The general narrative around Twitter at the moment spins a yarn of a company in crisis.
There has been a spate of executive departures. The company reportedly shopped itself out to potential acquirers including Salesforce, Disney, and Softbank — but none wanted to buy it. Its stock is currently lingering around the $17 mark, well below its high of $69 in 2014. And all the while, Twitter is tackling a huge abuse problem on the platform. It’s difficult to be optimistic about Twitter right now.
Last week, the company used the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as a venue to attempt to reset some of those perceptions.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and COO Anthony Noto were both in attendance and, altogether, the team conducted more than 150 meetings with clients, agencies, and media partners.
Business Insider met with Twitter’s managing director of global brand and agency strategy Jean-Philippe Maheu in the company’s swish set up at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
Beyond the screens showing off its latest launch — 360-degree live video — the “swag wall” of branded bottles, badges, washbags, and rubix cubes, and the free cafe, we were lead to a secret meeting room, reminiscent of a super villain’s lair. Low-level seats and lighting lined the square perimeter and a huge screen was the room’s focal point, set against the back wall.
Maheu, whose job is to persuade advertisers to keep spending on the platform, explained how CES and the rest of 2017 is all about telling the story of the company better and continuing to launch the kind of products that will keep marketers excited about Twitter in the face of the relentless growth of rivals like Google and Facebook and emerging competition from Snapchat and beyond.
What Twitter is. Why marketers should care. And dispelling one of the biggest myths.
Twitter is often described as a company with stalling user growth — perhaps not helped by unfortunate comparisons to the meteoric rise of Facebook, which more than 1.1 billion people visit daily.
Maheu explained that Twitter is reminding its clients that its monthly active user number actually grew 3% year-on-year to 317 million in Q3, and up 4 million on the quarter. Its daily active user number grew 3% year-over-year in Q1, 5% in Q2, and 7% in Q3.
“A lot of people sometimes read headlines and believe we are flat or declining, so the first reaction [from partners] is very positive,” Maheu said. “We openly say: Are we happy with 7% year-over-year? No. We want to get to double-digit [growth] and we believe we are making changes in the product to get there.”
(Twitter’s revenue was also up 8% year-on-year to $616 million in the third quarter, beating analysts’ expectations.)
Beyond just the metrics, Twitter is also trying to ensure its partners actually understand what the platform is and how they can best utilise it.
Maheu said: “We are very clear Twitter is the best way to stay informed about the world. We condense that into: ‘Twitter is what’s happening’.”
And if Twitter is “what’s happening,” it provides advertisers with an opportunity to make their brands relevant.
Maheu added: “The unique characteristic of Twitter is that we are fast, so [we offer brands] this ability to engage. Fast for a brand doesn’t necessarily mean good or bad, but it means we can establish the connection with the consumer in what I call the highest moment of receptivity. We have context, the data to understand when and how to target a message to the consumer, and that message arrives in front of the consumers’ eyes at the highest moment of receptivity.”
Twitter has also been providing assurances that its team is still in a stable position to meet their demands. Adam Bain, the company’s popular chief operating officer, left the company in November and Richard Alfonso, VP of ad sales, flew the nest in December.
Maheu said: “Interestingly, below Adam, the leaders are still the same. I’ve been here for four years, Matt Derella [VP of global revenue and operations] has been here for four and a half years. The people that report to me have been here for three, four, five years.”
“There is extreme stability in the team and I also will say that with change brings new opportunities. Anthony [Noto, the former CFO who took on Bain’s COO responsibilities] is bringing a different set of expertise and skillset. To some extent, CES is a way for him to introduce himself to our partners and it has gone really well,” he added.
What’s coming in 2017
Twitter plans to double down on its video strategy in 2017 as highlighted by the launch of 360-degree live video streaming on its Periscope streaming app in December.
It fits into Twitter’s “#GoLive” strategy that has seen it sign up partnerships with content producers and owners — like Bloomberg, NFL, The Golden Globes, and PGA — and smart TV-makers and over-the-top TV providers to give people access to livestreamed video, supplemented by real-time tweets on an array of devices.
Privately at CES, Twitter shared a fuller lineup of deals to broaden the experience from the current 20 hours a week of live-broadcasting.
Another new launch at CES was the opening up of video pre-roll advertising (ads that appear before video content begins) to more than 300 partners. Those partners can also now buy these ads using self-serve systems, rather than having to purchase the slots via a Twitter salesperson.
Maheu said Twitter has received “zero negative user feedback” about pre-roll video ads in its tests, adding: “The user feedback is in the finger, they scroll [away if they don’t like the ad]. We see the same, to slightly higher completion rates than on our regular video product.”
Twitter has also been sharing the new tools it plans to launch on the analytics front — a hot topic of late as marketers look for deeper metrics to prove their online campaigns are working and also data to suggest how to refine their future marketing activity.
There’s a trend every Monday morning on Twitter called #MusicMonday, for example, when users share the tracks they are listening to in order to get back into the mood for the working week. It’s these kind of trends Twitter wants to surface to marketers so their brands can join in the conversation on Twitter.
Maheu said: “A big focus for us is to continue to provide analytics and tools that mine our user data to help marketers plan for their campaigns.”
Twitter has a lot of weight on its shoulders this year. RBC Capital’s Mark Mahaney, one of Wall Street’s most accurate analysts, predicts the company’s revenues could fall into decline in 2017. The company will be hoping its recalibration — both in terms of personnel changes and its message to market — and its product roadmap will be enough to keep advertisers spending.
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