Twitter’s New Experiments are Failing to Gain Traction, Which Could Lead to Major Changes at the App
We need to speak about Twitter, and in particular, about the company’s most recent attempts to boost monetization and accelerate the creation of new features and tools to reward and motivate its most active members.
With new features such as Fleets, Twitter Blue, Super Follows, Spaces, Communities, and others rolling out in rapid succession over the last several months, Twitter has substantially increased its development velocity.
Twitter Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour recently lauded the efforts of his team on this front, crediting internal culture, and a new strategic vision, for its improvements. But the question here is ‘are these really improvements?’
Twitter is experimenting with a variety of approaches, as it should in order to maximize its potential – and there’s no disputing that the company has been dragging its feet on this front for far too long, to say the least. Are its trials, on the other hand, likely to be fruitful?
And, if they don’t, what happens next?
Naturally, Fleets, Twitter’s own take on the social Stories format, is the most apparent example in point. Fleets was basically a poorer version of Instagram or Snapchat Stories inside the Twitter system.
In November 2020, Twitter made Fleets available to all users, and then shut it down last month, giving it less than a year of operation before putting the plug on the service. Twitter got some credit for having the guts to try something new and then acknowledging when it had failed, which was exactly what the company should have done.
Nonetheless, Twitter’s other experiments do not appear to be producing results, and if the company continues to follow its current strategy and shuts them down as well when they do not produce results, this could paint a negative picture of its internal development processes and the understanding of its executive team in regards to what works and what does not when it comes to building the platform.
Today, TechCrunch has reported that another of Twitter’s experiments is also stumbling in its early stages, with its Super Follows creator subscriber offering only generating around $6000 in its first two weeks.
Because it is only available in the United States and Canada at this time, Super Follows cannot be considered a failure based on its first two weeks of operation. This is especially true given the fact that creators will require time to develop paid subscription offerings that will entice people to subscribe to their services. However, $6000 on the back of a new launch is not a huge deal, particularly when you consider that Twitter has more than 37 million daily active users in the United States alone.
With Super Follows priced at $2.99 at the lowest pricing point, it would imply that just 2 thousand people – or 0.005 percent of Twitter’s US user population – had subscribed to anybody in the app at the lowest price point. And that’s based on the most optimistic estimates.
Users may pay for extra services such as tweet recall and new color choices by subscribing to Twitter Blue, the company’s subscription add-on option.
Twitter Blue is currently available in Australia and Canada, and we don’t yet have any data on how many people are using it. However, the features on offer aren’t particularly compelling, and it will be interesting to see whether people are willing to continue paying a monthly fee in order to take advantage of these new capabilities (anecdotal sentiment seems to suggest that most subscribers found the features interesting, but not worth the extra cost).
Then there’s Communities, which is the company’s most recent major effort to increase tweet interaction and maximize use.
Twitter introduced Communities only a few weeks ago, and although we don’t have any official statistics on how well it’s doing just yet, a quick glance at the communities that are now available suggests that it’s not exactly ‘taking off.’
Community discussions make sense – individuals don’t always want their comments shared with all of their followers, therefore Communities offers a means for them to have a more contained group conversation inside the app.
However, in reality, there are certain faults in the procedure.
For starters, considering that the vast majority of frequent Twitter users have already compiled a list of individuals they wish to hear from in their feeds, Communities serves little use in terms of keeping up with current events. It could, of course, help you discover new tweet discussions to participate in, which could lead to an increase in your overall tweeting activity. However, because it is an invite-only process, you must know someone who is already a member of the community in order to participate, which limits your options on this front.
Even if Twitter were to eliminate the invite-only restriction, this would open Communities up to any spammer or trash tweeter who felt like joining, therefore some kind of screening must be in place to prevent this (already, giving every new member 5 invites is problematic in this respect).
However, involvement seems to be the most significant reason why Communities has failed to gain traction.
As a result, prolific tweeters already have much more followers on their own handles than they would reach inside a Community, and the idea of tweeting solely to Communities only to witness lesser interaction does not seem to be a very attractive proposition.
Again, it is too soon to tell, but for the time being, it does not seem to be a perfect match, and it is possible that it will turn out to be yet another unsuccessful experiment for the platform.
What about the empty spaces?
Spaces, which capitalized on the Clubhouse-led audio social trend, continues to show promise and has the potential to become a more prominent feature in the app, especially given the public nature of Twitter, which offers the most exposure potential of the current audio social platforms on offer, according to the company.
But discovery remains an issue, and when you also see Clubhouse’s popularity in decline, it could be that audio streaming isn’t as big a game-changer as some had anticipated, and without adequate tools to highlight in-progress Spaces to every user, it’s hard to see Twitter making anything major out of the option, at least on a broad enough scale to the move its usage needle in any major way.
Of course, all of these tools are still in the early stages of development, and it is possible that they will all gain enough collective traction to help Twitter improve its overall performance. Additionally, there are other experiments, such as Professional Profiles, that have shown promise in their own right.
However, as previously said, the issue remains as to what will happen if these new capabilities are not used, which may be a critical factor in Twitter’s future evolution.
Because, while Beykpour did not mention it in his list of reasons for Twitter’s increased development momentum, the real major motivator here is the company’s board of directors, and a group of investors who forced their way onto the board last year in an attempt to oust current CEO Jack Dorsey over concerns about his direction at the company.
Some of Twitter’s board members, including members of the Elliot Management Group, are not convinced that Dorsey, who also serves as CEO of Square, is the best person to lead the company. As a result, they reached an agreement with Dorsey and the company’s management team last year on growth targets and momentum, which resulted in Twitter’s renewed development focus, which was announced at the company’s Analyst Day in February.
If Dorsey and his team fail to achieve these goals, it is reasonable to expect that changes will be implemented, which may result in the demise of Twitter’s executive structure as we know it, as well as a slew of new features and functions being introduced to the site.
In other words, although variables such as “culture” and other considerations are playing a role in Twitter’s new development emphasis, the reality is that the company needs at least some of these risks to pay off in order to have a realistic chance of achieving these goals. Moreover, although the platform is now on track and use is gradually increasing (especially in emerging countries), there are significant dangers to the platform’s long-term viability, and the first response data is likely to be cause for worry in this regard.
Twitter, on the other hand, must experiment, test, and try new things in order to optimize use, while the wider move toward a “creator economy” forces Twitter’s hand, in some ways, in terms of recruiting and retaining creative people.
The issue is that most of these additions are solutions in search of problems — they are extra parts in the Twitter jigsaw that seem to belong there, but which may or may not end up being necessary in the long term.
There is certainly much more to come, and Twitter has the potential to be successful on a number of fronts. However, it will be fascinating to watch how many of these new initiatives acquire momentum and what that implies for those who have given their approval to their implementation.
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