The big takeaway? Unlike Facebook, Twitter’s S1 doesn’t contain a glaring smoking gun. As you might recall, when Facebook was preparing to go public, it laid bare the fact that its user base was rapidly moving to mobile, but it hadn’t figured out how to monetize it. (In fact, Facebook’s cracking the code on mobile has been one factor in its recent buoyant stock price, which, as of this writing, was trading at $50/share.)
Twitter does not have that problem. Per the S1, a full 65% of Twitter’s revenue in the second quarter of this year was on mobile.
But it does have its issues. Chief among them, to me, is a perception problem: that if you go on Twitter, you have to have something to say. That keeps a lot of people from not only signing up for Twitter in the first place, but from using it if they do.
This issue does show up in the S1. The service has 100 million daily active users, and 215 million monthly active users, which sounds great, until you compare its user engagement to Facebook’s, with its 700 million daily active users and 1.1 billion monthly active users.
In other words, 63% of Facebook’s MAUs go on it every day; only 46% of Twitter’s do. If I had to venture a guess, it’s because many people don’t go there unless they have an irrepressible urge to tweet.
And then there’s the stat I couldn’t find in the S1: how many Twitter accounts there are, as opposed to how many active users there are. I’m not talking about Twitter bot accounts – which the company estimates are at about 5% – but all of the accounts in the Twitter graveyard, which were activated once upon a time, but never used.
In fairness to Twitter, Facebook doesn’t tout this figure either, but I think it’s a key engagement stat that demonstrates any service’s user-friendliness. Do people create an account, look around, and figure there’s nothing there for them? Do they realize that, unlike Facebook, you can use Twitter entirely as a broadcast medium, simply following accounts and seeing what they have to say? In other words, do they get that you don’t have to tweet to get a lot out of Twitter?
If anecdotal evidence is any guide, they might not. Back during this year’s Oscars, I took a break from my tweetstream, which I can’t live without during live events, and jumped over to Facebook. As readers of this column know, it just wasn’t the same raucous party that Twitter was. The nature of Facebook, which is only sometimes real-time, and mainly consists of closed conversation loops, seemed somehow staler. I invited my Facebook friends to join me on Twitter, and got a communal head scratch, probably because my Facebook friends who are also on Twitter were on Twitter at that time. I was talking mainly to a Facebook-only crowd. Suffice to say that experience taught me that there are apparently a lot of people out there unsure of how to use Twitter.
The S1 only tangentially addresses this problem, in a few mentions of the need to increase “user engagement.” The emphasis seems much more on growing the user base, which assumes that people already on Twitter, are active on Twitter. While user growth will be a crucial part of Twitter’s story, what this social platform also needs is a marketing campaign to convert all of those inactive users and prospective users into people who realize it’s not Facebook, and that Twitter’s significant virtues -- its real-time nature, the ability to follow anyone from @ladygaga to your next-door neighbor and on and on -- make it such an essential part of social media life.
As someone not in the advertising industry, let me give you some perspective. The notion that advertising is so important to society that it would override privacy rights seems to be a given in every industry article I read. But if you polled ordinary people, how many do you think would agree with that? The arrogance and self-importance of this industry seems to be only growing with its incomes.
Don't forget that almost everybody hates advertising—they hate your popup ads, commercial interruptions, and junk mail cluttering their inboxes. Want to get them to hate you even more? Keep stalking them by ignoring do-not-track requests. That's a surefire way to get tougher regulations in place.
Instead, why don't you figure out ways to be less obnoxious? That starts with respecting the people you're trying to reach.
When I shop in person I can walk around a store, not tracked (unless the mall is intercepting smart phones, another issue), if I make a purchase and absolutely do not want to be tracked I simply pay cash. I know that paying by debit or credit means I can be tracked and if I care I have the cash option. I don't care, and use cards, but I do believe I should have the same option online. That simple. I'll find my own way through the sites, as I find my own way through the store.