Earlier this week, Twitter’s stock hit an all-time low, briefly plummeting to $13.90 — almost half its IPO price in 2013, and one-fifth of its peak $69 price in December 2013.
The rock-bottom moment served as a stark reminder that Twitter isn’t meeting Wall Street’s expectations. And it came one week after the social network posted Q1 financials that showed it fell short of its revenue expectations, even though its monthly active users (MAUs) rose to 310 million — 5 million more than the previous quarter and a three percent increase year-on-year.
Compared to Facebook’s gargantuan growth, Twitter’s user-base may look measly, but 310 million users is nothing to sniff at. However, all Twitter really wants to do is please its shareholders and curb the seemingly perpetual decline in the company’s dollar value. And to do so, Twitter has been making in-house changes, tinkering with algorithms, killing products, and refocusing its efforts as it looks to not only remain relevant, but boost its user-base, lure more advertisers on board, and — ultimately — get a big thumb’s up from Mr. Wall Street.
So what, exactly, has Twitter been doing in 2016 to achieve these goals? Here’s a quick recap of some of the things it has — and hasn’t — done.
Cofounder Jack Dorsey returned as CEO back in October in a move that many hoped would save Twitter from the doldrums. This was followed by a big round of layoffs, and the turn of the New Year brought in more big change, with four executive resignations: Alex Roetter, senior vice president of product; Kevin Weil, global media head; Katie Stanton, vice president of human resources; and Brian “Skip” Schipper. Shortly after, Twitter confirmed that its long hunt for a new chief marketing officer (CMO) was over, and welcomed Leslie Berland, former EVP of advertising, marketing, and digital partnerships at American Express (Amex).
Two months later, Twitter revealed a board shakeup with the addition of Martha Lane Fox, British cofounder of travel website LastMinute.com, and PepsiCo vice president and chief financial officer (CFO) Hugh Johnston.
Martha Lane Fox brought two apparent benefits to Twitter — she’s actually active on Twitter, for starters, meaning she understands what the product is all about.
— martha lane fox (@Marthalanefox) April 8, 2016
But perhaps more than that, she is a woman — and Twitter has faced criticism for its lack of diversity. She joined Leslie Berland and Kathy Chen — who was hired to spearhead Twitter’s push into China (where the service is still blocked). Dorsey has made it clear that he wants a more diverse culture within Twitter which will, in turn, rub off on the company and its products.
Speaking of which…
You can sort your internal affairs out ’til the cows come home, but if the product sucks, personnel changes are moot. Twitter’s core product — let’s call it “Twitter” — has been the focus of two key changes this year.
Back in February, Twitter finally introduced its long-rumored algorithmic timeline, a Facebook-style feed that strives to surface the best and most relevant tweets. It later made the feature opt-out, and switched it on for everyone, in an effort to make Twitter more appealing to new or infrequent users.
While it’s too early to say what impact this will have on Twitter’s stickiness, perhaps the biggest change to the product would be opening tweets to more than 140 characters, something that we know Twitter has been looking into, but that has yet to come to fruition. The company reassured users recently that the 140-character limit would remain in place, but it is still likely working on a tool to enable longer public conversations — perhaps something similar to how people share screenshots of large swathes of text. Dorsey more or less confirmed that something like that was in the works back in January, but it has yet to see the light of day.
— Jack (@jack) January 5, 2016
Another issue that Twitter still hasn’t “fixed,” despite promising to do so, is that thing where you type “.@” for everyone to see your tweet. It’s a weird legacy of how Twitter was built originally, and it will sure as hell be confusing to new users. However Twitter tackles the issue, streamlining that process will likely be welcomed by most people — including power-users.
But the one thing that probably prevents people from embracing Twitter with their heart and soul is the problem of trolls, which is why the company recently set up a Trust and Safety Council. This consists of representatives from “40 organizations and experts from 13 regions” and includes safety advocates, academics, community groups, and more.
This tacit acknowledgement that Twitter can be a threatening environment for users perhaps indicates the direction that the platform needs to head in, though it’s difficult to imagine how it could stamp out trolling completely without killing the product just a little bit.
We are committed to refining our core service to better enable people to more easily create, share and consume content that is important to them. As part of that strategy, we will be focusing on live streaming video, which we believe is a strong complement to the live nature of Twitter.
Yes, Periscope has been a major focal point for Twitter, with livestreams now available inside tweets, and the company revealing that it broadcast 200 million streams in its first year. As Twitter celebrated 10 years in business, Jack Dorsey gave the biggest hint yet as to what the future will look like — it’s all about the here and now, “real time,” and “live.” More than a year ago, Twitter launched Periscope, a tool that lets anyone broadcast their life events to the world. Perhaps one of the best and most-engaging use-cases for Periscope was the famous puddle in England, which, as mundane as it should have been, actually gave a glimpse into what the future might hold for Twitter.
But user-generated live-video streams are only part of Twitter’s solution to get people on board. The platform now lets people record and share videos in direct messages and it hasn’t given up on its six-second clip app Vine. Of course, GIFs are still the order of the day, too.
However, more than livestreams and quirky shareable videos, Twitter is betting on a new direction that could completely change its perception. On April 5, Twitter won a contract to live broadcast Thursday night NFL games, and offer them globally, for free. While Twitter had long been a partner of the NFL and had served up video highlights, shifting to a fully fledged broadcasting network was a notable step for Twitter.
It’s clear that we’ll be seeing many more initiatives in the video realm moving forward, as Twitter strives to transition from a short-form blogging tool into something new. In fact, Twitter gave the biggest hint yet as to how it now views itself — not as a social network, but as a media company — after it changed its App Store category listing from “Social Network” to “News.”
Aside from boosting its appeal to end-users, Twitter has also been wooing businesses and developers with a range of initiatives. Back in February, it launched a new customer feedback tool alongside a new deep-linking feature for direct messages. And last month, Twitter acquired Peer, an employee and manager feedback tool, though it wouldn’t reveal how the technology would be used within Twitter.
In January, we reported that Twitter was working on a product to let advertisers identify positive tweets about a specific brand and use them as an authentic “word-of-mouth” promotional message. It’s also pushing its “Fabric” development tools — with new mobile apps — and specifically targeting game makers through an integration with the Unity game engine.
If Twitter is to avoid the fate of so many fallen social networks (sorry, “media companies”) before it, it does, of course, have to keep its shareholders happy. And that all starts with keeping users happy, which, in turn, should entice more businesses to part with ad cash.
That Twitter’s stock hit an all-time low this week doesn’t bode well, especially when you consider how many sweeping changes have happened this year, but the company was never going to turn things around overnight. If the great turnaround is to happen, it will require a great deal of patience.