Twitter needs a marketing lifeline

Twitter’s share price has been haemorrhaging this week as the site revealed in its first earnings report since it went public another first for the company: successive quarterly slowdowns in user growth.

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More worrying still, the earnings report also revealed that average timeline views per user have decreased two quarters in a row. So not only are people joining Twitter in fewer numbers quarter on quarter, but those that already have are engaging with the site less. The issue is compounded by the fact that social networking rival Facebook continues to report quarterly increases in user engagement.

It is likely Twitter’s revenue – which more than doubled in 2013 – will continue to grow in subsequent quarters as it makes improvements to ad targeting and because it can also simply turn up the volume on the amount of ads it serves, should it choose to. But user growth and engagement will need a more human mechanism in order to be turbocharged.

As Twitter Dick Costolo spelled out on the company’s fourth quarter earnings call: “We have massive global awareness of Twitter, and we need to bridge that gap between awareness of Twitter and deep engagement on the platform. So it is absolutely the case that it is very much about making it easier for people who first come to the platform to get it more quickly.”

Chances are even your parents know what Twitter is. A few weeks ago I had to explain what this “Twitter thing I keep hearing about” was to my dad. After listening patiently as I ran through the lexicon of followers, retweets and hashtags he shook his head (#smh) and sighed: “But why on earth would anyone want to do that?”

My dad isn’t Twitter’s problem, clearly. Twitter’s problem is that beyond its tech and media savvy network of 241 million users, many people still think Twitter is for narcissists that want to bore on about what they’ve just eaten for breakfast. Twitter needs to do a better job of communicating it is so much more than that.

Such communications could also spur lapsed users into giving Twitter another go. In the past year, Twitter has introduced more features to point users back towards the site, such as mobile push notifications letting users know about topics their followers are talking about. It has also dialled up consumer PR activity, which has placed Twitter front and centre of big events such as transfer deadline day in the press.

Costolo said Twitter plans to introduce even more features to make the site more interactive in the coming months. But it needs to get the basics right first. There has been little evidence of above the line marketing since it ran its first and only TV campaign in the US back in 2012. If ever there was a time to consider a return in order to answer the mass market “why Twitter” question it is now. And that won’t be answered by an algorithm.

Twitter is still a mere eight years old and the company is staffing up all the time, but it is vital the company moves beyond expanding its commercial team to employing marketers – senior, consumer marketers – if it wants to continue as a sustainable business into its teens.