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Checking In With Twitter After 10 Years

Twitter’s growth is slowing, but the site is still one of the world’s most important

21Mar

Whether you found out on Facebook, Google or Twitter itself, the internet’s 140-character behemoth turns 10 today, and its fans are making their adoration for the world’s second-biggest social media site clear. Though it depends on which ranking you subscribe to, Twitter generally ranks just inside the top 10 most visited sites in the world, but is way behind the likes of world leaders Google and Facebook. And, with growth slowing, the micro-blogging portal faces some serious challenges if it is to see 20.

Twitter’s presence as a purveyor of information has made it arguably one of the internet’s most important sites, if not one of the very most visited. Its involvement in some huge world events - the Arab Spring, the movement for marriage equality, the 2011 Japanese tsunami and the Black Lives Matter movement - have given it a place in politics and aid unmatched by other less public social media.

The company released a two-and-a-half minute video commemorating its role as a collaborative source of live information, and it is this very feature that both sets it apart from its competition and makes it one of the world’s most powerful tools. The site serves as an alternative but brilliant news outlet, breaking events as they happen thanks to their wide berth of users. Some of the world’s biggest and best media outlets will turn to Twitter for live updates on developing events and, anecdotally, Jack Dorsey - CEO and co-founder - recalled a San Francisco earthquake, during which the news of the earthquake reached his phone quicker than the tremors. Its very nature of displaying almost entirely user-generated content makes for an environment freer from editorial bias, and as a result its second wave of users consisted greatly of journalists and writers.

The respect for Twitter is seemingly universal, but their stock price of late has not reflected this. Its huge reach - it has about 320 million monthly active users - has been slowing in growth over the past few years. In the first quarter of 2014, user growth was 25%; this has since slowed to just 9% in Q4 of 2015, a report in February 2016 confirmed. Twitter is, for want of a better word, stagnating. It has been that way for months, and the stock price has declined to just 75% of its peak. Projected figures for advertising have resultantly been slashed, revenue is growing far slower than it used to, and Twitter’s continued growth is going to be a huge challenge for Jack Dorsey and his team to navigate. In order to ensure that Twitter sees 20, Dorsey insists the site will aim to consolidate its current product, and work with its users to develop the site further rather than targeting new areas of influence.

It’s this very reluctance for wholesale change that has made Twitter such an attractive medium. Reports that the 140-character limit was set to be scrapped have failed to come to fruition and, unlike Facebook, Twitter has largely sidestepped the rise of video and visual over textual sharing. At the very end of their commemorative video, Twitter wrote a tweet that exceeded their own 140-character limit, before revising it to make it fit - a tongue-in-cheek indication that the limit is set to remain. With the relative scarcity of Facebook status updates among the myriad of videos and photographs shared daily, Twitter’s focus on the musings of its millions of users is refreshing.

And Twitter is championing advancements in its back-end analytics to make it a more attractive prospect for brands. According to Dara Nasr, the UK managing director, innovations in Twitter’s analytics have brought it up to speed with the likes of Facebook, Google and Instagram, for example. "Now it is incredibly easy to plan a campaign, we have events insight dashboards you can use to plan around huge campaigns, we have audience insights, and a range of ways of testing different creatives. So actually the feedback we’ve had is our innovation in the last two years, including the back end stuff, has really brought us up to parity and is helping us not just advance but work closer with brands."

It is not so much a case of adapt or die for Twitter, it is a case of tweak and flourish. Improvements to analytics and user interface should see both corporate and user involvement grow, and saturation point need not be such a grave concern for an already mammoth user base. How Dorsey and his team react to the company’s stunted growth will be revealing. After 10 years, 140 characters is still Twitter’s limit, advertising on-site is relatively subtle and customer service still remains the company’s main focus on the platform - long may it continue. 

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