftly shut down the account of pharmaceutical executive and Trump supporter Martin Shkreli after he targeted freelance reporter Lauren Duca — who penned “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America” on Teen Vogue. You could see that Twitter was at least trying, even though it missed the opportunity to showcase full transparency by only giving a one-sentence response to justify shutting down Shkreli’s account.
That aside, the fact that this occurred on Twitter — followed by chatter around it on Twitter — only to be followed by news about it generated again, on Twitter — shows the company excels at a certain kind of rabid engagement among its regular users.
3. Brands Experiment with Twitter Moments
In fact, it could have been a Twitter Moment, something that marketers and publishers are also experimenting with on the platform. Moments, with its curated tweets, are an ideal product for casual users who don’t want to be on the platform all day but want to know the Twitter gossip around a particular event or story.
From a brand or company perspective, they’re also inexpensive to produce and take advantage of the real-time marketing that Twitter also offers — hence why clients as diverse as Lime-A-Rita, YouTube and Newsweek are all jumping into the fray. It would come as no surprise if more news clients and marketers followed suit in 2017, or if Twitter did more to enhance the feature — after all, Moments is already a solution to help people follow a topic or interest.
4. Twitter Remains an Important Source of News
Indeed, while Twitter may never be able to scale the way Facebook has, it has been leaps and bounds ahead of its rival when it comes to hiring editors, working with news publishers and generally positing itself as a media company. Unlike Facebook, whose recent hire of Campbell Brown to lead news partnerships seems more like a hire of a marketing rep rather than a public editor or editor in chief, Twitter is looking to hire editors and an associate producer.
And let’s face it: News breaks all the time on Twitter, whether by eyewitnesses at the scene, or journalists giving inside dirt, or celebs and sports stars posting what they shouldn’t. Twitter has also been testing breaking news push notifications along the lines of the Associated Press and New York Times, and has moved from the “social networking” to the “news” category on Apple’s App Store. Not only that, but Twitter’s push into live video, including its deal to air NFL games live on the platform, is a much more elegant maneuver than Facebook’s own insistence on Facebook Live (which, with its conspicuous sponsored posts on Facebook and enormous banners on buildings, seems much more desperate).
Twitter may have trouble growing its user numbers and stock price, but its relevance keeps rising. Let’s see what 2017 brings. And remember, when you hit rock bottom, there’s only one way to go: up!