Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Twitter Plans a Shakeup for its Media Division

Another day, another restructuring.  

Mike Isaac


(Let’s get one thing out of the way.

I worked for AllThingsD and Re/code covering Twitter for the past few years, and I’m between jobs at the moment. But I’m not built for vacation, and Twitter is in the news again, so I had to break out the old Medium blog.)

For years, Twitter has said it wants to reach every person on the planet. And for years, Twitter hasn’t been doing a good job of getting there.

That is, in part, why Chief Operating Officer Ali Rowghani announced his resignation on Thursday morning. He was the guy who placed himself in charge of fixing Twitter’s growth problem, and ultimately, the buck stopped with him.

That’s not the only reason. I’ve heard for months about the amount of politicking Rowghani did inside of Twitter, ultimately splitting allegiances among employees. (For insiders, he was never seen as a co-CEO to Dick Costolo; Twitter employees were either #TeamAli or #TeamCostolo — hardly both.) That, along with an untimely stock sale and the wavering trust of the company’s board, signaled the end of Rowghani’s power inside the company.

But Rowghani’s ouster does not signal the end of Twitter’s changing organizational workings, as my former boss hinted at on Wednesday night.

Twitter’s Media team will undergo a drastic shift, according to multiple people familiar with the company’s inner workings, and will instead report to the company’s fast-growing marketing and communications division in the future.

That means that under VP of Media Chloe Sladden, the Media organization will report up to Marketing and Communications VP Gabriel Stricker. This leaves Sladden — who has long reported to and was a close ally of Rowghani — in an interesting position. Stricker is widely liked by many in the company, multiple sources in and around the company have said, and he is very, very close to Costolo. Watch closely to see if Sladden will be sticking around through the transition.

(Update 4:30 p.m. PT: That was fast.)

This is a major departure for Twitter Media, an independent division long trumpeted as the shining bastion of what Twitter was getting right. These days, you won’t see a major network television ad campaign or TV show without some sort of Twitter branding or hashtag associated with it which, according to numerous sources, helped to introduce new users to the service.

But therein lies the problem. Twitter’s Media team is great at getting new people to use Twitter, but doesn’t worry about whether those people will keep using Twitter. And as I’ve written before, most of those new users indeed have not been sticking around.

It isn’t for a lack of trying to fix this. Under Rowghani, Twitter has cycled through Product and Growth executives trying to improve its churn rate, all to no avail.

Now the thinking is, that under the Marketing and Comms team, Twitter media should make the product more easy to understand from a person’s very first tweet.

Here’s an example of this in action: Twitter is using the World Cup to try and take advantage of an influx of newcomers. Sign up for Twitter for the first time, for instance, and if you care about the World Cup, you’ll be prompted to pick your favorite team, follow custom-made lists all about specific soccer-matches, and follow specific people related to whatever team you want to follow. (Twitter even produced a fancy video ad to go with its World Cup pitch.)

In a nutshell, it’s a step-by-step way of walking people through how to use Twitter through Twitter itself. Look at the screenshot below for an example of what I saw after I logged out of Twitter’s main homepage.

Twitter’s Logged Out page for some users. (Screenshot: Mike Isaac)

This is also something the company has attempted to do for a long, long time. As CEO Costolo has said in previous earnings calls, Twitter aims to step up how it handles events like the Oscars, the Super Bowl and other times when the service shines in real-time. It has tried — and failed — in the past to capitalize on those moments when loads of new people are using the service.

There are other reasons for the changes. Many mid-level media employees have leveled complaints at how the Media execs manage their people. Personalities have clashed, and I’m told by many that there will be more personnel changes to come — especially inside the TV and Music wings of Media. And again, as Swisher hinted at, Twitter’s Biz Dev unit will report to President of Global Revenue Adam Bain’s sales division, which has performed exceedingly well over the past two years.

But the grand idea is simple: Push out the underperforming and dysfunctional parts of the company, while shuffling around leadership positions to other top performers, all in the hopes of making Twitter a truly mainstream service.

Of course, we’ve heard this story before again, and again, and again.

For the sake of Twitter — not to mention its shareholders — let’s hope they picked the right leaders for the job this time.