Twitter dismayed shareholders this week with its second quarter earnings report, chalking up its eighth straight quarter of declining growth.
The company reported a 20 percent rise in revenue year-over-year to $602 million, which fell short of analyst's expectations and reflects a slow down from 61 percent last year.
Worse, it warned that the lower than expected demand from advertisers would likely continue for the rest of the year. And oh yes, its user base grew by a paltry one percent over the previous quarter.
Many people have opined about where San Francisco-based Twitter went wrong, what is wrong with Jack Dorsey as a part time CEO and when, if ever, the company will get its sea legs.
Far less has been said about Twitter's exceedingly rich trove of data.
Deals, But Not Data
Unfortunately for shareholders, Twitter seems less inclined to monetize it any more than it already has. One idea gaining currency is that Twitter is an ideal acquisition for companies looking for a data-rich target, a la Microsoft's $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn last month.
Dorsey has resisted the acquisition idea to date, pointing to new initiatives, such as its signed agreements with the National Football League, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League to begin live-streaming games this fall, as well as broadcasting rights to other content including political debates and financial news. It plans to sell ads against this content.
Twitter is disinclined to encroach on users’ privacy by providing deeper access to data. Consider what John Heywood, data product manager at Twitter wrote earlier this month when the company announced it was making social data harvester Gnip's Audience API generally available.
"At Twitter, everything we do is oriented around our users, and the Audience API is no different," he wrote. "Of the four product requirements shared above, the most important has been to protect our users and preserve the trust they have in Twitter that their data will be used in an appropriate manner."
That said, it is worth noting, as Twitter struggles for a financial footing and solid place in the social media universe, what a peek into its data, restricted though it might be, does offer.
Political Junkies and Their Outside Interests
Let's start with Gnip and the new Audience API. Twitter unveiled a Public Beta period for it last fall at its Flight Developer Conference.
Heywood wrote that one of the top requests Twitter received from customers asked for visibility into the demographic characteristics of audiences of interest for brand clients. "After all, brands that have a better understanding of the makeup of customers and prospects are able to make smarter and more strategic product and marketing decisions."
The Audience API allows customers to retrieve demographic data across 10 user models, as well as at the intersection of a combination of any two. These include gender, interests, type of wireless device, location, country, language, region and two beta categories, TV shows and TV genres.
Beta customer KarmaPulse, out of Mexico City, used Audience API to help political campaigns better understand the interests and needs of their voter bases. The candidate teams were able to explore the interests of Twitter users engaging in political talk that went beyond politics in real-time. As a result of these efforts, 77 percent of KarmaPulse's clients won their corresponding races, according to Heywood.
A Less Expensive Way to Read Audiences
One common complaint about Gnip is that it is very expensive.
There is, of course, Twitter’s public API, but it has proven difficult for companies and third-party developers to extract this level of detail about their prospective audience.
But as startups get smarter about the algorithms and analytics they use, this issue can be overcome.
One example is Boston-based startup Adhark, a streaming marketing recommendation company that just launched Cuckoo — what it claims is the first task advisor for marketing. It integrated into Twitter's public API, and because of its focus on very specific audiences of its customers, it doesn't need to ingest every public tweet, explained Jehan Hamedi, founder and CEO of Adhark.
"The product works by analyzing groups of people rather than raw engagement with a campaign hashtag," he told CMSWire. For example, a retailer might want to know what Ralph Lauren customers are interested in right now and it enters the Ralph Lauren Twitter handle.
"It then harvests live behavioral data from Twitter from the people who engage with the Ralph Lauren brand." It could be that this group really likes the color blue, for example, or leaves work early on Friday. The company is also working on perfecting its image analysis — such as the theoretical data point about the Ralph Lauren customer's liking the color blue — which can be very hard to do, Hamedi said. "Image analysis, properly done, will be very disruptive for marketing," he said.
Like most start ups Cuckoo is currently free, but Adhark plans to monetize the product with a pro version next year, as well as a full-fledged suite.
Twitter, are you listening?