So, is Twitter actually back? On paper, there’s no argument.
“Twitter now claims 336 million monthly active users, up from 305 million in the fourth quarter of 2015, when it lost 2 million users, and up from 328 million a year ago. And Twitter’s revenue, which shrunk in the first quarter in 2017, was up 21% in the first quarter in 2018.” –BuzzFeed News
Twitter’s comeback isn’t just the result of a Mark Cuban endorsement, a heavy investment in live video, or Jack Dorsey’s directives to address bots and ad transparency – it’s due to an HQ-driven and user-driven refinement to its platform identity. While the Facebooks of the world attempt to be everything (see: Facebook as Twitch, Craigslist, and Tinder), Twitter serves a special, discrete purpose in the social-sphere – which I’ve divided into three pillars below – as a news aggregator, community mobilizer, and local enforcer.
As someone who makes a living developing social strategies, heed my words: don’t sleep on Twitter. For marketers, strategists, and brands reading this, it’s important to understand Twitter’s new role in the social-sphere if you want to create effective content and campaigns. Consider the three pillars below as you define audiences, messaging strategies, and creative to place on the resurgent platform.
Twitter as a News Aggregator
Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. #LoveWins
— President Obama (@POTUS44) June 26, 2015
Twitter’s core identity is centered around news. And the news cycle is naturally constant, live, unpredictable and, occasionally, fake.
Twitter is not alone here. Facebook and Reddit also use “news aggregation and sharing” as an identifier. The difference is the self-regulating nature of Twitter.
Twitter users are the safety net to prevent fake news from spreading. This is, of course, not fool-proof – but the platform owns that it is is a news-sharing site versus hiding behind being a “community-based” platform (something that is getting Zuck in serious trouble). And while companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are all making similar strides to mitigate the spread of false information, Twitter – by identifying as a news sharing platform – places a sense of responsibility on their audience to report, comment on, and identify content seen as BS. Seemingly, a more efficient system than maybe hiring 20,000 employees to review content? Only time will tell.
Twitter prompts users to “See what’s happening in the world right now. By positioning as a news aggregation and sharing platform, their audience is packed with people who read, review, and share opinions about current events. This brand position ensures a smaller, but significantly more engaged audience.”
Twitter as a Community Mobilizer
Remember, folks shouldn’t have to protest. Folks shouldn’t have to take to the streets to be heard.
We shouldn’t have to protest.
— deray (@deray) September 22, 2016
Twitter also has the power to mobilize. It’s a platform used to make rallying cries. Whether you’re a member of a grassroots movement or the POTUS suffering from mild insomnia, Twitter has become the platform of choice for advocacy.
This is nothing new for Twitter (see: the Arab Spring, BLM, #MeToo, the Ice Bucket Challenge, #TakeAKnee… the list goes on). The platform was originally designed to amplify marginalized opinions and give the voiceless a voice. Twitter has been successful in continuing to make this a priority.
For instance, take Sophie Vershbrow. She saw an unsettling billboard in Times Square. So she tweeted. Others felt similarly. And just like that a movement was born.
Few platforms enable that kind of amplification. Hundreds of thousands of people were suddenly validated by a single sub-140/280 character message. Facebook, in many ways, is reversing direction, re-designing their product to focus on friends, families, and groups over mass reach. Mobilization behind an idea is integral to Twitter, and passion for ideas is integral to Twitter’s audience. Remember that.
Twitter as a Local Enforcer
Does anyone actually know the origin of Stan or are we just all on the stanwagon?
— Ansel (@AnselElgort) November 1, 2017
Yes, Facebook is doubling down on encouraging smaller, community-based interactions. But what if you’re a part of a private community – one that requires anonymity from, say, your entire family.
The latest tribal addition to Twitter Town consists of angsty Suburban teens.They’ve created what’s being called “local Twitter,” which according to The Atlantic is a place for “mostly white, well-adjusted suburban teens who share stale platitudes of the kind that some internet users might call ‘basic.’” Things like, “tweeting generic Drake lyrics, posting about suburban life goals, following only people you know in real life, and sharing updates about big school events like prom or homecoming.”
Local Twitter is like anti-Twitter – a place where virality is not an objective and an online persona is an actual representation of the teen experience (looking at you, Instagram).They’re kids who are interested in mundane activities, but have found Twitter as their preferred outlet to share their lame past-times without fear of ridicule.
This new phenomena is a micro-example of what makes Twitter great. It’s an asylum, rather than a fusillade of bullying and ostracization, which can exist on other platforms. That’s not to say bullying doesn’t happen on Twitter, but the existence of these organic communities provides a system of support and like-mindedness.
The recent success of Twitter is because Twitter has gone back to its origin – a quippy, unapologetic outlet for those who exist on the fringes to find solace.
What’s Next for Twitter?
All in all though, is this comeback a testament to Twitter’s business acumen, or more to our social, political and technological climate? It’s hard to say, but they’ve made significant management changes and convinced investors that what they have to say is fruitful in today’s climate.
Regardless, they’re on the upswing. If they stay true to their identity, they will continue to prosper. Twitter, if you’re reading this, continue to design the platform to enable news sharing, community engagement and mobilization, and marginalized groups to find a safe home online.