Twitter insists it is ‘not just a social network’ with launch of first brand campaign

After redefining its core purpose as a platform for news Twitter is trying to change perceptions and attract new users by leading with a brand-level message for the first time.

Twitter has been on a journey following CEO Jack Dorsey’s declaration last year that the brand had struggled to identify what’s its core function should be.

Despite now being a 12-year-old company, it was only after 10 years that the brand stood back and asked the question ‘what is Twitter?’, according to Joel Lunenfeld, Twitter’s global vice-president of brand strategy and Oliver Snoddy, senior director of marketing, talking to Marketing Week at the Cannes Lions Festival last week.

“If you talk to 100 different people, they’ll tell you 100 different use cases for Twitter – that’s what we were trying to go after,” says Lunenfeld.

The marketing team has spent the past 18 months redefining the brand and clarifying what Twitter is and how people should use it, an approach championed by the brand’s first CMO Leslie Berland who joined the company from American Express last February.

It’s amazing how one crystallised decision can help be the filter for everything else we do

Joel Lunenfeld, Twitter

“Leslie has been driving this heavily since she came on board,” says Snoddy. “How do we simply communicate what, why and how Twitter? If we can do that at the very highest level everything else fits into it. There are products that help tell that story but we just wanted to step back and tell our brand story in a simple way.”

READ MORE: Twitter’s new CMO kicks off marketing push to lure new users

Shifting perceptions

Twitter is now looking to shift perceptions around the brand and what it should be used for, part of which involved changing its category on the app store from social networking to news.

“A lot of people still see us as a social network and have other misperceptions about the brand,” Snoddy explains. “So our focus is to shift some of those misperceptions. We know that’s not how our users are using Twitter. As a brand we need to do a better job at mirroring that back to people.”

“People do network on Twitter but it is not the main reason people come,” adds Lunenfeld.

To promote this new messaging and position as a news brand rather than a social network, Twitter has gone to market with its first brand-level campaign in the US.

“The message is quite simple, it’s around seeing every side of what’s happening but it’s almost a product demonstration wrapped up in a brand film,” says Snoddy. “The hope is that you get to see what Twitter is for and also get to see how it makes you feel when conversations are happening. When things are firing up and trending there’s that sort of joy that we refer to as the Twitter smile.”

The first TV spot is around music but the brand plans to introduce further iterations focused on entertainment, sport and news. Similar activity will be launched in other parts of the world too, including in the UK.

“This is the first time we’ve really led with a brand-level message,” Snoddy explains. “So rather than centring the message on individual products we’re trying to message the entirety of what Twitter is. That’s something we haven’t done before. To us at least, that’s what we saw as the big opportunity.”

“It’s amazing how one crystallised decision can help be the filter for everything else we do,” adds Lunenfeld.

Simplified product

Simplifying the product was one aspect of that, which involved making people’s timelines more relevant to them, as well as making video a “first class citizen” on the platform.

Twitter has so far announced 16 live streaming partners, with everything from a 24-hour news network on Bloomberg and a partnership with NFL, to the launch of an original show called ‘#WhatsHappening’.

“It’s the first time we’ve done something like this,” says Lunenfeld. “We’re powering it, not hosting it. It will be a daily show built exactly for Twitter.”

It’s just one way the brand is looking to shift people’s perceptions from it being a social network to a news site.

“If you come to Twitter for the first time and don’t know what to do it will be a great way to catch up with a voice telling you what’s happening and narrating it. It will be good for user growth, it will be good for our brand and it will be great for sponsors,” he adds.

Rather than centring the message on individual products we’re trying to message the entirety of what Twitter is.

Oliver Snoddy, Twitter

In the first quarter of this year Twitter streamed more than 800 hours of live premium video content from partners across more than 450 events. This reached 45 million unique viewers, according to the brand, an increase of 31% from the last quarter of 2016, its first full quarter of live streaming premium content.

Of these hours, 51% were sports – thanks in part to the tie up with NFL – while 35% was spent watching news and politics, and 14% entertainment. Around 60% of unique viewers were based outside the US, with approximately 55% of unique viewers under the age of 25.

Fight against fake news

Making this shift and redefining its core proposition is also helping the platform fight fake news, according to Snoddy. Twitter has policies in place to prevent the spread of false information but he claims the way people use Twitter means it is less of a problem for the platform than some other networks.

“There is an openness to Twitter and it is structurally quite different to other networks,” he claims. “We definitely see people fact checking and people taking part in the conversation. Truths organically rise up in the platform.

“One of the powers of Twitter is how quickly journalists, the media, influencers – whoever might be best placed – can actually correct errors and spread true information to counteract misinformation. In some ways the best approach to misinformation is more information and an open dialogue coupled with policy that obviously takes down misinformation.”

Better segmentation

The brand will be hoping that its new, better defined positioning will help it boost user numbers, which after rising rapidly initially have now slowed. Over the past two years the platform has only gained an additional 31 million users, according to data from Statista. By comparison, Facebook attracted 467 million.

The brand’s revenues have also suffered in recent months. It reported a loss of $167m (£133m) in the final quarter of 2016, compared to a $90m (£72m) loss in the same period in 2015.

And despite a boost in the run up to the US presidential election at the end of 2016, it still only increased active users by 4% to 319 million.

READ MORE: Can Twitter turn its ‘influence and impact’ into ad revenues?

In order to bring new people to Twitter and reach the right potential audience the brand has been working on a lookalike segmentation model.

“It’s not as simple as finding as finding 18 to 34s and just going after them,” says Snoddy. “We looked at people who are current healthy Twitter users and did extensive segmentation of them – their behaviour, their value on the platform.

“Then we did a lookalike to find people out there that actually look like our current happy users but the one difference being they don’t currently use the platform. It’s quite a broad group of people but they have commonalities in terms of their interest, mindset and attitude.”

As Twitter continues to roll out its brand-level messaging time will tell whether the new approach pays off.