Twitter :
The Slow Roasting
of a Company

“People around the globe know of Twitter,
but it’s not clear why they should use Twitter.”

Yes, I am on Twitter. If part of your business is consulting companies about online affairs you need to be, because else you are no “expert”. Indeed if you do not have 10,000 followers (I regularly get cheap offers to acquire those “qualified”, “genuine” followers) you seem to have a hard time being taken seriously: The world is filled with articles which suggest a business should only hire employees in online-marketing with certain minimum numbers of followers. Purchasable followers on a communication tool, which people do not know what to use it for?

“People around the globe know of Twitter, but it’s not clear why they should use Twitter.”
Jack Dorsey, CEO Twitter

Actually I also did know little what to do with it and I kept missing any business-model for them — except the sale of advertising space which is anything but creative or a guaranteed money-maker.

There is very little stuff you can put into 140 characters. And while I understood why the good old SMS does have 160 characters, I never found a reason for the 140 characters limit on Twitter — other than to suggest to people and especially investors that it is faster, simpler, less time-consuming and more modern than SMS (or MMS for that matter).

I found a way to make use of Twitter by combining it with my tendency to procrastinate on reading articles and comments I find interesting, hooking the Twitter “communication tool” up with Pocket, IFTTT and Buffer. But what I do is actually to propagate, not to communicate (even in the 21st century many marketers cannot spot the difference).

Providing Content Overload

I look to spread what I found (along with thousands or millions of others) on the internet and which will sooner or later, more or less, infiltrate my thinking. I want to give an idea about what moves me. And I spread the occasional blogging I do.

So I am part of the content flood, the content which is showing up frequently because so many “read” FastCompany or Inc. and content which is mine and as such more “exclusive” (if you just look hard enough you will find at least two people with the same idea in this world, so “exclusive” hardly exists, at least in my field of business management).

But how much is my doing and that of others a sufficient base for a business-model Twitter could operate at the huge margins asked for by shareholders? Anything they currently do is adding clutter to timelines with ads and promoted Tweets. And that is not useful in terms of User Experience.

Engaging for Business on Twitter

Yes, I have seen those case-studies and examples of great conversion rates from Twitter and how companies have managed to convert Twitter Followers to customers on sales-events, special discounts and who made them take part in competitions, games and win free stuff of any kind — which is called “brand involvement”.

But are people here involved with the brand and its products or services, or with their desire for a bargain — any bargain that is, which they can show off to others? Discounts are a contribution to the bottom line but one below the actual price. Either you had those discounts already calculated-in at the beginning (of your sales planning) or they will eat into your planned revenue — as a loss (of sales opportunity at a higher price).

Me too content and me too competitions have a limited impact on positive branding when everybody clutters timelines with them. And while tweets do not disappear like Snapchat postings, they still resemble a quickly drawn up billboard which gets taken down only a few moments later. Pinterest in contrast is built on a long content life thus offering businesses higher potentials as per design.

Content is not Productive

For content — and that’s what I spread and get delivered to my timeline by people I follow — here is a simple calculation why I believed and still believe that there is a lot of self-betrayal when it comes to Twitter:

If you follow 1,000 people and each of them posts once a day — with 20 percent of what they share being links to articles, which take half the reading time of an optimal MEDIUM posting (so roughly 3 ½ minutes) — that translates into 11,66 hours of reading relevant content per day. This will not happen!

Even if you skip reading half of it, because you already read a story elsewhere, then 5 ¾ hours of daily reading are scheduled for you. The factual engagement with the Twitter timeline I believe is minimal. And when done you have not even touched Facebook, G+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, What’s App, Snapchat or LINE not to mention your job tasks.

Content filtering by ignoring

I see no way how to calculate the productivity gain which must be achieved from reading any piece of content in those five-plus hours to allow for making up the “lost” time. So it actually becomes economical to skip some or all tweets in your timeline.

And skipping is a rather friendly term for ignoring one’s own timeline. I have gone as far as to just check a bunch of timelines of those who follow me and who I feel could have recently had the best read on offer — in that small moment of free time I grant to Twitter.

Also I recently started to only add people who tweet much less than me while also reducing my own tweeting (thus expanding my space for procrastination).

The commonly suggested counter-measure to this by the way is to publish the same content frequently (to the very same audience) to make sure that one does not get missed. In E-Mail-Marketing this kind of behaviour is called spamming and has lead to people using mail-filters. With Twitter it comes down to not using it — in the absence of any spam-filters.

Disrupting the Spreading of Content

I have no idea how Twitter will want to turn its fortunes around if that can still be done. But for a long time I felt that Twitter might be easily disrupted by a service where each user can only post once a day. Restricting people or organizations to share only their most relevant piece of information each day would free people’s timelines and make it more attractive to read content while raising awareness and allowing to follow more accounts, too.

It would force those who share — like me — to think more about just how good that piece of content really is we just found. Those who want to post more would have to pay for their right to spend less time thinking about the cluttered timelines of their followers and the quality of content they put in there (while facing the risk of losing followers due to over-propagating).

