For years, Twitter very publicly attempted (and mostly failed) at a laundry list of product updates aimed at returning its status as a competitor in the platform wars. Well, finally, at last week’s Analyst Day event, Twitter seems to have turned the corner of carving out its own niche, introducing a long-rumored paid product, as well as its version of Facebook Groups. While the initial reaction was (warranted) skepticism, these updates show that Twitter is finally taking itself seriously as a conversation platform.
Meet New Twitter
Twitter’s paid product is what it's calling Super Follows, and is mostly akin to Patreon, wherein users will be able to pay a monthly subscription fee for exclusive content. While this brings about immediate thoughts of exclusive tweets, which will very likely be a large part of this offering, Super Follows is best viewed through the lens of Twitter’s recent acquisitions of Revue and Breaker, a newsletter and podcasting service, respectively.
By integrating these services into its own platform, Twitter will be able to offer a wider variety of creators a centralized platform through which they can distribute their content, and provide a place for consumers to talk about that content. And those conversations will likely focus on Twitter’s second big update, Communities.
Twitter Communities will help Twitter continue to consolidate conversations into more centralized locations on its platform, and make these conversations easier for users to find. One of Twitter’s biggest problems has been its large barrier to entry -- when someone new signs up for the platform, historically, it’s been very difficult to find interesting accounts that one might like to follow and from which they’d like to receive updates.
Twitter’s first stab at rectifying this issue was Topics, which allowed users to follow categories of interest rather than a specific user. Well-meaning, if imperfect, Topics was the first public sign that Twitter wanted to make its platform easier to use for more people rather than simply better leverage those already on the platform. The introduction of Communities is the logical next step in this process -- by giving users a place to hold discussions as opposed to simply a place to view them, Twitter ensures that social users will consider its platform a home to the conversations they want to have, rather than just a place to speak into the void.
Not the Same as Old Twitter
As previously alluded to, the big news on the heels of these updates is the direction in which Twitter is taking itself. The platform’s history is littered with misguided and ill-decided product decisions, but it now seems that Twitter is coming to terms with an obvious and unified guiding light: conversations.
For years, Twitter attempted to revise its own platform to compete directly for advertising dollars with Facebook’s -- everyone remembers Twitter’s own introduction of an algorithmic timeline on the heels of Instagram’s own, though Twitter still, mercifully, allows users to choose between it and chronological order. But following the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2017 and 2018, it became obvious that no platform could compete with the depth of Facebook’s data architecture, and so a positioning pivot became necessary.
Starting with the introduction of Topics in 2019, Twitter began leaning into its perception as the conversation platform. It realized that its best strategy for growth and continued engagement was to ensure that safe and productive conversations happen on the platform, while giving users as few reasons as possible to leave Twitter in order to have those conversations.
So Is It Going To Work This Time?
There’s more than enough reason to express a healthy dose of skepticism about any announced Twitter product update -- its killing of Vine nearly directly before the rise of TikTok is reason enough itself. But while these updates aren’t exactly anticipating a future shift in user behavior (the rise of newsletters and podcasts is well documented in recent years and months), these updates point toward Twitter finally having a grasp on the kind of platform it wants to be -- a home to casual, informative, but safe conversations across any topic imaginable.
But how can we tell that it’s working? Pay attention over the next year or so to Twitter’s user stats, normally coming via their quarterly shareholder reports -- the name of the game for Twitter is user retention and growth. Long-term, Twitter needs to continue expanding its user base. This is an area the company has traditionally had big issues sustaining -- but by reaching a wider swath of the public, they will be better able to make use of their ever-evolving native ad products.
In the medium term, success for Twitter looks like more time spent on the platform per user. If the use of these new products and offerings leads to current users spending more time on Twitter, that’s absolutely a win for the platform and a sign that users are beginning to view Twitter as their conversation space, rather than taking their conversation elsewhere.
The larger implications of these updates are likely vast and play into our increasingly paywalled digital ecosystem. But for the first time in a long time, Twitter is making its own moves, rather than being dictated to by the market.
This article was written by Andy Volosky, Research & Insight Analyst at We Are Social New York.