Twitter's identity crisis

Unpopular algorithm-based timelines and a rumoured unlimited character count – is Twitter at risk of alienating their core user base? PR & Social Media Consultant Aileen Larkin discusses the setbacks.

If you’re a dedicated Twitter user then you will no doubt be appalled by all the proposed changes that have been trending on your newsfeed.

Algorithm based timelines? A more-or-less unlimited word count? We’re already still mad at the social platform for replacing our beloved “favourite” star with a heart. Why can’t we just make a non-committal social engagement with something without pronouncing our love/like for it?!

The fact of the matter is that Twitter is struggling to keep up with its social media competitors, with its share price performance dropping drastically in the past year and active user growth starting to stagnate. Changes need to be made – and we have to accept that.

The problem that Twitter is currently facing is that change is universally unpopular – especially on social media.

Yet, we’re an adaptable bunch.

No algorithm in the world could filter out the newsfeed flooding with complaints that accompany every miniscule innovation that Facebook dares to make; however by the following week we tend to have forgotten what life was like before the change ever occurred.

On the other hand, it doesn’t count as innovation if the changes you propose merely mimic the competition. That feels a lot more like giving in, and giving in is never going to make you stand out. There’s no point in playing Facebook’s game – it’s always going to be one step ahead and you’re never going to beat it.

Twitter has to play by its own rules.

When the popular real-time social network launched it was something entirely different: it was a live hub of news and opinion where everything happens so fast that there simply wasn’t time to ponder a 500 word status before posting. If you wanted to be relevant you had to be to the point and on the ball – and it was a roaring success.

Possibly too successful. With rapidly rising popularity with millennials and vast organic celebrity endorsement, it was only a matter of time before brands saw Twitter as a platform for reaching their audience.

Of course this is a good thing – as it brings regular revenue to the business, but the downside of it is that Twitter became too popular too quickly – and it went to its head a little bit.

Twitter still hasn’t truly adapted to brands using the channel as a marketing platform, despite multiple attempts to become a meaningful eCommerce platform. After adding a picture and a URL the word count doesn’t allow for brands to be engaging and push out sales messages – so more often than not they plump for the latter.

This somewhat spoils the concept of real-time communication on our newsfeed and can consequently annoy users. There is of course, a wider problem of brands lacking the knowledge of how to use Twitter effectively and treating it the same way as Facebook. If we are to learn one thing from the #RIPTwitter outrage, it’s that Twitter users do not want another Facebook! Content should always be tailored for different audiences on each different platform.

Where Twitter shines is in real-time marketing, where brands can create a tangible identity that can reactively communicate and engage with consumers on an organic level.

Yes, change has to happen for Twitter to survive, but there’s no need to cause a panic. Maybe start small by allowing an image on top of the 140-word count, or adding an edit function!

What Twitter really needs is a change that no-one has seen before - something that sets it further apart from Facebook rather than continuing to exist in its shadow. It’s in serious danger of losing its individuality in the white noise of social media.

Don’t give us what Facebook has told you that we want, Twitter – give us an innovation that we never knew that we could have.

By Aileen Larkin, PR & Social Media Consultant