Jack Dorsey runs two companies, has a net worth in excess of $1 billion and can be seen rocking an objectively enviable beard in most photo-ops, but he probably isn’t somebody that most people envy right now. While mobile payment platform Square is doing fine for now, the threat of Android Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and others like them looms large, despite integration efforts. That’s not the issue we’re here to talk about, though, nor is it the more pressing issue. The big talking point here is, quite simply, Twitter is not doing so well. Investors are literally pushing for Twitter to be bought up if something doesn’t change soon. The thing that needs to change, of course, is user growth.
Right now, Twitter has about 310 million daily active users. Meanwhile, multiple rivals are making it into the billion club. So, what gives? What is it about Twitter that keeps that number from growing as fast as it needs to? The issue is multi-faceted and complex as all getout, but what it boils down to is quite simple; other social media systems are more appealing to use. If you ask a random selection of Facebook users why they’re on Facebook, at least a few are bound to say that it’s where their friends are. If you ask Google+ users the same thing, at least some of them will tell you it’s where they have their most interesting conversations with random people. If you ask Twitter users that same question, the common answer you’re likely to get is that they are using Twitter for personal or professional gain, or to find interesting content. These are purposes that are hindered by low user count and stagnating growth.
One of the biggest subsets of users on Twitter is brands. Whether it’s actual companies, celebrities, or indie writers and musicians, a huge amount of the accounts on Twitter are there mostly to promote themselves. Some of these people gain incredibly huge audiences via Twitter, while others already have a built-in audience who end up following them on Twitter to catch the latest from them and in some cases, communicate with them personally. Embattled game development legend Hideo Kojima and T-Mobile CEO John Legere are great examples of the latter. Search for mentions of them, and you will see many bona fide personal conversations between these perceived untouchable rock stars and their fans. For these people, Twitter is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But what about people looking to actually make personal connections?
Twitter does boast a Connections feature that helps you figure out who to follow, but following on Twitter is pretty impersonal. You now see this person’s Tweets, and can message them freely. There’s no sense of obligation to connect to another human there – it’s a sort of in-passing arrangement. If you get a friend request on Facebook, you probably at least shoot the person a message to say hey, but when you get your 1,000th Twitter follower, you likely check out their identity to make sure it’s safe to follow them back, then do so without a second thought, and that’s that. The human element has the potential to be there, but it just doesn’t feel like it belongs. Why is that? A big part of the reason for that may be the way Twitter handles messaging. No stickers, a format that doesn’t quite flow naturally like an IM client or a Facebook message, and, of course, the fact that there are no categories or inbox sorting options. Everybody is a follower. If you poke your head into your inbox, messages from your aunt will be on the same page as messages from a follower generation service or a celebrity account that sends followers links to news about the celebrity. That, of course, isn’t the only thing keeping Twitter’s growth stagnant.
Another factor is the fact that the behemoths have users comfortable where they are. Using Facebook as an example, while many people are perfectly happy there, many use it mostly to keep in contact with friends who are very engaged in the platform. Nothing on Facebook right now is generally egregious enough to most users to warrant an exodus away from family and friends, forced to look to other contact methods. Google+ users may see the writing on the wall as the service faces its own stagnation issues, but the number of people actually jumping ship is pretty low simply because they use Google+ for a reason. Whether it’s collections, communities or certain people they follow and chat with, most Google+ users who are on there today have no real reason to leave, since they wouldn’t be stuck there for the same reason some users are stuck on Facebook. Similar arguments exist for a lot of social networks and social apps, like Snapchat, LINE and Instagram. While Twitter could technically do most of the things they want to do in a social network, it might not tick all the boxes, and the people they connect with are where they already are.
So, what can Twitter do to pull up the number of new users and avoid being forced into a buyout? That depends on who you ask. Many say a more organic experience would do the trick, while others say that making it easier to find other people and connect would be good. Still more people say that Twitter needs a bigger name to attract more crowd-followers, and still others say that Twitter could do with an easier way to integrate with other services and make it easier to balance a Twitter account and another network, or multiple networks. The fact is that all of these are valid complaints and, in the end, it’s up to the Twitter team and users. They will collectively decide what changes get made, how fast they happen, and how many new users they attract.