Twitter’s attrition rate is hindering its ability to adequately grow its user base, and ultimately its revenue. Twitter is currently losing money, and its losses are accelerating as it heads towards an IPO.
While over seventy percent of Twitter users are outside of the U.S. and the pressure is growing from competing services overseas, the lynchpin to the company’s financial success right now rests in the American market. A majority of Twitter’s ad revenue and presumably its base of power users are here. In order to expand globally, where it so desperately needs to go, Twitter must stabilize its attrition rate stateside before it loses too many of its revenue-generating users.
As it readies for IPO, Twitter’s new Head of News and Journalism Partnerships position is critical in retaining and growing arguably one of its most important user demographics right now — American news media. Hiring a female for this very public position will not solve its gender-equity problem. However, appointing the wrong person, male or female, could hinder its growth. Now that Twitter is close to announcing its final selection, all eyes are on senior NBC News executive and leading candidate Vivian Schiller. It is not hard to see why Schiller would be a top choice. She’s respected, she’s smart, and through her years at the helm of some of the largest media outlets in the nation, she has made the right connections to help drive news partnerships for Twitter. With Twitter chomping at the bit for more television partnerships, she just might be the one to help.
However, Schiller lacks the one thing she really needs for the job — experience using the platform.
Visually, Schiller’s Twitter profile is a sterling example of what Twitter seems to want from journalists. She’s Verified, uses a professional head shot, and lists related Twitter handles in her bio as well as her contact information.
But it lacks the most important element that should be ringing alarm bells at Twitter HQ —a significant number of tweets. How can someone who has tweeted less than 1,200 times have the practical, hands-on knowledge of the platform required to evangelize it to other news media professionals? Twitter needs a veteran, someone who is an expert not only about the platform itself, but who also understands how people, including other journalists, are using it.
Reporters utilize Twitter in a variety of ways, from sharing personal opinions and promoting their work, to interacting with other users and breaking news live from every corner of the globe.
If Twitter truly is the “social soundtrack to life in the moment” as it contends, then journalists, professional athletes, musicians, and other celebrities are its DJs. What Twitter really needs for this new role is a world-class DJ — not a music industry executive.
In addition to Schiller, the final list of candidates include power Twitter users Jim Roberts, executive editor of Reuters digital (and someone I met and got to know through Twitter), and Emily Bell, director of Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Centre for Digital Journalism. (Although it is reported that Bell recently removed herself from the search.)
New users find Twitter harder to adopt than rival Facebook. It is very easy to lose interest as a new Twitter user because of the time it takes to achieve proficiency. Power users are the foundation of the Twitter community, and stand as examples for others. The way power users employ the unique language of Twitter instructs the development of the general user base, and how they interact with one another.
As some of its key content creators, members of the news media are critical to Twitter’s prosperity. Journalists are constantly breaking news on Twitter and it is becoming a preferred medium for people who want to get news in real-time. The need to further cultivate relationships with journalists and news outlets is why Twitter created this position. While there is a lot more to get done globally, Twitter needs to deepen relationships with American news media that are helping the company retain and grow active users.
Racing toward the public markets, Twitter has zero room to make a mistake with this hire. Roberts and Bell are journalists whose peers on Twitter know and respect. With so few tweets, it appears that Schiller is just getting into the Twitter game. This is very similar to what happened at the New York Times when it hired news veteran Jennifer Preston as its first social media editor, a job she was out of after a year and a half. At the time of the hire, the NYT deputy managing editor explained of Preston, “She’s not an expert to start with, but I don’t think that’s a terrible handicap here in real ways. Nobody’s an expert.” That reasoning did not work for The Times and it will not work for Twitter.
If Twitter really wants to quickly mobilize the news media to more effectively use its platform, it needs to hire someone who is essentially already doing that for them for free. Twitter needs a Twitter expert to serve as its news media evangelist. Regardless of who else they might pick for this critical role, that person is not Schiller.