What TWTR Has To Do

The bluebird of TWTR (not)
Disclaimer: I’m not an analyst. I’m not a master marketing prognosticator. But sometimes it’s fun to look at a company and ask “If this went perfectly, what would it look like?” That’s what I’m doing here. Don’t buy stock based on my ramblings. Please.

Yep, Twitter’s gone public. They’re now TWTR. (Which I find funny, since you remove vowels for more spc on the twtrs). Their stock skyrocketed the first day on the market, going from $26 to $47. Now it’s down to $40; still that’s darn good. But folks are still wondering: Are those funny little 140-character missives for real?

Twitter can succeed. Their service has a large user base, a lot of demographic data, an effective advertising system and a ton of potential. But they face some significant risks:

  • Most people don’t ‘get it.’ Twitter makes money based on advertising. To make that really profitable, they need a larger audience. To get a larger audience, they have to convince the average internet user that Twitter offers them something no other network can.
  • Facebook. Most older users (aka my age) are on Facebook, and don’t want another service. Twitter has to get users to add another tool to their online lives.
  • Advertising believers. Twitter has some fantastic advertising opportunities. But most marketers have no idea what the once-upstart network can do for them.

Twitter does have a huge advantage: Facebook is shedding younger users. And Twitter’s unbundled model is more attractive to those users. So, I’m a believer. I think Twitter will make it over the long haul. But they could blow past ‘make it’ and thrive if any one of the following happened:

Build A Unique Advertising Identity

Very few marketers understand how to use Twitter as a marketing tool. And Twitter users don’t want ads. Heck, they flipped out when Twitter added a new image format (I am part of ‘they,’ I must admit).

But this seeming disadvantage makes it unique, and immensely powerful. Twitter is a content promotion utility, not a sales channel. It closes the ‘last mile’ between the great content everyone’s always telling us to produce and real value for businesses trying to grow their audience.

So, instead of trying to say, “Hey, we’re as good as Google and Facebook!” Twitter should say, “Hey, we are nothing like Google and Facebook!”

Marketers have plenty of aggravations with those networks. Give us a real alternative, and we’ll show up.

Hash Things Out

Twitter owns the concept of the hashtag. Hashtags are those words or short phrases with ‘#’ before them, like ‘#politics’ or ‘#til’ (This I Learned). Twitter users can see all of the tweets that include a particular hashtag. That lets them see an entire conversation, sometimes by thousands of people, all at once.

Hashtags let users track key news events (think #sandy), TV shows (#walkingdead) and broad topics (#foodies). They aggregate relevant tweets in a single place.

But they need to do more with this concept: Right now, if you’re not in the know, you may not be able to find a useful hashtag. Or, once you find one, you may not know how to follow tweets around it. Twitter needs to provide a consumer-friendly way to look through hashtag ‘channels,’ and otherwise integrate the concept more tightly into their service. That will make the concept more digestible, and build the service’s value.

Hashtags seem like a byproduct, but Twitter needs to build on the true value of ‘#.’

Get Eventful

Twitter really excels at letting fans share opinions, talk to each other, or just rant and rave. Twitter discussions around TV shows prove this time and again. But you’ll also see a lot of activity around events in the sports, political or fandom worlds.

The key: Twitter needs to integrate more tightly with events, rather than topics. Facebook owns the topical space, but it doesn’t seem to do as well as around specific events. When folks watch a TV show or observe an event, they turn to Twitter.

So, Twitter needs to:

  • Build tighter relationships with TV/cable networks and specific shows. Showing the hashtag during a show is great, but having stars, writers and other personalities tweeting, or even tying events in the show directly to tweets, might allow Twitter to enter formal relationships with shows around advertising.
  • Even better, talk to NetFlix and Amazon. Build relationships with programming upstarts that ‘get it’ when it comes to the internet.
  • Build advertising relationships around major sporting events.
  • This may all seem pretty implausible, but back in 2000, charging people on a per-click basis for advertising seemed pretty ridiculous, too. Now Google makes billions from Google Adwords.

Don’t be Google

Google makes a lot of money. As companies go, they currently look like one of history’s great successes. But they’re already showing cracks in their cultural facade. Google’s IPO inevitably changed the company. But in their case, it was for the worse: A drive for higher revenue meant more ads, fewer search results and sometimes compromised search quality.

Google can cry all the way to the bank, of course, and their search results are still arguably the best. But their IPO took them away from customers and instead got them focused on investors whose only goal is a higher stock price. Twitter can take a valuable lesson from Google: Let the IPO change you. That’s inevitable. But stay focused on your customers, not your investors.

Nobody Knows…

…where Twitter will land in the long-term. But they have the potential to be something truly unique. Here’s hoping they get there, because this space could use more viable alternatives.

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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