Only Customer Focus Can Address Twitter’s Decline
Despite its 307 million users, Twitter’s market capitalization declined from $50 billion to $11.5 billion in the past two years. This is likely to continue as growth slows and its $100 million quarterly losses continue. In comparison, WordPress’ private valuation is at $1.16 billion powering more than 25 percent of all websites.
One of the problems with Twitter is that its current business model, advertising, doesn’t attract new users — and annoys its current ones. Its focus on Moments reminds me how former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel tried to steer the company into entertainment and media at a time when its web services were competing well with an emerging Google. As Amazon has shown, more cloud technology would have been a wiser investment for the ailing search company. Similarly, Mathew Ingram says Twitter’s biggest failure was cutting off the innovation of its loyal third party developers.
It takes a bit of incompetence to fail to sustainably monetize 300 million users and to misunderstand what draws them to your service — certainly not advertising and not Moments in its current form. If Twitter doesn’t change course, its market capitalization will drop below WordPress’ by mid-2017 or another company will likely acquire it for less than its current valuation.
Meanwhile, two companies providing WordPress-alternatives have begun to grow their valuations. SquareSpace’s private valuation probably exceeds $1 billion by now and Medium’s already valued at $400 million. Like WordPress, SquareSpace builds its service based on website hosting and subscriptions.
A Customer Driven Business Model for Twitter
By offering compelling features for subscribers and focusing on customer satisfaction, Twitter could easily double its revenues within a year. Here’s a straightforward subscription-based business model for Twitter which would surely re-inspire enthusiasm in the service and attract new users.
The features below would be relatively easy for the company to offer and could be fully delivered within a year. Monthly subscribers paying $10 would gain access to all of these:
- Simple account verification and the features associated with verified accounts. Verification offers credibility and higher readership. It’s a feature currently unavailable to the general public.
- Private, encrypted, fully secure texts (DM) and phone calls. Twitter could leverage the free, open source Signal application code to provide this incredibly powerful and valuable feature for its users. I’d also suggest that subscribers can use secure communication to contact non-subscribers (but not vice versa) and non-subscribers experiencing this feature would drive subscriptions. Non-users seeking private communications might adopt Twitter for this purpose.
- Secure payments between Twitter users leveraging the open source Stellar codebase, a non-profit, foundation funded platform alternative to Bitcoin. Again, only subscribers could initiate payments. Jack can also take note that Stellar’s team is diverse with approximately fifty percent women. With this feature, you could send and receive money to and from any Twitter user.
- Domain name mapping to profiles. If you want to map a domain name or subdomain to your Twitter profile and feed, you’ll be able to. Instead of having to run a personal website somewhere else, jeffreifman.com would host my Twitter site, likely focusing centrally on my feed.
- Basic website capability, profile and third party themes. Twitter could initially offer a bare bones website CMS like Medium — it could probably even leverage the WordPress platform. Just as an example, http://twitter.jeffreifman.com runs a WordPress site which I could easily expand (I turned off its feed updating). See also Import and Archive Your Tweets with WordPress. With the above payments feature, it would be easy to receive payments from your website.
- Longer in-place tweets. Subscribers can tweet 280 characters without any changes in the visibility of their tweets (note: this is distinct from Jack’s proposed “read more” linked blog posts). i.e. non-subscribers can only post 140 character tweets but paying subscribers can say twice as much in a tweet.
- Full length blog hosting. As Jack proposed, subscribers would be able to write full blog posts like Medium et al. Within the Twitter feed, a “Read More” link would show expanded content. Like WordPress and SquareSpace, Twitter would be providing fully customizable website hosting.
- Shortcut manager. Instead of forcing all links to http://t.co, subscribers could use their mapped domain with a short link. Instead of https://t.co/rLB3r81sTC, I could use https://jeffreifman.com/rLB3r81sTC or my full path with no penalty for extra characters.
- Favorite users. Instead of Facebook-like algorithmic “While you were away”, subscribers can favorite Twitter accounts and never miss tweets from these people. When I return from being away, my favorites’ tweets will appear at the top in chronological order and a complete history of these would be one click away.
- Ad free. Twitter advertisements are often invasive, annoying and pretty useless. Did you notice that the latest design shrunk the [Promoted] label making it hard to differentiate them? Subscribers won’t have to see ads in their feeds.
- Tweet scheduling, repeating and optimization. Subscribers will be able to schedule their tweets for specific times or ask Twitter to post them at the next optimal time for wider visibility. Similarly, they’ll be able to request Twitter repeat select tweets a handful of times until each follower has seen it. So many tweets are never seen by your followers because they are offline when you tweet,
- Subscriber accounts would be indexed by Google for exposure to public search. Today, only a fraction of Twitter feeds are available to Google search users lessening the visibility of your tweets.
- Subscribers could verify their Instagram accounts and Twitter could leverage the API under their authorization to download tweetable copies to embed their photos without requiring followers click the painfully slow external Instagram links.
- One click share contact and profile information. Subscribers would be easily able to message and share their contact information (vCard) to other users for their primary contact lists. Twitter would become a simple, effective vCard exchange.
- Follower analysis. Subscribers would be easily able to review the quality of their followers and preview @replyers to make their time on Twitter more effective. e.g. Are these accounts spammers? marketers? and the percentage of their followers that aren’t real members e.g. Twitter users that follow 70,000 accounts.
Okay, and one more:
- Abuse prevention that works (for everyone, not just subscribers). In 2014, I experienced a good-sized harassment effort. Twitter has outsourced this in the past and continues to perform terribly at this making the service a less friendly place.
A Visionary Future for Twitter
Twitter should return its focus on users and the incredibly powerful global platform for democratic community conversation that it often rises to be. By allowing subscribers to host their sites as hubs of communication, secure when necessary, payment exchange, contact sharing and more, they can lure many new users, including those Facebook users tired of having their private messages exploited for advertisers. Apologies in advance to Zuckerberg for sharing so many bullets that he may feel distracted.
With a feature set like I’ve described above, I believe Twitter could easily gain ten million subscribers in its first year. We pay $85 monthly for crappy, insecure cell phone calls and texts regularly surveyed and archived by the NSA. Who wouldn’t pay $10 monthly just for those messages and calls to remain private and secure?
Ultimately, my message to Twitter is don’t try to be like Facebook, try to be the best communication platform for everyone.