By Jonathan Keane
Last week Dick Costolo stepped down from his role as Twitter’s CEO with co-founder Jack Dorsey taking over on an interim basis until the social media site finds a new leader. This is further proof that Twitter needs a fresh take, and needs it fast. For all its great successes, Twitter continues to face many hurdles in expanding its business and keeping its core user base happy. Earnings have fallen a little short of expectations too so things will need to be shaken up from the top down.
Trolls and harassment
One of Twitter’s biggest (and more annoying) challenges, is its troll problem. For years it’s been trying desperately to curb trolling and harassment on its site, but often comes up short. Costolo himself publicly identified the issue too and conceded that they had a major problem. The site recently expanded its blocking features where users can now collate lists of offending accounts that they want to block, export and share that list with other users facing similar problems. The collaborative feature is aimed at stamping out constant offenders and groups of accounts targeting specific people, usually activists, with abuse.
Although Twitter continues to be up front about its trolling problem, the issue is still growing, which may hinder its plans to increase its user base further.
A Migrating Flock
Currently Twitter has about 300 million users as of June but it’s struggling to add more. According to Twitter’s earnings report in February, it lost four million users because of iOS8 software update. This meant many iPhone users didn’t get pings and updates from their Twitter accounts, which caused the “active” user count to decline.
Elsewhere, it’s trying to make the user experience more inviting for new users in the hope that they stick around. This includes populating their feed from the get-go with content that they think newcomers will like, long before they’ve even followed anyone. It may work, but it could also backfire if new users aren’t enjoying the initial experience and never log back in.
Promoted tweets and ad networks
Most recently, Twitter has started monitoring what apps you have downloaded and selling this data to advertisers who can get a rounder view of what apps you like and why. Adding new content to all users’ feeds is now a big part of Twitter’s business model, particularly with promoted tweets. These are paid tweets offering up an ad and a link to the service or product.
Promoted tweets began as a small arm of Twitter’s efforts to turn a profit but have since expanded into a fully-fledged ad network. More brands will soon be able to promote their content across Twitter with Yahoo Japan and Flipboard on board as early partners. These partners will run complementary ads and content for the brand as part of the campaign. Promoted tweets, if overused, can become cumbersome for the user though, especially on mobile, and obstruct the social network’s real time flow of tweets.
This all ties back in with Twitter’s harassment problem too; recently it accidentally promoted the tweets of someone imitating to be a feminist campaigner who the sent out a slew of transphobic tweets – so the system is far from perfected.
Twitter may have many problems but they’re all intertwined in different ways and if not addressed, it may lead to more users dropping off. Twitter is on the offensive to garner new users though and it’s trying to grow its business in established as well as newer markets.