And don’t get me wrong, the challenges for Twitter are manifold. But at the same time, I do believe there is a place for Twitter in the digital tapestry. So why is it that Twitter gets thrown on the “failure” heap to the degree that it is costing people their jobs and shareholders their value?
One of the reasons is that many of its investors have seen Twitter as a Facebook and
Google competitor — which comes with equally lofty ideas about user growth and active user base numbers, advertising income and profitability.
Let me be very clear, dear investors: Twitter is not — I repeat, not — a Facebook or Google. So if you would just throw your comparison charts out the corner office window and focus on what Twitter actually IS, we would all be much better off.
Let’s face it, Twitter is a news medium. As I have written before, Facebook is a general-interest magazine, Google is the Yellow Pages, and Twitter is a combination of
newspaper and radio station. It delivers news real-time, really fast, often beating the actual news media by quite a bit. But it also has the same kind of fleeting quality, since yesterday’s
tweets are truly old news.
Another way of looking at Twitter is to call it the real-time digital workplace water cooler or coffee machine. You used to have to wait for the next day to discuss the issues in the headlines; now it happens immediately, online.
Obviously, the old-world media comparisons are not perfect. But it is a fact that Twitter gets quoted more than any other social media platform by the other news media. Whether it was a space craft landing on an asteroid, the Boston Marathon bombing, Ferguson or Baltimore, Twitter was the place where people shared what was happening. It is where ordinary citizens and reporters go first to report, as well as read what is actually going on. It is the CNN of the new millennium.
And therein lies the challenge. When there isn’t any “real” news, Twitter is (like Facebook) a mishmash of meaningless status updates, shared video’s or photos and other random stuff that might be interesting to some, but is relatively meaningless to most. Just as CNN is struggling to get viewers to watch relatively meaningless content if there isn’t a major breaking story (and CNN’s ratings prove this fact on a daily basis).
And so we turn back to the investors. If Twitter = CNN, then it follows that it serves its audience with a targeted, specific product
and will generate revenues in line with that. This can be a profitable business to be in, but it will most likely not deliver the same kind of revenues as its broadly targeted digital contemporaries.
It is important for Twitter, and its clients, advertisers and investors to understand this fact. Perhaps part of the problem has been that Twitter was not clear itself about what it wanted to be, and tried too much to be like the others. Focus helps, even if it means scaling back unrealistic and misaligned expectations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”