Have we reached peak Twitter?

dead twitterUnless you have been living under a rock for the last five years you will know that online social networking service Twitter is supposed to be headed for global domination. This narrative is supported by the fact that news websites frequently quote or base whole stories on anonymous tweets from the “twitterati” (who are often the journalists’ own colleagues using pseudonyms). However, over the last six months a series of company results have put a big hole in that narrative and suggest that depending upon your intended audience, you may be better off focusing your efforts on other social media platforms. It turns out that a strange thing has happened to Twitter on its path to hegemony: new users have dried up, prompting some very damaging admissions from the company. In October 2013, when Twitter filed to go public, it had 218 million monthly active users posting 500 million tweets every day and a quarter-on-quarter growth rate of 7 per cent. By the end of June this year, that quarterly growth rate had slowed to less than 1 per cent which no company would be happy with let alone a social media platform. In fact, the picture is so depressing that some analysts have started to worry that numbers may actually start to decline! The disappointing growth in user numbers has added significance for Twitter because, like most early-stage social media services, it has always made a substantial loss so it has highlighted user numbers as its preferred metric of success instead of profit. In response to latest disappointing figures last month, CEO Dick Costolo resigned to be replaced by co-founder Jack Dorsey. The slowdown has also prompted a lot of soul searching about where the company, which at one stage was valued at US$32 billion, went wrong. On an investor call immediately after Jack Dorsey’s appointment, Anthony Noto, the chief financial officer, admitted: “The number one reason users don’t use Twitter is because they don’t understand why to use Twitter. They don’t understand the value.” “We have only reached early adopters and technology enthusiasts and we have not yet reached the next cohort of users known as the mass market.” Got that? If you want to reach the mass market, don’t focus your efforts on Twitter. Reaching business is a different issue. Twitter’s own surveys show that the service has an extremely high public profile, with 95% awareness of the company, but an adoption rate of just 30%, which is probably generous. While Twitter struggles to answer basic questions about itself and what it is for, other social networks are rapidly overtaking it. Relative newcomer Snapchat, another mobile app offering a window on the world through photos and videos, is one of several social apps to have come up rapidly behind Twitter, including Instagram with its 300 million monthly users and WhatsApp with 800 million. And nothing even comes close to Facebook for mass market penetration, with 1.49 billion active users.