Since launching in 2006, Twitter has gone through several identity crises. Starting as an SMS-type messaging system, the platform has grown to be an emergency messaging tool, an engagement platform for live events, and apparently, the platform of choice for announcing domestic and foreign policies by the current President of the United States. With the platform’s growth has come challenges; beyond the struggles of stock prices and pleasing investors, Twitter has dealt with censorship and terrorism issues. After 11 years, are these challenges proving to be too much? Is Twitter “over?”
Though Facebook was already staking a claim as THE social network, Twitter succeed in its early years by offering a different social experience and not competing with Facebook directly. It quickly became popular with conference and event goers, and saw more than 60,000 related tweets per day during the 2007 South by Southwest event. Within the last few years, brands have discovered the power of Twitter as a customer service tool, and the platform has responded by creating more robust tools for this purpose. Things continued to go so well that the company became public in 2013 with its IPO.
Twitter’s impact hasn’t been limited to events and branding. In 2011, Twitter played a major role in the Arab Spring; people used the platform to connect, mobilize, and influence change. During natural disasters and other major events, users are able to receive Twitter Alerts to get up to the minute instructions and information. The world can use Twitter to connect and organize on important events and issues. Unfortunately, this means the world can use Twitter as a force for the other side of the coin too.
Twitter takes a strong stance for net neutrality and anti-censorship. In an effort to protect average citizens’ voices and ability to speak their minds freely, “undesirables” get to have their say, too. Terrorists and groups like Hezbollah are active on Twitter, and frequently use the platform to organize their supporters and promote their viewpoints – one Hezbollah related account has nearly half a million followers. In the United States, the “alt-right” movement has a large presence on Twitter, and frequently makes use of popular hashtags to get their Tweets a wider reach. It’s unfortunately difficult to find worthwhile #MondayMotivation and #WednesdayWisdom tweets among the political debates commandeering the hashtags. While some accounts have been suspended for violating Twitter’s terms of service, the bans are frequently temporary.
These struggles harm Twitter’s own brand image, and their stock has suffered along with it. Since launching their IPO, the company saw an all-time high of $69 per share in 2014, and has trended down ever since; the current price sits around $16. To help boost their numbers and attempt to draw advertisers back in, Twitter recently began testing a $99 a month subscription service for advertisers. The service automatically promotes tweets and profiles without needing to create dedicated ads (which can be off-putting to users). Time will tell if the platforms’ power users and brands will buy in.
Twitter will continue to struggle to find a balance between their investors, the brands that advertise on the platform, freedom of speech, and avoiding the promotion of hate and terrorism. It isn’t the only social media platform struggling with these challenges, and the next few years will see more shifts and new definitions for the role of social in our lives. Still, not all is lost, especially for those of us the public relations and media world. Twitter is still a great place for PR pros and journalists to connect, and it still has major value as a customer service tool for brands. While it may not be the first option to dump all your ad budget into, their $99 subscription service shows forward thinking that can help brands connect with consumers more authentically. Twitter has definite challenges, but it’s not on its last legs yet.