Twitter made headlines this week when it delivered an unexpected surge in stock in the second quarter, with Twitter boasting a 24% jump to 271 million users. An article in Forbes.comdescribed Twitter as “surprisingly successful at selling advertising and surprisingly poor at securing new users”. This appears to be the case, whereby Twitter still pales in comparison to Facebook’s 1.3billion users.
At the heart of Twitter’s business is its cultivation of a group of renowned and widely followed tweeters known as “influencers”, ranging from celebrities (@AshtonKutcher) to US presidents (@BarackObama) who are all active users on the platform. Media professionals and bloggers have also discovered the trick of growing their online following by using Twitter to connect with new audiences.
“It’s like voguing,” observes Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger and stunt rabble-rouser who frequently engages in Twitter flame wars with liberal adversaries. “Getting onstage and acting like a model. Everybody has their inner model and inner exhibitionist they want to get out there.”- (NYMag.com)
So why is engagement on Twitter significantly lower than on Facebook?
Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO, acknowledged “there’s this big gap, no doubt about it, between awareness of Twitter and engaged on Twitter.” Active engagement on Twitter is a big problem for Twitter, and Costolo summarised this as:
“You sign up for Twitter, you see the empty timeline and a big ‘What’s happening?’ at the top. We need to bridge that gap between when you sign up for Twitter and you’re staring at the white space and what do I do now?”
Twitter doesn’t have an answer for us yet, but it’s easy to see why Facebook does not have a similar problem. Facebook has dominated the social networking scene as the most popular place to hang out online: when new users sign up there is no confusion over the purpose of the platform, your networks are already there, from school friends to relatives to work colleagues.
So what lies in the future of Twitter?
Perhaps the easiest distinction between Twitter and Facebook is that Twitter is not primarily a social network, it has been described as a broadcasting system that is analogous to ‘the birth of a different sort of TV’. Twitter aims to connect renowned influencers with their audiences, with the goal of shrinking the distance between celebrities and brands and where “retweeting an advertisement is practically a function of who you are”.
It may be a long way before Twitter achieves this dream, although it’s strength in advertising revenue should not be underestimated. One of the reasons why Twitter does so well with advertising is because Twitter is able to put the marketer in the centre of Twitter, where “people are retweeting messages from marketers at a really large rate, and it’s uniquely Twitter.”
Do you use Twitter or Facebook more in your personal life? My guess is that your answer will be based on where your online networks lie.