With Thanksgiving just around the corner, people are beginning to steel themselves for weeks of eating various incarnations of turkey at every meal. But it’s not the only poultry that needs to look over its back this holiday season; with profits falling and engagement declining, Twitter’s little blue bird has every reason to be as fearful as one destined for the oven.

Twitter has had a troubling year. In July, CNN and the Washington Post reported that the platform lost 2 million users in Q2, with the corresponding stock collapse running as high as 10 percent in pre-market trading. In response, the company made promises of a radical change, and in an unexpected move at the end of September, Twitter announced it will be expanding its trademark 140-character limit to 280. In social media terms, this carries the same sort of perplexed head-turning as might be expected if the NFL addressed its ongoing controversies by adding a fifth quarter to their games.

Will it be enough? Twitter has an unenviable history of operating crises of which this is just the latest. Since the beginning of 2015, Twitter has added just 15 million net new users, while growth in the U.S. has all but flat-lined, going from 65 million to 68 million in that two-year period. Unfortunately for Twitter, not even that meager growth is as robust as it might seem. In October 2016, TechCrunch reported Twitter’s Q3 letter to shareholders as reading, “there are millions of people that come to Twitter to sign up for a new account or reactivate an existing account that has not been active in the last 30 days.” In short, at least 60 million of Twitter’s 328 million monthly active users have little to no user data associated with their accounts.

And then there is the issue of bots. Earlier in 2017, the University of Southern California and Indiana University presented papers that suggested between nine and 15 percent of Twitter users are bots. Given that Twitter has around 328 million users globally, that puts the population of bots at 30 million. Likely its higher.

The end of the year has not brought any salvation, either. On October 24, Benzinga reported that Boston financial firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, is cautioning investors that the worst may still be yet to come. Revenue did, after all, slip five percent in Q3, with the platform’s largest source of income—its quarterly advertising revenue—recording losses of $107m. Perhaps most damning of all was the conclusion of CNBC correspondent and regular Twitter user, John Shinal, who commented that, “the ugly truth in Twitter’s earnings… it’s shrinking into irrelevance.”

As would be expected, the turbulence at the operational core is being reflected in the behaviors of its users. Current Oxford University research finds that Twitter users generally got more, “misinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content” than actual news stories. Social media is a fickle world, and its capricious users are difficult to please. Nicola Day, client partner at Facebook, stated that, “you have 1.3 seconds to engage someone with content before they thumb down.” If Twitter is unable to keep its users engaged and satisfied, the downward trends will continue.

Will 280 characters be enough to save all of this? Certainly, Twitter is acknowledging that the problem originates in the user experience, but if doubling the number of characters doesn’t work, what will? Convention suggests that a turkey should be roasted at 425F; for the Twitter bird that temperature might come in at a balmy 280.

Sharpen your knives, it might be dinner time.

Sources
CNN

http://money.cnn.com/2017/07/27/technology/business/twitter-earnings/index.html

Financial Times
https://www.ft.com/content/a4f24698-a302-11e7-b797-b61809486fe2

Oxford University
http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2017/09/Polarizing-Content-and-Swing-States.pdf

Statista
https://www.statista.com/statistics/274564/monthly-active-twitter-users-in-the-united-states/

Tech Crunch
https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/27/twitter-lays-off-9-of-its-workforce-as-it-posts-a-much-needed-positive-q3/

https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/26/twitter-trials-an-expansion-beyond-140-characters/

Washington Post
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/07/27/twitter-lost-2-million-users-in-the-u-s-last-quarter/?utm_term=.8d668638fc6e

Amadeus Finlay

Amadeus is our off-the-boat Irishman. Like all good sons of the Emerald Isle, Amadeus was born with a pen in his hand and a notebook stuffed under one arm. At Paris, Amadeus spends most of his time making connections and having fun on-screen, but despite that, writing remains his first love.