How Twitter Could Win the Social Media War

Twitter's had a pretty busy 2015 so far. Just look at the data-sharing deal with Google and the acquisition of Niche, a content creation platform for the creative community.

However, the social network is still having trouble attracting users, according to some business analysts. Although it beat Wall Street's revenue expectations, it fell short of its expectations for monthly active users by 7 million.

Can Twitter really win the social media war?

Apples vs. Oranges

Although the number of active Twitter users is still growing, the pace of growth is hitting a plateau. In December, Instagram announced it has 300 million monthly active users — pushing it past Twitter, which has 284 million users.

Twitter co-founder Ev Williams seemed unimpressed, arguing that comparisons of the two platforms are "apples to oranges."

Although Twitter and Instagram serve different purposes, they are still defined as social media sites — sites where people share and exchange information, ideas and user-generated content in a virtual space.

“Twitter is what we wanted it to be. It’s this real time information network where everything that happens in the world happens on Twitter. Important stuff breaks on Twitter and world leaders have conversations on Twitter,” he continued.

Will Oremus, Slate's senior technology writer, seemed to share the Twitter co-founder's sentiments. “So is Instagram larger than Twitter? No. It’s different than Twitter. One is largely private, the other largely public. One focuses on photos, the other on ideas. They’re both very large, and they’re both growing,” he said.

However, Oremus also mentioned that it was harder for new or light Twitter users to become active users.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (who incidentally broke his collarbone while on vacation Sunday) thinks Twitter is evolving. On the heels of the Niche deal, he announced that he intended to steer Twitter towards content creation. “Content creators want to go into an ecosystem, deliver a great experience to users and tell stories and then make money from it,” he said.

Greener Pastures

The upcoming Cricket World Cup will be the test subject for Twitter's new home page and its instant timeline feature, which began testing on Android devices in late January and on iPhones last week. The event, only third in global viewership behind the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics, also features teams from emerging markets such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa.

These markets are experiencing rapid growth in smartphone penetration and e-commerce, and viewers in those markets could help contribute to Twitter's international revenue numbers.

The use of Twitter at the Cricket World Cup could generate interesting numbers and give businesses a better idea of how to conduct business in these markets where growth is strong, despite differences in regulatory environments.

Tip of the Iceberg

Costolo plans to do more than sell Twitter's data to Google. Through Twitter's purchase of Gnip last year, it gained more sophisticated analytic tools, which Twitter is capitalizing on through partnerships with software companies such as IBM.

Costolo has also expressed interest in e-commerce, a field valued at one trillion dollars as of this writing. “We're really trying to find the magic,” he said.

In addition, he's pushing technical changes similar to those adopted by Facebook. “The biggest driver on the growth initiatives are the algorithmic back-end changes,” he said. Twitter is considering contextualizing tweets based on user interest and not just based on chronological order, making it convenient for heavy users such as businesses, which need to contextualize all that data .

Costolo mentioned that investors were pleased with the company's performance last quarter despite criticism regarding user issues on the site. He especially praised the advertising team for helping the company exceed expectations for revenue. “That's all working extremely well for us,” Costolo said.

Winning Formula

Costolo's strategy of bringing Twitter everywhere, even to non-users, and diversify its offerings by getting into e-commerce and analytics should give it an edge in not only the consumer market but the enterprise one as well.

Twitter's focus on the Cricket World Cup should also allow it to gain greater exposure in emerging markets, where smartphone penetration is growing rapidly.

Around three-fourths of Twitter's user base accesses the network from a mobile device. Emerging markets could be the key to Twitter's victory in the social media war, and its analytics team should keep a keen eye on them.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by Papooga.