Business Today

Twitter Troubles

A look at the problems and challenges plaguing the social network.
By Tushar Kanwar   Delhi     Print Edition: February 28, 2016
Twitter Troubles: A look at the challenges plaguing it
The one-time darling of the social media world, Twitter, just cannot catch a break these days, and the last couple of weeks have been particularly rough. (Photo: Ajay Thakuri)

The tweet? err? writing is on the wall. The one-time darling of the social media world, Twitter, just cannot catch a break these days, and the last couple of weeks have been particularly rough. Wall Street repeatedly called open season on its stock, shaving off more than half its value last year to an all-time low right now. A slew of high-ranking executives left the company late January, casting further doubt on the future of the social network. Could the end be near for Twitter?

How did what was arguably a near-essential information service, with its unedited, unfiltered view of the world as it happened, translate to one that looks like a second Yahoo - high profile departures, tanking stock prices and all? First, user growth has slumped or flat-lined (depending on the geography). The users on board are not particularly 'active' or 'engaged', remaining passive consumers of news or celebrity updates. As per reports on user engagement, about half of the users have not tweeted even once, while Instagram, WeChat and WhatsApp now have more individual users than Twitter. (Facebook is in a league of its own.)

Part of the problem was that the service itself is complex and somewhat confusing, and recent product changes like Moments, while well-intentioned, have made it only more so. This is not the case for the power users, mind you, - for them, Twitter is rather powerful and full-featured. But for the mainstream user that Twitter needs to win over (or back), the service does not lend itself particularly intuitively to follow conversations and narratives. Having no filter on the service allows misinformation to spread easily, and it takes some degree of effort to curate a compelling list of accounts one should follow.

Equally troubling is the growing wave of abuse and harassment that users have had to contend with. Whether it is troll armies of political supporters in India or misogynistic bile around the GamerGate controversy, incidents of hate speech and threats abound on the network, yet the tools and policies that govern these are inconsistent at best. As a result, instances of people driven off the platform - celebrities included - are not uncommon. The self-policing and constantly evolving etiquette that drove the service in the early days has not scaled up with its growth. Compare this to Facebook, which enforces a 'real name' policy and nuanced tools to deal with abuse and intrusion.

So, should you alter your social media strategy when it comes to Twitter? Amidst all this doom and gloom, there are slivers of hope. The fact remains that Twitter is not some start-up that is suddenly going to run dry - ad sales have continued to grow at a healthy clip, and the company has cash reserves of $3.5 billion. It also has a goldmine of data - billions upon billions of tweets. What Twitter should focus on is using natural language processing to understand user interests and target them better in terms of ads and suggesting who they should follow?solving the curation and discovery problem. It should use some of that cash to address the issues of spam and abuse, both via better algorithms to weed out bots and better product features to report and redress. That said, putting all your marketing eggs in the Twitter basket was never a wise idea. It may be prudent to diversify your approach by adding Instagram and Pinterest into your marketing mix, more so if you target millennials who are rarely (if ever) on Facebook or Twitter.



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