Reports of Twitter’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Somewhere along the way, Twitter became a punching bag.

The service has been called a “tilting ship” by the New Yorker. The Atlantic posted a eulogy for the #2 social network. It seems like everyone can’t stop talking about Facebook is beating Twitter.

This is all just one big misunderstanding. It isn’t about Facebook v. Twitter.

Twitter is positioning itself as life’s second screen. There is no greater way to follow an awards show, a hot news story, or sporting event than with the Twitter timeline (and perhaps, in time, the new Moments feature). Facebook, on the other hand, has become a central jumping off point for communication among a closer circle, like a journal or diary that you share with your friends and family. You’re not posting your full wedding album on Twitter. You’re not posting rapid-fire thoughts about the big game on Facebook (in part because the way they’ve moved away from the natural “I see everything from everyone in the order that it happened” timeline). They are fundamentally different services.

In other words: Facebook and Twitter can successfully co-exist which makes any comparison between MySpace and Twitter frivolous.

Facebook went toe-to-toe with MySpace and executed better. Facebook and Twitter have fundamentally different missions and purpose. Om Malik’s assertion that he could live without Twitter for a few days while he couldn’t live without Facebook is fair and telling, but it also underscores the point: they aren’t trying to do the same thing.

A lot of people don’t understand this yet, which represents upside potential for Twitter. Many who “don’t get” Twitter are trying to use it like they use Facebook, like putting a round peg in a square hole. It’ll work, but it’s not quite right.

Somehow, it is these people who are leading the narrative. Despite the fact that the product, the roadmap, the growth rate, and the financial state of the company are all strong, Twitter is “in trouble.” How does that work?

The Product(s)

Twitter’s core product has the ability to entertain and inform that is second to none, especially as a second screen during a live (sporting or entertainment) event. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try this during the next major awards show: plop down on the couch, put the TV coverage on, and keep scrolling through the event hashtag on your phone or tablet. The entertainment you’ll find on Twitter often far exceeds the entertainment of those being honored at the ceremony. You can thank me later.

The power of Twitter as a news source, especially during times of crisis, is unbelievable. When the Boston Marathon bombing happened in 2013, I didn’t have to think twice: I opened Twitter. The people on the ground reported with greater speed and quality than the major news networks. In many cases, I have seen a major story on Twitter a half-hour before CNN.com picks it up. Even when a major news outlet does put up a blurb about a breaking news story, it’s too short to really gain anything from it. The 3 sentence blurb doesn’t come close to the thousands of prespectives you can read on Twitter in a short period of time.

The recently-released Moments helps serve the aforementioned use-cases by eliminating a big barrier: knowing how to curate a quality list of people to follow. There are many non-football fans who watch the Super Bowl. Moments allows these people to effectively use Twitter as a second screen during the event without having to figure out who or what to follow, and without polluting their regular feed with content producers that they’re only going to care about for a few hours. It’s brilliant.

If the TV network charges $4.5 million for a 30 second Super Bowl spot on the main screen, what could Twitter do with direct access to everyone’s second screen during the same event?

Moments is a huge opportunity in terms of usability and revenue.

Twitter has demonstrated the ability to execute secondary products while Facebook launches dud after dud (Slingshot, Paper). Twitter’s secondary products serve the company by capturing more of the user’s daily consumption with products like Vine and Periscope. This particular topic may be polarizing but one thing is certain: Twitter’s secondary products open a number of opportunities for monetization beyond boring ol’ advertising, and that could give them an edge.

The Numbers

Twitter’s volatile stock price is often-cited as evidence that they’re struggling but in truth we’re seeing a great misunderstanding of what Twitter’s key metrics are. Again: Twitter isn’t Facebook and we should stop treating them as true competitors.

One (alleged) trouble metric is how many inactive users there are and how few followers most users have.

Twitter is unique, however, in that a power-user could be consumption-only.

A user can love Twitter, access it every day, and not have a single follower or tweet a single tweet. Being anti-social can be much harder for a user to do on a traditional social network like Facebook.

If you want to talk about the Wall Street numbers, consider: overall revenue is up 4.4x from 2012 to 2014, they’re adding millions of users each quarter, and they are serving more advertisers than ever before. But none of that matters.

The metric we should start tracking: share of a user’s media minutes (UMM).

Unfortunately, UMM isn’t something that I’ve seen reliably tracked. I’m sure that Facebook currently leads this field, but after considering Twitter’s approach on their core platform and the force that they’re building with their secondary products, I’m bullish on Twitter’s ability to dominate.

What you will see in Twitter’s overall strategy is clear evidence that they really care about nailing this and, perhaps most importantly, that they aren’t going to dictate how you consume. Whether you prefer to observe the world in text form, via live video, in 6-second video clips, images, or otherwise, Twitter has a strong product with great content and a user experience built for that individual’s usage. Malik offers the opinon that “the visual dissonence between Moments and the Twitter Stream is deeply unsettling,” citing Facebook’s “in sync” design as a prime example of a seamless experience.

One man’s “deeply unsettling” is another man’s “understanding that not everyone consumes media in the same way,” I suppose.

I’m left to wonder what these “R.I.P. Twitter” people are talking about. It feels like nothing more than publishers rushing to post “first!” in the comments section. It’s a frivolous exercise that will, in time, prove to be a waste of perfectly good pixels.