Company / division: Twitter
Twitter Finally Adds Curation by Topic, But It’s Flawed (Aug 16, 2017)
Twitter has finally added curation by topic, but only as part of its Explore tab, and the implementation seems to be pretty flawed. I argued that Twitter needed to get beyond its account-centric model to enable further growth in a piece written a year ago this week, so I welcome the move in principle. But the topic-based feeds are buried behind the search button, and the actual content in the various feeds feels unfocused and often irrelevant. More to the point, this topic-based approach needs to be part of the on boarding experience for Twitter, which has remained far too account-centric and therefore overwhelming for new users, something I documented here a few months back. So this is a step in the right direction, but needs to go further.
At the time I’m writing this, Twitter stock is off 13% after it reported another set of poor earnings. It failed to grow global monthly active users at all in the quarter (US users actually shrank, offset by modest growth elsewhere), daily active user growth shrank from 14% in Q1 to 12% in Q2, and revenue was down 5% year on year, the second straight quarter of overall revenue declines. Importantly, all of this happened in a quarter when Twitter released a big redesign of its apps and sites and launched its Lite product in India, both of which should have driven good growth if effective. The contrast with Facebook’s results last night couldn’t be starker, with the two companies moving in seemingly opposite directions. The one thing they have in common is that both are working to convince advertisers of the value of spending money on their platforms, but Facebook is doing so from a position of strength, trying to win more TV ad dollars with its targeting and attribution features, while Twitter is mostly still trying to convince advertisers that it has a world-class ad platform at all. In theory, it’s making progress behind the scenes with its ad offerings, and users are responding positively to its product changes too, as evidenced by the fact that DAUs have grown quite a bit faster than MAUs over the past year. But the company also suggested on today’s earnings call that DAUs as a percentage of MAUs haven’t shifted much from three years ago, when that ratio was below 50% in its top markets. The picture that’s emerging here is one of a smaller number – perhaps around 160 million – highly engaged users (likely including most of the bots on the platform) and a constantly cycling second 160-170 million users coming onto and then rapidly leaving the platform as they fail to find value in it, something I first hinted at in this piece last October. Twitter would arguably be best served by emulating Snap’s reporting and ditching MAUs in favor of DAUs, then focusing on growing that number, which it seems to be doing more successfully. And yet it’s bafflingly reluctant to report DAUs directly, probably because that would be a concession that it’s reaching a much smaller engaged audience than it likes to claim. Note that just 17% of its MAUs watched any live videos last quarter, for example. It’s getting tougher and tougher to believe that Twitter is ever going to outgrow its current stagnation.
via Twitter (PDF)
Twitter has a blog post up and apparently also spoke to reporters about its efforts to curb abuse and harassment on the platform. The company released data about the improvements it’s made over the past year and the positive effects it says these are having, such as acting on ten times as many abusive accounts, removing twice the number of repeat offenders, and so on. But there’s nothing in the new data or the blog post about why so many reports still get dealt with as false positives, as reported by BuzzFeed earlier in the week. And there’s no real transparency about how the decisions are made, by whom, or what exactly the guidelines are. Twitter clearly is making progress here – the numbers show that – but the fact that BuzzFeed had no trouble quickly finding cases where it’s still falling short suggests it’s far from done here yet. And though Twitter is clearly taking the problem more seriously today than it was even six months ago, before this current effort began, it’s still too often defensive and closed rather than transparent and honest in talking about why abuse and harassment are still such issues. At root, it feels like Twitter is still erring too much on the side of maximum freedom of speech rather than on the side of protecting users from abuse, while much behavior by Twitter users is utterly unacceptable and yet likely goes unreported simply because it’s not directed at a specific individual.
Twitter is Still Mishandling Abuse and Harassment Reports (Jul 18, 2017)
Twitter Hires a Permanent CFO from Intuit (Jul 11, 2017)
Twitter is Reportedly Testing a Fake News Button (Jun 29, 2017)
The Washington Post reports that Twitter is testing a button that would allow users to flag tweets or links in tweets which appear to be false or misleading, although it says there’s no guarantee that the feature will ever launch, and Twitter itself says it’s not going to launch anything along these lines soon. On the face of it, this is a logical step for Twitter, which has been one of the biggest vehicles for the rapid spread of fake news over the last year or two, even though its much smaller scale means that Facebook still arguably has a bigger impact, especially given its tendency to reinforce people’s existing biases. But on the other hand, given how the phrase “fake news” has lost all meaning and come to take on distinct partisan overtones, there’s enormous potential for misuse and controversy, and if Twitter does launch something along these lines, it’s going to need either a massive team of its own or several big partners with significant resources to handle the refereeing that will be needed. That alone may prevent Twitter from ever launching the feature, needed though it may be. In addition, given that Twitter has arguably bent its own rules on acceptable content a little for public figures such as President Trump (and candidate Trump before him), there are some big questions about whether tweets from the President and others would be subject to the same rules as those from other users.
Twitter Launches #SeeEverySide Marketing Campaign (Jun 19, 2017)
Back in December, four big US Internet companies signed a voluntary code of conduct with the EU under which they agreed to improve and accelerate the removal of hate speech from their platforms. Now, the EU is reporting good progress on those goals, with twice as high a percent of offending content removed, and Facebook and Twitter removing substantially more content within the first 24 hours, while YouTube slipped a little in this regard for reasons that aren’t clear. As Facebook has discovered, policing content is an expensive and labor-intensive task at the best of times, but having external standards set like this raises the stakes even further. The big risk in the EU and specific European countries is that this moves from voluntary codes of conduct to actual laws with significant consequences for non-compliance, so the big US companies are wise to do what they can to play nicely to try to ward off such outcomes.
