Twitter admits it has a ‘marketing issue’ as it looks to hire first ever CMO

Twitter is in the process of hiring its first CMO ahead of a marketing push planned for later this year as it looks to address slow user growth by better communicating to consumers why they should be using the service.

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Currently CFO Anthony Noto is in charge of marketing. However speaking on a conference call following its Q2 results announcement, he said Twitter still has a “marketing issue” in that people don’t understand Twitter or how to use it.

With that issue in mind, he said Twitter is currently talking to a number of “quality candidates” about the role. Twitter is also prepping the launch of its first integrated marketing campaign tp promote “Project Lightning”, a service it plans to launch in the autumn that curates tweets around live events.

The marketing push comes as Twitter said its “low level of penetration” – just 30% of consumers use it in markets such as the US and UK – meant it was only reaching early adopters and technology enthusiasts and not the mass market. Its user numbers in the second quarter were up by just 12% year on year to 302 million (excluding the 12 million people a month that use its text messaging service).

“We have unbelievably high brand awareness globally. People all over the world know of the power of Twitter, but it’s not clear why they should harness it themselves. An answer to ‘why Twitter’ must be articulated clearly and felt everywhere through the service,” said Noto.

“We are advancing this marketing communications work as fast as possible and ensuring it’s coordinated with the simplification of our service,” said interim CEO Jack Dorsey, speaking on the same call.

‘As easy as looking out the window’

Dorsey articulated a vision of what he thinks Twitter can be. He said it should be as “easy as looking out your window to see what’s happening” but also has to be the “most powerful microphone in the world”. He believes Twitter’s service is currently too confusing to be either.

The company has made some changes, including introducing instant timelines and a new home page for people that want to visit the site without logging in. But Dorsey’s comments suggest these haven’t had the required impact and he said Twitter’s user growth remains “unacceptable”.

Dorsey believes a bigger overhaul is needed and he gave the biggest hint yet that Twitter could look to switch up the timeline, which up until now has been a real-time stream of tweets from accounts people follow. It has made some moves to surface content it thinks might be of interest to users through a “while you were away feature”.

However Dorsey is now calling for a “questioning of our fundamentals” including its reverse chronological timeline to “balance recency with relevance”. That could include introducing algorithms based on each users’ behaviour so that Twitter surfaces content that is relevant.

Twitter has been dogged by comparisons with Facebook and more recently the likes of Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, all of which have faster user growth rates. And Noto warned that any acceleration in user growth is unlikely to come for a “considerable amount of time”.

Revenues on the rise

Yet despite the negative comments, Twitter’s advertising business is performing well. Total revenue was up 61% in the quarter to more than $500m while ad sales reached $452m, up 71%, driven by strong demand as well as growth in Twitter’s advertiser base.

Noto also remains confident that Twitter can still go on to reach the mass market.

He explained: “There’s two things that are required to get there. One, articulating a clear value – what Twitter provides, why people should pick Twitter versus all their other choices. And two, delivering that value and their expectations of the value when they get to the product.

“What we start with is great brand awareness. Second, we have to clearly communicate that value. Third, what we have that people want is the best real-time content in the world and ability to participate with our real-time content. There’s no asset that we need to go get. We know we have the value. It’s one communication and two it’s about making the product simple and easy to use.”