What’s next for Twitter?

TwitterTwitter bounced back from a rough start to 2014 with a positive array of Q2 results, reporting stronger-than-expected financials and continued user growth. But what are Twitter’s next steps to further monetise the platform and stand strong amongst its competitors?

Attracting users – and keeping them interested

Twitter can update its platform to make life easier for brands but, ultimately, its success depends on attracting users and keeping them interested. Even Twitter itself admits that it isn’t the most user friendly social platform, and it has been reported that the vast majority of people that sign up for Twitter don’t use it that frequently.

Twitter’s timeline is a big part of this problem, having received a lot of criticism for being over-complicated and not aesthetically pleasing. In recent months, Twitter has made an effort to make its service easier for new users to grasp. It has been spotted trialling hashtag translations, and have released embedded tweets-within-tweets. Such features allow users to understand tweets better, as well as tidy up the interface.

Chief executive Dick Costolo also suggested there is a possibility of Twitter following in Facebook’s footsteps and incorporating an algorithmic timeline, a change that would certainly make Twitter easier to digest. However, Twitter’s USP has always been the fact that the content you see is of-the-moment and timely. Filtering posts would make it easier to follow, but would perhaps move Twitter towards a bit of an identity crisis as it gets a little too close to Facebook.

Twitter’s video strategy

Social video is a welcome alternative to untargeted TV placements and offers brands a more measurable alternative that’s become popular with advertisers. Facebook has been busy bolstering its video offering, and YouTube’s revenues continue to grow strongly. Twitter, however, still has a surprisingly low amount of video content. That’s now likely to change.

Previously, advertisers could target their video content on Twitter using user data, and we’ve seen a growing wave of embedded sports-related videos ads from brands like ESPN. But this option has so far been less accessible than competitor offerings.

Twitter recently announced its native video product – Promoted Video - to make it easier for brands to upload and share video content, helping them measure distribution and effectiveness. New, enhanced metrics will bring Twitter up to speed as a video platform, bringing them on par with Facebook and YouTube.

Twitter’s promoted video content will not autoplay in the feed in the way that Facebook’s new Premium Video Ads do. Users will instead be able to click on what they want to watch and view it in their timeline. The feature comes on a cost per view pricing model - an attractive feature for marketers looking for set returns, allowing them to pay each time a user clicks to watch the video.

Twit-commerce

Twitter has the potential to be the ultimate impulse purchase platform, and has been introducing a range of features to bring the platform to the fore of social commerce.

The platform has been keeping us guessing recently with tests of a ‘Buy Now’ button, users spotting a ‘Payment and Shipping’ button and its acquisition with CardSpring, a card start-up that links companies to bank cards and tracks online activity to offline purchases.

It has also been actively working with brands to build partnerships that demonstrate the viral power of the platform, such as Starbucks’ tweet a coffee and Amazon’s #AmazonCart.

Twitter’s retweet function offers users an instant and very easy method of sharing content. This viral nature puts the platform in a strong position when running e-commerce promotions, with the potential for tweets about offers and products to spread quickly.

This is an area where Twitter has potential to lead the industry with innovative solutions for advertisers, rather than merely keep up with Facebook’s offering. Its recent acquisitions and developments are glimpse of things to come, but as always, this needs to be carefully balanced with keeping users happy.

Ad targeting

Twitter lacks the huge amounts of personal user data that Facebook holds, meaning it can’t deliver targeted ads with the same degree of accuracy.

Recent updates and acquisitions suggest Twitter is counteracting this, adopting other methods of analysing its users to better target ads.

Last year Twitter introduced a new website tag for remarketing, helping marketers create tailored audiences from website visitors. It also acquired a digital ad exchange MoPub to boost its location-based mobile advertising offering, now an important part of Twitter’s overall business.

This has allowed Twitter to connect its 270+ million users to billions of monthly mobile ads served by MoPub, broadening Twitter’s mobile ad ecosystem. This is a key part of Twitter’s long-term revenue generation strategy (and a big part of why Q2 was such a success for the platform).

More recently, we’ve seen updates to SocialRank, its analytics service looking into influential and engaged users, to now search users by location and keyword searches. The recent acquisition of image search company Madbits will also help Twitter analyse its users via their photos, offering more accuracy when targeting ads.

Following its ‘Promoted Video’ offering, Twitter continues to offer marketers even more control with its recent launch of performance-based tools, making it easier for marketers and SMBs to measure and optimise promotions. Twitter’s ‘objective-based campaigns’ mean marketers pay only for actions that meet objectives – like driving followers, tweet engagements and app installs. It is the next logical step in Twitter’s transition from a primarily branding, to a direct-response platform.

The future

It’s clear that Twitter is under pressure on a number of fronts, but it does seem to be working hard to improve its service, attract and keep users, and offer more to brands. We’ve already seen a marked improvement from Q1 to Q2; recent moves and acquisitions seem to indicate that Twitter is not only keeping up with the crowd, but showing potential to lead the way by building on its strengths.

Alex Young, media executive at We Are Social