Is Twitter becoming relevant for brands again in 2016?

As brands hop onto Snapchat, curate their Instagram feeds, and wrestle with Facebook’s algorithm, Twitter has largely fallen out of favor with marketers and brands over the past year. In a double-digit-growth industry, Twitter actually showed a quarterly decline in monthly active users at the end of 2015, dealing a major blow to the brand’s cachet and raising doubts about its viability as a mainstream social platform.

Where did Twitter go wrong? Popular with tech influencers and journalists, Twitter never addressed some of its core product usability problems that alienated more mainstream users. Twitter is generally known to be somewhat byzantine and hard-to-crack to all but the most dedicated users who are willing to invest the time learning the platform and spending hours on it everyday.

The good news in 2016 is that Jack Dorsey, who resumed the CEO post last year, seems to be (finally) addressing some of Twitter’s core usability issues and is taking the social app in a new, and I think refreshing, direction that will enable the social network to more fully realize its potential. I don’t think Twitter will ever realistically challenge Facebook’s dominance, but the service can carve out a significant space for itself as a faster, more open, and more raw alternative to Facebook.

Here’s why brands might benefit from being early to jump back on the Twitter bandwagon in 2016.

Twitter is solving the ephemeral tweet problem

Twitter’s timeline is like Facebook’s newsfeed on fast-forward. Tweets come and go within minutes, and unless you’re on the service constantly, you feel like you’re getting just a partial glimpse into what’s happening each day. This is in contrast to Facebook, which highlights for you the most interesting posts that you’re most likely to want to see, while hiding most posts from your view. While hardcore Twitter users might argue that this raw, unfiltered experience is what makes Twitter unique, it clearly makes the service inaccessible to casual users.

By launching While You Were Away (which highlights for you popular tweets that you missed since you last logged in) Twitter is moving towards this more summarized and curated feed experience. Add to this the new Moments tab, which provides a somewhat Snapchat Discover-esque experience for consuming each day’s trending stories on Twitter, and Twitter is slowly making itself useful to users who might login just once a day.

Twitter is solving the “no friends” problem

Finding interesting people to follow on Twitter used to take a huge amount of time and research. The service offered you little help along these lines, you were left to your own devices to find people on your own, outside of Twitter.

Twitter recently launched a new Connections tool which has dramatically improved discoverability of interesting feeds. The service now recommends users to follow based on your existing connections, your past activity, and even your location. This is a major improvement which is likely to boost usage among more casual users.

Twitter is moving beyond the 140-character text message

Twitter has its roots in SMS text messaging, which is the reason for the 140-character limit (this was the maximum length of an SMS text message at the time). While 140 characters has always been part of Twitter’s charm, it started to feel quaint and outdated as competing rich media and live platforms began to dominate the landscape.

Twitter recently announced several changes that signal a move away from the 140 character legacy. Most significantly for brands, adding an image or video will no longer eat into your 140 character limit, a major limitation that created an disincentive to share rich media on Twitter. Now, you can compose a full tweet and attach an image or video, giving you more creative freedom to use Twitter more like Instagram.

Is it time for brands to tweet again?

While it’s still early in Twitter’s process of remaking itself, it’s encouraging to see the company’s willingness to evolve as a platform and a community.

Twitter has two distinct advantages:

  1. Its dedicated following of influencers — where influencers go, audiences follow.
  2. Its free-form interaction and posting ecosystem where profiles are generally public with frictionless one-way follows and images, video, links, and conversations can be freely intermingled to promote content, products and brand messages.

Furthermore, I believe there is space for a major social platform that sits between Instagram’s media-only approach and Facebook’s bidirectional social graph and highly curated newsfeed. Twitter could become the more raw, free-form, public, and influencer-driven social space for sharing ideas that might prove valuable for brands.

If Twitter’s new direction bears fruit in broadening its appeal among casual consumers, I believe there’s huge latent demand for the service that could result in significant uptake which would increase its appeal and ROI as a marketing channel. Forward-thinking brands may be wise to re-engage with the service and get ahead of a coming re-adoption curve.

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Founder Demand.io. Working at the intersection of e-commerce, decentralization, creator economics & conversational SEO. Prepping for #web3.

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Michael Quoc

Michael Quoc

Founder Demand.io. Working at the intersection of e-commerce, decentralization, creator economics & conversational SEO. Prepping for #web3.