This would greatly help anybody who’s timeline is full and who will not have the power of an IBM Watson to read, evaluate, discard and recommend the content pushed into their timelines (I strongly feel such tasks will be a key application of the Watson-Technology in the future).

A Different Communication Tool

A one-post per day policy would of course contradict Twitter’s nature as a communication-tool — one which is limited though at just 140 characters.

Hardly can one process meaningful communication and complaint-management or customer-services via the service although some airlines like Virgin America and jetBlue achieve this as does — to the surprise of most — Germany’s state-owned train-company Deutsche Bundesbahn, which otherwise is not much recognized for being a technologically innovative company.

But if Twitter would offer those companies some additional functions and features and not keep its ecosystem as shielded off as the former East-Block did hide behind the Iron Curtain, then there would not only be money to be made (in my opinion) but there would be a calculation basis for companies who use Twitter to really interact with customers, prospects and third parties — probably even in more than just 140 characters (professional companies might pay to do so, in order to deliver a better service).

But at below 300 million users world-wide Twitter may already lack the power to lure businesses into such pay services.

Self-Roasting Twitter

So right now, Twitter looks like a slowly roasting bird to me.

Some popular faces of business and science manage six- or seven-digit numbers of followers while celebrities easily get over 20 million followers. But they share content with devotees, rather than followers in what is a consumer market, largely relevant to teens whose adolescence attention span is probably perfectly fitting 140 characters. So there is a market for a minimal-content delivery platform like the current Twitter.

But that’s a market What’s App has taken by storm (age group wise) and it even gets paid for the use of its APP. Viber and LINE have won a global audience (not only) on Sticker-Marketing while Twitter’s coolest feature — in the absence of voice and video communication — are hashtags, which require search and analysis if you want to use those which get you clicks and not come up with one of your own no one else ever heard of (“secret” hashtags though can make a wonderful tool for some viral marketing-stunts).

Yes, if celebrities and sponsors could agree on the latter exclusively sponsoring the Twitter timeline of a “VIP” and putting their ads there, then even Twitter might make some money on the agreement executed on its back. But how much margin would Taylor Swift want to leave to Twitter in this niche market, now that her fame has given her a controlling stake in the decisions of the Apple Management?

Twitter’s “Sidekicks”

Twitter’s Periscope on the other hand makes you wonder if anybody at Twitter ever had time to read about Foursquare and Swarm. I understand the excitement about Periscope, but again while artists and VIPs are the easiest group to target as users to create popularity, they also get the most from selling their content, not spreading it for free and are becoming more reluctant to share their content at low margins. Without the integration of Periscope into Twitter, to me this looks like a half-hearted attempt to step into streaming content with no dateline for monetization in sight. Analysts may not like this.

Even Twitter’s Vine, acquired in 2012, is not (yet) looking into monetization while having 100 million users. Snapchat has about twice as many but is only roughly half as old. Over 60 percent of Snapchat users are said to be creating content rather than only consuming it. Meanwhile Instagram, once considered to be a competitive target of Vine, has outgrown the user-base of Twitter itself which is trailing a long list of competing services.

Quo Vadis Twitter?

So the heat for Twitter is coming not only from the company roasting itself, it also comes from competition which is moving faster or farther or just has more traction in terms of user base.

And I keep failing to see a viable business model from which Twitter could expand reach, user numbers and applications where others have already built a solid base and manage to grow it with the original basic service as well as new features and functions.

But does it really matter? Personally I have no idea how I would replace Twitter. But actually there is no need for me to replace it since I am using it neither for communication (like I said, what I do is propaganda) nor have I gained a large following which hands me regular contracts (I feel repetitive business from followers (directly and indirectly) is actually the only meaningful KPI when it comes to social channels and sales). So Twitter may just fold and only my Trustcloud, KLOUT and KRED ratings would suffer.

And I am probably not the only one on Twitter, who could do without it. My lack of engagement with the platform as a customer and lack of enthusiasm is most likely not limited to me. And being stuck between disengaged or disengaging users and stock-market analysts is not the best place for a corporation from which to reach for the stars.

Going from mass to “class” Twitter could seek out for a business model appealing to its star-users (even Buzzfeed now gets more traffic from Pinterest than from Twitter). But it remains unclear to which degree Twitter can survive based on “VIP”-users and their devotees. I would bet that not only Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber could leave Twitter and start using another platform and would lose less than ten percent of their followers/fans/devotees (“Litte Monsters” in case of Lady Gaga) doing so.

Endgame

Should Twitter not survive in its current form or be broken up, then I am curious about how those who praised it now for years will react, and how they will sell the “next big thing” with the same words they sold Twitter in the past and how they will argue that Twitter was not so bad after all.

Indeed Twitter is not and it will not have been bad in case it truly folds — except that there was and is and may never be a working and sustainable business-model behind it, but rather a small flame roasting the whole endeavour until it is as dark as ashes.