What is the future of Twitter? With the departure of former CEO Dick Costolo and recent declines in the company’s stock valuation, many users and investors are asking. Co-founder and now interim CEO Jack Dorsey is right to focus on the mass market now that the service so successfully has leaders like journalists and politicians on board. He seems to recognize that the dynamics of what drives these audiences are different. Yet Twitter’s power to create more influencers every day is a powerful basis upon which to build, in a culture where everyone has the potential to give voice to their thoughts. Tapping into this desire as a means to pull the mainstream, intelligently and responsibly, is not just a smart move but a necessary one as the world navigates an always-on sharing culture.
This is the story that Jack Dorsey and his team are uniquely qualified to tell. Twitter can do this in three ways:
Move from thought starter to thought leader. Twitter is the global barometer for the topics driving our collective consciousness—from Cecil the Lion to the Arab Spring. It has the ability to reveal and engage in real-time events and moments that change the world. What’s trending on Twitter is an accurate picture of real-time sentiment, good and bad, across more than 35 languages, in many countries around the world. Twitter has already shown how it can engage in this dialogue, but humans are still learning how social media works and the good (and harm) that can come from it. Investors and advertisers need to better understand that Twitter’s ability to read and analyze real-time sentiment, and to influence topics and people that matter, will generate unique and better value. Meanwhile, insights drawn from Twitter’s analytics can also be powerful tools to help societies and communities navigate this new world more broadly. Twitter can lead this conversation. It is one that the world desperately needs.
Use your die-hard fans to better engage your next wave of users. Twitter is growing. The average monthly active user base is up 12 percent from last year, with 304 million average monthly active users—equivalent to almost the entire U.S. population. In the quarter announced in late July, Twitter also experienced a 61-percent increase in revenue and a narrower net loss than a year ago. There is plenty of growth ahead, and even more opportunity.
But more needs to be done. Kids are showing their grandparents how to use Facebook, and LinkedIn hosts seminars for young professionals. Who is filling this gap for Twitter? The company must get its unique core of passionate and knowledgeable users to help. There are a number ways to engage existing users as role models for new ones, and my firm has led the way on this for many companies. There is a lot that they could convey. For example, many apps focus on how to grow one’s followers on Twitter, conveying the idea that quantity equals quality. It does not, and true influencers on Twitter know this. Better incentivizing and educating people on how to use the platform will ensure that they get out what they put in, while keeping it simple, friendly, and fun.
Twitter’s story has always been inherently intertwined with social purpose—telling that story better will help. A majority of the journalists we work with every day get and break news first on Twitter, as do a growing number of influencers who make Twitter their platform of choice for opinions, emotions, and reactions. Twitter has ignited movements and toppled governments, yet the work Twitter is doing on the ground with local communities is truly groundbreaking.
Neighbor Nest in San Francisco, for example, fascinates me in its ability to bring new communities together to provide affordable housing, care, and other critical services to those who need them most. It’s a model that all tech companies should consider in making cities and societies more affordable and inclusive.
Let’s not lose sight of the instrumental role Twitter has had in shaping the incredible social media world that so envelops our daily lives. Twitter will continue to disrupt itself, and the world around us, as we continue to navigate today’s tremendous pace of change. Key to this, however, is the need to better focus its story. Twitter, we believe in you. Focus your story so that others do too.
Kathy Bloomgarden is the CEO of Ruder Finn.