January 13, 2016
Mark Brill, senior lecturer in Digital Communication and Future Media at Birmingham City University
Every time a popular social media site announces a change, their users seem to throw up their arms in horror. When Facebook announced additions to their ‘Like’ function in 2015, it was branded the ‘Dislike’ button and warnings about loss of users followed. Twitter is no different. First up, they changed the star for ‘favourites’ into a heart. The cheek of it.
Now, they are hinting at longer Tweets of 10,000 characters. Does that undermine the very essence of the 140 character micro-blogging experience? Will the longer length simply make it just another blogging platform?
Twitter has a problem. Over the last year its growth has slowed down considerably and had little over 300m active users in 2015. Well below expectations. Compare that to WhatsApp, the messaging platform that is approaching 1 billion users.
Celebrities and their audience have mostly left Twitter to go to Instagram. Perhaps they are simply driven by narcissism but it’s very telling that four of the top ten Instagram accounts are from the Kardashian clan. Twitter though, seems to have become the place for politician’s indiscretions, journalists tweeting their own articles and the middle class moaning at brands over service failures.
The slow growth of the user base is just one part of the equation. Since its initial public offering (IPO), Twitter has had to become more profit-driven. For the micro-blogging site, that means advertising, but it has not managed to deliver the expected revenues. Although it has grown, their advertising remains a bit-part player to Facebook’s highly successful offering. That has been reflected in their share price, which has been in decline since the IPO – the inverse trajectory of Facebook.
So, Twitter needs to do something. Like all social media sites, it has always been evolving. At first it was driven by users – retweets, @mentions and the hashtag are all products of this. More recent initiatives, such as the ‘heart’, polls and Moments have come from within the business. But are longer tweets the right move for Twitter? It should mean more time spent within the site, and that is the key to developing ad revenue – something that Facebook understands well. In, turn by appealing to advertisers it could help to reverse their declining share price.
But what about their users? The complaints about the changes are in part, a reflection that their audience cares about Twitter. However, some commentators have suggested that it is part of an identity crisis – Twitter doesn’t know what it is any longer. But this could be a bigger challenge for Twitter – longer Tweets go against a broad trend towards shorter and message based content.
Snapchat is a good example where social media is heading. The ten-second life of pictures and videos hascaught the imagination of 200m+ users. In Sept 2015 the app had 6 billion video views per day – that’s a 3-fold increase in 7 months and rapidly approaching Facebook’s figure of 8 billion views per day. The fact is that from content to our attention spans, everything’s getting shorter – as a Microsoft study found.
Certainly Twitter has to evolve but the answer probably doesn’t lie with longer Tweets.
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