Microblog Pointing At Microblog

This just in… European telecommunications engineers Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert are suing Twitter over its “copycat” app.

Well, not really, but if Twitter can sue Meta over for copying microblogging, why can’t the engineers who – in 1984 – invented the original SMS code it was based on, sue Twitter after the fact? Just asking.

But even as Twitter tries litigation in an attempt to stop what already has become one of the fastest growing apps ever, the real question shouldn’t be whether someone can own the intellectual property behind microblogging, but who can innovate how people use it, including advertisers.

Sixteen years after it was kickstarted at the 2007 SXSW conference, the microblogging service has nearly half a billion monthly active users – many of them human – but has never really delivered on its promise of becoming an important platform for marketers.

Sure brands love stunting snarky tweets, but much of what they have done on Twitter has been organic, not paid, and under Elon Musk’s ownership, many have backed away or bristled at his erratic management style, especially pulling content moderation and brand safety protocols, and jerking around with paid verification and now user “view limits.”

Musk’s reign hasn’t exactly been a honeymoon, though he personally seems to have been enjoying it. At least until Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg saw an opportunity to capitalize on user remorse and defection by accelerating the rollout of Threads.

As a result, the initial version isn’t cluttered with features and actually looks like a clean slate for people who genuinely want a safe, well-lighted public square to express themselves to others.

For his part, Zuckerberg appears to be doing everything right, whether its posting optimistic updates and lots of jiu jitsu videos on Threads, as well as his deliciously-timed Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man meme tweet on Twitter.

Or as some observers have already pointed out, Musk has managed to make Zuckerberg look cool.

One of the most important business comments Zuckerberg has made on threads was in response to a user suggesting he is “salivating” as he thinks about serving ads to the rapidly growing Threads user base.

“Our approach will be the same as all our other products,” @zuck replied, adding, “Make the product work well first, then see if we can get it on a clear path to 1 billion people, and only then think about monetization at that point.”

With Threads sign ups already approaching – or possibly exceeding – 100 million users, it’s already well on its way.

The comment reminded me of one I recall hearing Twitter co-founder Biz Stone saying during his 2015 SXSW launch of his ill-fated “Super” platform.

Asked how he planned to monetize it, Stone said that with “100 million active happy customers,” he could figure out how to make money off of them.

Interestingly, with half a billion active users, Twitter has hardly even done that, but maybe it’s because many of them are not happy about their usage.

While Twitter no longer releases its monetization data since being taken private by Musk, the platform historically has not been that significant an ad platform, generating a few billion dollars annually in sales, but nothing compared to the Big 3 – much less the top 10 – digital advertising platforms.

Why is that? If Twitter is such an influential platform – and such an important public square for sharing opinion and ideas – why aren’t brands spending more on it?

While that presumably is a conversation new Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino has been having with people – both internally and externally – it is something Zuckerberg and his Meta team no doubt are also thinking about as they consider their path to 1 billion active users.

In the weekend edition of his Madison and Wall newsletter, ad industry economist Brian Wieser republished a 2013 treatise recommending to then newly IPOed Twitter on his it could innovate its role with advertisers.

You can read it in its entirety here, but here’s a highlight for Zuckerberg, as well as Yaccarino and Musk to think about:

“As long as Twitter is a niche medium, appealing to a passionate if still-smaller (one third of the size in the long-run, perhaps?) user base relative to Facebook, it will not likely monetize as well as Facebook,” Wieser wrote, speculating that Twitter ultimately would “monetize itself” at about one third the level of Meta’s Facebook.

“But that will take many, many years to realize, well beyond the life of our model,” he concluded, adding, “We think they can get there by essentially sustaining existing sales efforts over the next year or so, but beyond these levels, further growth will be largely dependent upon Twitter’s own identity and purpose evolving, and with it, the segments of marketers who will uniquely depend on it should evolve too.”

That last line strikes me as an especially poignant study in contrast between how Musk is approaching the identity and purpose of Twitter and how Zuckerberg is approaching it for Threads.

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