Twitter's Millennial Problem

Under new CEO Jack Dorsey, Twitter has launched a slew of new initiatives, from buy buttons to content-focused Moments, all aimed at improving its appeal to marketers. It’s also promising to address complaints that it is too complicated -- even the company’s newly named executive chairman, Omid Kordestani, described in a recent Wall Street Journalstory as a “sporadic” user of the social media platform, has noted that “a lot of users who touch the service … perhaps don’t find it as simple as they should.”

For those who follow the industry, these moves to right a badly listing ship come as no surprise. Twitter is one of the social media startups that has struggled to effectively monetize, while competitors like Facebook, Instagram and even SnapChat have more quickly shot up in both growth and revenue.

On the user front, one of Twitter’s problems is its relative lack of popularity with Millennials. While Millennials make up Twitter’s largest group of users, they’re still not using it as much as they do other social media platforms. According to the Pew Research Center, only 37% of those 18 to 29 are on Twitter, compared to the 87% who use Facebook and the 53% who use Instagram. And of those who use Twitter, only 36% say they log in daily, while 70% of Facebook users do. This lack of engagement with Millennials means Twitter is missing out on a group of consumers who are rapidly increasing their wealth, status and influence.

So what’s keeping Millennials off Twitter? The reasons are complicated — not only in how easy (or not) it is to use, but also in its brand appeal. In a recent study we conducted of 6,000 18- to 34-year-old consumers in which we asked questions about a number of technology brands, Twitter’s scores were some of the lowest in the tech category.  In fact, along with Dell, Blackberry and Nokia, these scores revealed a level of Millennial awareness on par with outdated hardware brands. But all is not lost: by looking further at the study, we saw ways Twitter can improve its brand if it wants to better connect with this group.

We scored tech brands on six values we’ve determined are key to gaining traction with these consumers: Design, Altruism, Ingenuity, User Centrism, Personality and Participation.Twitter scored highest in Participation, garnering stature as a brand that helps users express themselves and makes them feel like a part of a bigger community.

But with the tagline today of “See what’s happening right now,” and recent launch of the Moments feature, Twitter seems to be leaning more toward the living-in-the-instant approach favored by SnapChat and Instagram.

This isn’t what people go to Twitter for. They go there to share their stories, to jump on a powerful hashtag, and to play some small role in changing the world. Consider the recent movements born and lived large on Twitter  —#blacklivesmatter, #talkpay and #shoutyour abortion — that have helped draw attention to issues perhaps downplayed in mainstream media, highlighting the community behind them.

In short, Twitter needs to go from being a brand about moments to being a brand about movements. To be a brand that is welcoming and supportive to all users and their causes is a powerful message.

There’s a rub, however, that Twitter must address. In our survey, while Twitter’s score for Participation was high, it scored poorly as an Altruistic brand (one perceived as focused on purpose and a commitment to good). This shows a clear disconnect between the way Millennials are using Twitter and their perception of the company itself.

To fix this perception, Twitter needs not only to shift its positioning, but also change the way it speaks, looks, and behaves as a brand. By developing a brand personality that supports causes and encourages participation, rather than hides in the background, Twitter can be a part of the meaningful conversations happening on its platform and give Millennials a reason to tweet — and not just update their Facebook status.

It will also take rethinking the product and the interface, as well as creating a great experience. Above all, it will take Twitter back to the question it used to ask all users at the top of the screen, and force the company to answer it for itself: What are you doing?

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