Indulge me for a few minutes — just enough to allow the title to bite me in the arse.
There are, of course, lots of reasons why it shouldn’t happen; regulatory, financial, demand-based, the bullying and abuse problem, good old rivalry (after all, Facebook did try to buy Twitter before, allegedly twice). But Twitter needs to sell to placate investors and stem stagnation. The reason it will happen above all else is ads … or more accurately, targeting. Now, with Google and Disney backing away (if they ever were in the running at all), the pool of potential suitors has narrowed and left Twitter perfectly placed for a big blue swipe of a thumb.
Facebook, as a platform, does, of course, allow for so many different interactions on a personal level — spying on exes, finding out how the people you didn’t like at school are getting on (another baby? Really?) — but none more important, for the excited advertiser looking to effervescently insert themselves relevantly into your life, than the accumulation of targeting and behavior data; what we do and what we could be interested in.
Facebook’s existing datasets allow granular targeting of ads based on a huge number of factors. It’s miles ahead of Twitter in ad product, support base, sales, account management, and that massive base of data. Twitter has struggled to make a cohesive ad product. And in niches where it does exist, there always seems to be a lack of believable numbers.
We have found with quite a few clients that lifetime value is strong from Twitter; however, this is almost always organic, not paid (i.e. small numbers of users who have had a direct conversation with a brand, not the mass numbers needed to scale any product or service). That is the simple beauty of Twitter – a direct, unfiltered conversation with the people who are most important: customers.
It’s a bastard to try to scale on a company level, though. As much as you do love your customers, you can’t feasibly know them all by first name and X-Factor preference. Unless of course, perhaps you’re using Salesforce …
Outwardly, Twitter appears to be experiencing somewhat of a talent dearth as well as C-level flux and a sluggish growth of active users. But for all its woes, Twitter remains very much in demand. It’s the only serious real-time social news source. It’s the place where down-in-the-dirt debates on politics and news aren’t held back by worries of your mother confusedly commenting on it à la Facebook. It’s the natural go-to complaining channel, which is obviously important in terms of perception and brand management. Twitter still lives on, despite any press to the contrary, so enough of that.
So, why would Facebook buy it? The answer is that Twitter know things about us that Facebook doesn’t. Simply put, owning Twitter would mean they can sell more things to us. TV targeting and real-time news is something Facebook is obviously trying to emulate with its trending news items, the introduction of hashtags, and so on. The reality is though, they aren’t compatible in that way. We don’t use Facebook in the same way and, more than likely, we never will. Moreover, different ages use Facebook in different ways, from a family-only hub or address book to the singular repository for terrifying pro-Brexit voter thought.
We needed a place to focus on great filtered photos of our legs on holidays and endless quinoa salads, Hipstamatic et al fell away and left us with Instagram. A quick glance at the top 10 free apps shows so clearly why it made sense to buy Instagram, and in turn Whatsapp. Domination of our behaviors one app at a time is prescient and working. Each platform is slowly linked up with targeting data, often despite promises to the contrary.
Twitter user data paired with the Facebook network is an interesting allure and isn’t part of the current Facebook offering. Twitter is now also a bargain of sorts, or at the very least a heavy discount from the $69 price tag during the IPO euphoria. After a short rally, the speculation about Disney and Google has slumped the share price into a downward trend in favor of a blue-tinged, cash-rich buyer.
Or maybe I have it wrong and Salesforce will follow through and get all misty eyed about owning a real-life social media Pinocchio. Either way, I believe Twitter will succeed and find the right commercial space.
In the words of an equally socially resurgent Craig David, possibly, ‘can I get a retweet?’
Francis Burns is Chief Strategy Officer and cofounder at UK-based Puzzle.