Twitter Hires Former Bloomberg Exec to Lead Live Video (May 22, 2017)
Twitter’s three prominent co-founders have all spent time doing other things since its founding but all three are now back at the company in one form or another (Ev Williams has been the one constant, though he shifted out of the CEO role and onto the board a few years back). The latest to return is Biz Stone, who had been running another creation of his, Jelly, for several years, only to sell it to Pinterest a few months back. It sounds like Stone’s role will be that of a sort of internal culture champion and cheerleader rather than a key decision maker, which seems to suit his talents well but means it’ll be tough for outsiders to measure his impact. One of the benefits of Jack Dorsey coming back was that he had the authority of a founder to make big changes to the product (though he spent his first year back in charge failing to do so anyway). Stone’s hiring has a similar benefit in that he has the passion of a founder for the company and clearly believes strongly in its mission and product, and so can hopefully help instill that in other employees at a time when Twitter still feels rather stuck. We’ve seen some signs of more significant change in the product at Twitter lately, especially with its many recent TV deals, but its financial picture continues to be rather bleaker.
★ Twitter Announces a Dozen New Video Deals (May 1, 2017)
Last week, the day before Twitter’s earnings, it briefed BuzzFeed on its plans for 24/7 live video, and this week it’s announcing that it will achieve that objective at least in part through an expanded partnership with Bloomberg. But whereas Twitter has so far just carried the standard Bloomberg stream, this new partnership will have at least some exclusive content and also apparently a broader coverage than the existing, very business news-oriented, channel. As of when I’m writing, all the details aren’t out yet, but the channel is to begin airing sometime in the fall. This is an interesting partnership, but I reiterate what I said last week, which is that just having content is not the same as having compelling content, and even if there’s an exclusive element to this Bloomberg deal, business news or even news in general doesn’t quite fit the bill. I’m intrigued to see the details here, but as of right now I have a hard time seeing this make a big difference to Twitter’s smallish live video audience (just 14% of its monthly active users watched even 2 seconds of one live video last quarter), let alone its overall growth or ability to monetize its audience better.
Update (3:40pm MT): Bloomberg and Twitter have now announced some more details around the new channel, and it’s an interesting idea: become the breaking news network that takes what’s happening on Twitter and curates and verifies the information before feeding it out in a live TV show. Given how central Twitter is to the 24/7 news cycle already, I’m not convinced this is new and different, and if the emphasis here is on verification (certainly not a bad thing) it may actually mean the in-house network is slower to break news than CNN etc. One of the big problems with 24/7 news coverage is also always the challenge of filling time and keeping viewers engaged, which lends itself to sensationalism (to make unimportant stories seem important) and lots of filler material (because there’s never always something newsworthy going on). It’ll be interesting to see if Bloomberg and Twitter can collectively overcome these two, because otherwise we’re just getting yet another always-on news channel with little to differentiate it. The proof is totally going to be in the pudding with this one.
Twitter Aiming to Broadcast Live Video Full Time in Future (Apr 25, 2017)
This is an interesting announcement to make the night before earnings. Twitter broadcast 800 hours of live video in the first quarter, but it’s aiming to broadcast 24/7 eventually, which would be a roughly threefold increase in video just to have a single stream full time, let alone to give people options. And though this piece talks up the idea of being the equivalent to CNBC in airports, the whole value proposition of the latter is that you have nothing better to do. For Twitter to do well with live video, it needs compelling content, not just ambient content. And that’s tough to do when the vast majority of sports rights are sewn up for years to come and Twitter just lost one of the few available packages to Amazon. Beyond sports, there’s not much live content that’s compelling enough for people to tune into deliberately and importantly to watch through a commercial break. Color me skeptical that this effort will make a big difference to Twitter’s user base or its ability to monetize it. Live video still feels like an interesting complement to Twitter’s core value proposition rather than being central to it, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Twitter Opens Advertising Analytics to Third Parties (Apr 10, 2017)
As per the Marc Pritchard interview I covered earlier today, many advertisers are still concerned that they’re essentially being defrauded when placing ads online, because they don’t know which ads are really being seen by human beings as opposed to bots. One of the big requests these brands have had for ad platforms is increased outside auditing by independent firms which have standardized measures for things like viewability and can compare metrics across multiple platforms. We’ve already seen Facebook and Google open up both for outside auditing and for measurement by third parties, and Twitter is now joining them. Twitter’s analytics around advertising have been an area of weakness, so even nothing here directly improves Twitter’s own tools, open up to third parties should at least help some advertisers feel better about the data they’ll get back when advertising on Twitter.
Twitter today announced Custom Hearts, an equivalent of sorts to Snapchat’s Sponsored Filters product for advertisers. Advertisers can now use the Custom Hearts product to replace the standard heart icon that users use to show appreciation for a live video stream in Periscope or Twitter with a brand image of some kind. The example used here is the movie franchise The Fast and the Furious using “F8” as an alternative to promote its eighth film, which premiered over the weekend. It’s a lot subtler than Snapchat’s Sponsored Filters, and it doesn’t have the same social multiplier effect of users applying a sponsored filter to a picture or video and sharing it with their friends, but it’s good to see Twitter innovating to find new forms of advertising given its recent struggles with growing ad revenue. More importantly, it’s also doing more with analytics, something I’ll cover in a second post shortly.