Twitter has a user-growth problem.
In its latest earnings report, the company announced that its monthly active-user base had grown to 255 million from 241 million in the prior quarter.
That’s a bit short of the 257 million that Wall Street investors were expecting.
This isn’t the first time that Twitter has disappointed on user growth. In fact, it’s simply the latest point in a trend that’s been going on for years.
Since 2012, user growth has steadily declined on Twitter’s social network.
In the first quarter of 2012, the number of users signing in to the site and app each month was increasing twice as fast as the year before. Last quarter, it grew 25% faster than a year before.
Here’s what monthly active-user growth looks like over the last few years:
As always happens when a major company misses on some major metric, a number of voices popped up explaining what the company could be doing better — or why Twitter is dead, or at least dying.
There was one line of reasoning that popped up that seemed worth considering. Twitter has long struggled to make headway in creating a use for the service for those who don’t want to tweet out links or photos but could use it to consume content related to their favourite topics.
Ben Thompson suggests making it easier to engage with the conversations and news around the topics you care about, without having to figure out which people are worth following:
So why not embrace the complexity? Instead of trying to teach new users how to built a curated follower list, build the lists for them. Don’t call them lists, though; embrace Twitter’s TV connection and make them “channels.” Big basketball game? Go to the basketball channel, populated not with the biggest celebrities but with the best and most entertaining tweeters. Build similar channels for specific teams in all sports. Do the same for Apple, Google, and technology; liberals, conservatives, and politics in general; have channels for the Oscars, the Olympics and so on and so forth. And make them good, devoid of the crap that pollutes most hashtags and search results. If the ideal Twitter experience is achieved with a curated list, then provide curated lists and an easy way to switch among them.
Will Oremus at Slate thinks that such a move could fuel higher revenue growth. He compares a Twitter that’s easier to use for those who don’t want to tweet with YouTube:
In the future, Twitter is also likely to find new ways to capitalise on its vast indirect audience. For example, those tweets you see embedded in articles online could come with their own advertisements, analogous to the pre-roll ads that play before embedded YouTube videos. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo hinted as much in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday.
The YouTube comparison is more apt than it might seem. Like Twitter, YouTube comprises two broad classes of users: content creators and viewers. The difference is that you can still get the full YouTube experience if you visit the site without an account. And so YouTube is able to report more than 1 billion “unique visitors” per month — unique visitors being a metric more appropriate to media platforms than social networks.
The balance Twitter has to strive for is this: making it as easy as possible to get people to consume content in its apps while keeping power users happy so that there’s plenty of content to consume.
That might be easier said than done. The most enthusiastic users of Twitter feel like they live there, so any major changes have to be implemented carefully so as to not turn away the true believers.
Everyone else already has a seemingly limitless amount of content available on the internet. Even if Twitter made its apps easier to jump into, sometimes things just don’t catch on in today’s app market.
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