Twitter’s always been a little strange in the world of social media. Facebook serves as a general, universally used hub. LinkedIn appeals to professionals and entrepreneurs. Pinterest specializes in images. Snapchat offers privacy fast communication. But Twitter, despite having hundreds of millions of users, doesn’t have much to make it stand out other than a character limit and an innovation—the hashtag—that is now used by virtually every other platform.
Still, Twitter continues to thrive as a loved platform by consumers and marketers alike. There are a number of exciting developments that have boosted Twitter’s functionality, and more on the horizon, but without a niche focus (as of yet) and increasing competition from other, more aggressive social media platforms, what course of development remains for the platform?
In terms of its utility as a marketing platform, I envision three possible futures for the app, barring any radical unforeseen developments.
Even at this volume and stage of growth, it’s entirely possible that Twitter could become obsolete. Right now, it occupies a strong niche and thrives on the strength of its brand, but as new competitors start encroaching on its territory, if it fails to catch up to them or stay a few steps ahead, it could collapse under its own weight.
The big question here is users. Without enough users, Twitter won’t be useful for marketers, and if Twitter completely collapses, it won’t even be available to marketers. Young demographics tend to prefer Snapchat when it comes to communication. Most users prefer Instagram when it comes to posting images. Twitter had a boon with Vine when it comes to posting videos, but most people still prefer Facebook for general posting purposes.
So if people don’t generally prefer Twitter for posting, communicating, or responding, what do they prefer it for? This is the question Twitter needs to answer (and it may—see my next two points). But without that critical distinguishing function, eventually, the Twitter population will seek refuge in other, more viable platforms. Marketers like us tend to follow the user base, so without one, Twitter is practically sunk.
One potential route for Twitter is the “instantaneous” update. Already, most social platforms allow us to post in real time, but Twitter has a slight advantage—because its users are forced to write and post more concise updates, and its newsfeeds are filled with a greater number of these small updates, the entire Twitter demographic tends to crave fast, immediate information in any format.
Twitter is catering to this drive for instant information in a handful of its recent developments. For example, the social platform recently acquired the application Periscope, which allows users to broadcast live video feeds from wherever they are to a distributed user base. Followers of that user can watch the feed from anywhere in real time. Such an update is nice, and makes Twitter even more of a “live” app, but isn’t enough on its own to warrant the app’s survival.
Following up on this, however, Twitter is preparing to release its “Project Lightning,” otherwise known as “Moments,” which aggregates posts, images, and videos from users at specific events so that other users can get a near-first-hand experience for what’s happening. This would change the platform into a kind of live, crowdsourced journalistic platform, while still retaining some of its other features. Under such a model, advertising would be harder to explore, and because so much data is aggregated, marketers would have a harder time standing out organically. This option would allow Twitter to survive, and maybe even thrive with new users, but the marketing and advertising side of things could be compromised as a result.
It’s also possible that Twitter could end up partnering with another, more established or more popular social platform, though this would be years away from happening due to the current power of Twitter’s brand. For example, consider how tweets have recently been integrated with Google search. Is it much of a stretch to think of Google acquiring Twitter as a pseudo-replacement for Google+ (which also experienced issues establishing a distinguished niche of users)?
It wouldn’t have to be Google—Facebook holds an equally vested interest in what could be described as its biggest competitor. Whether Twitter is carefully folded into another existing app or if its functionality is somehow leveraged in some other way, this could be the jump start Twitter needs to establish some unique relevance. Of all three options listed here, this is probably the best for marketers, as it would preserve the core functionality of Twitter without alienating any users, and still carve a path forward to reasonable growth. However, Twitter’s seeming desire to remain independent could squash any hopes of this happening.
It’s entirely possible that Twitter will take us all by surprise and avoid conforming to any of these three scenarios, instead choosing an entirely different path forward. But the platform is certainly at a significant fork in the road. Now is the chance for the company to prove to the masses that it deserves to be on equal footing with the other social media giants, and that it won’t succumb to failure or envelopment. In order to do that, in any capacity, they’ll have to work hard to keep introducing new features and find a niche that suits them.