Amid all the news about Twitter’s potential sale as well as its still struggling performance, it is wise to look at the value proposition that Twitter provides and see if this platform has a place in our lives, and if so, who can best leverage it (hint: it is not Salesforce). I contend that there is a potential path to make Twitter relevant again, and that makes it a great acquisition for two companies. Twitter began with a disruptive solution: how to communicate in the shortest possible form and easily share news and information with millions. The forced brevity of the message often made it succinct and easy to consume, while the open platform made it easy to follow anyone who had something interesting to say. This wasn’t possible through any other platform and it made Twitter very popular.
Twitter’s problem stems from loss of its value proposition for the users
However, as competing platforms evolved and provided quick update and newsfeeds, Twitter stumbled and failed to advance its platform by making it easier to use. At the same time, Twitter and its users expanded the original mission to entertainment, videos and a number of other formats which were already offered by other platforms. As a result, Twitter failed to retain its raison d'etre and lost relevance amidst the crowded field that was competing for our time and attention. Thus Twitter’s problem primarily stems from loss of its value proposition for the users. The lackluster growth of ad revenue is only a symptom of this. This is not a groundbreaking observation but I state this way so I can lay out what I believe are the three major steps Twitter needs to take to fix this problem. I do believe that Twitter’s problems can be fixed and that there is a place for Twitter in our social media and news sources.
First, go back to basics and focus on short feed of news
Twitter needs to cut back on its product offerings rather than expand them to compete with Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and others. This type of competition is not a winning game and it makes Twitter less useful. Twitter should go back to its original mission and focus on being the most efficient platform for keeping abreast of the news and trends we care about. This platform should be easy to follow, intuitive for new users, and very easy to consume its content. I have found the most useful updates I get are not from the social networks but rather the alerts on my iPhone. Whether it’s from CNBC, Bloomberg, New York Times, or CNN, they give me the main point of the news, and I can swipe if I need to read more (90% of the time, I don’t need to). Twitter should get closer to Alerts than to Instagram feeds, by focusing on the most important areas of its users’ interest. Obviously, a tweet can still be much richer and more useful than an alert, without being overwhelming.
Second, create a useful funnel by curating and suggesting content
With the explosion of information sources, bloggers and commentators, there are many people who are now opining on news or trends. It is critical for Twitter to help users find these and sift through them, so there isn’t just a firehose of tweets that are hard to keep up with. Twitter’s current effort in this regard is minimal and mostly limited to suggesting new people to follow. This isn’t much help when there are thousands of sources, and it leaves the burden on the users, making the platform harder to use for the masses. A semi-curated and highly intelligent content suggestion platform should make it very easy to onboard new users, based on just a few questions about their interest. Such a platform should continue to learn and become more relevant and useful. This is in effect the second phase for Twitter which it never got around to do: after it amassed millions of sources, it now need to curate them and make the best use of them.
Third, Personalize the Feed
The feed that I get in Twitter is only personalized based on the people I follow. This is pretty much how people get their feeds in Facebook or other platforms, using it sometime to just kill time and have fun. This is highly inefficient, though entertaining, way to keep up with news. It works very well for Facebook, but is a total killer of value proposition for Twitter. However, your Twitter feed can be personalized significantly more if Twitter followed what stories you care about, which friends’ retweets are read most, and in general which tweets you like (Facebook is doing a lot more of this). These factors change even for a given user, as their interest evolve based on seasonal activities, life stages, or simply new interests. While you can create ‘Custom Timelines’ and ‘Twitter Lists’, these are fairly difficult to do for most users and at the end, they put the burden on the user, rather than do it automatically for them. As a result, only advanced and driven users of Twitter can take advantage of these. A truly personalized feed should provide a custom feed of my evolving interest, with minimal effort from me. This could make the platform so useful that many users will even pay for it.
Who Should Buy this new Twitter?
These three steps can make Twitter a highly relevant and necessary platform to use, one that is not duplicated by other companies. It also makes Twitter a great match for companies that need more user engagement, but not more ad revenues, like Google and Microsoft.
Google has struggled and failed to create a social network so at one level, it is a relatively easy way for Google to have a presence in this area. Google also needs to have more layers of engagement with its users, beyond search and YouTube. In many ways, a highly personalized Twitter feed will be the ultimate intelligent search result for news, provided proactively by Google. It is also easier for Google to monetize Twitter, simply by having more Google users on it who can then be consumers of other Google services, such as Youtube, Play, and of course, AdSense. But most importantly this will be a good fit because Google doesn’t need to squeeze ad dollars by over-diluting Twitter’s value.
The fit with Microsoft may not be that obvious first, but it is a strong one. Microsoft has very little presence in the mind-share of general users, but its products are used widely by the office and information workers, where Google has been taking some share recently. Microsoft’s recent acquisition of LinkedIn was a perfect match to cement the engagement of its office users. By having a much broader consumer platform that offers a service, Microsoft can gain significant mind-share in an area that few other companies compete. At the same time, the social aspect of Twitter will give Microsoft a potential area to expand. Twitter could become the glue that can help attract more loyal users to Microsoft products and have Microsoft gain more respect.