Twitter Went Profitable Because of Higher Engagement

I heart @Twitter. Always have (follow me @tuckross). Been around since the beginning and think it has been one of the most creative platforms for social media: real-time time, events, tragedies, social change - no other platform is as dynamic and fluid as Twitter.

I've been sad to see it lose traction as they went stale on innovation - like they were out of good ideas and just let it run. Which is why the big news around moving the character limit to the "it's Twitter because it's 140 chars" to the new 280 chars (gasp, it's DOUBLE! WTF) was such a big deal - mainly because they had nothing else to announce and were changing really one of the only things that people perceived was different about Twitter.

For the first time in its 12 years of existence, Twitter recorded a profitable quarter, reporting profits of $91 million in Q4. To me it's not that they reported a profit but why did they report a profit? Here's why:

  1. Adtech improvements: Focus on and investment in adtech that provided better targeting and measurement results for advertisers.

  2. Reduction of losses: Although it recorded slightly less revenue in 2017 than in 2016, Twitter also learned how to cut its net losses by a few hundred million

  3. Better engagement: Its expansion of the character limit from 140 characters to 280 for users resulted in an engagement spike.

The first two speak to operations and improvements in the business, but I think the last one is the most interesting: There's hope for Twitter. And going back to a post I wrote when Twitter changed the 140 to 280, it was my theory that this improves engagement in the platform - if nothing else because 280 chars is 2x the copy space so time spent could go up by that much, just as a rough calculation.

Social networks live and die by one thing: attention. Attention is translated as time spent and engagement. If Twitter increased engagement, they are looking at the positive bump in a metric that has eluded them for a while. While user growth declines, the fact that they are increasing engagement is showing signs of life.

Twitter is an active and engaged platform, and while many have written it off in light of shinier objects like Instagram, there is significant opportunity to be had here, especially if engagement is on an upswing. Twitter just went profitable, partially because of engagement, and that's worth the time for a 280 char tweet.

Why Twitter Needs 280 Characters

Twitter released 280 characters last week. All the Internet took to Twitter to talk about Twitter. Pretty funny that there’s more room for rants now.

But with such a massive change (it’s really very tiny in the real world), people felt uncertain, off-balanced, confused that Twitter — one of the original social networks — decided to change a core tenant of their value proposition: 140 characters.

When I started on Twitter it was fun. A quick spot to see what people were thinking, sharing, little notes and thoughts in a quick fashion. Making it fit to 140 characters evolved a new language of abbv. with the OMG FOMOs that you would quickly lose if you weren’t jumping in to the tweet stream regularly to keep up.

Still today, no other platform is as valuable or efficient for real-time event coverage or fluid distribution of a single thought. But where Twitter broke down was the very thing that made it unique: the brevity. People wanted to share YouTube videos, articles. Brands wanted to sell things with URLs. People wanted to push off the platform.

Like every other social network that becomes universal, Twitter had become a content publishing platform. And where the audience engages, the brands follow. But Twitter wasn’t built to push off platform. No true social network is built to push off platform — or you lose the engagement. And while this was the thinking at the time, everyone has struggled with the native engagement vs the push away effort from the network.

Twitter started to languish. The buzz about Twitter dying was/is strong. So they have been looking for ways to grow again or even just stabilize. But why? Because Twitter became a giant stream of trash. Thoughtless, small, and low relevance without strong tools to filter the noise. But besides that issue, the real reason is that Twitter has never done anything to encourage dedicated and thoughtful content creation in the platform.

Rants, novels, diatribes, mini-blogs are posted every day on Instagram and Facebook. The composition of a YouTube video, of Instagram posts are complex and involved now. But Twitter simply became throw-away bullshit that everyone got tired of reading. I really had no reason to visit anymore and neither did anyone else.

If your business is dying (losing users and engagement), how do you pivot without losing your audience and to grow engagement? One idea is to change a core tenant around platform content creation by expanding tweets to 280 characters.

Twitter needs 280 characters to attempt to regain the reason why I came and many people came in the first place: native platform engagement. Actually I think the character limit should be unlimited. Bring engagement back by encouraging content creation in the platform. But even with 280 characters, the users are encouraged to breathe and expand their thoughts directly in the platform … and reduce pushing off platform.

Twitter needs engagement. It needs to drive time spent in the platform and with 280 characters, it could effectively double the user time in reading posts and distance between thumb-swipes. By expanding to 280, Twitter has the opportunity to regain native platform consumption through the enablement of content creation directly in the platform. If people take to the change and give it a chance, tweets are still short enough to keep comments punchy, keep the platform fluid and dynamic, while driving more engagement. It’s a small step, but an encouraging step, as Twitter looks to stem their losses and bring back the magic that made this one of the most dynamic and interesting global social media channels.


Find me on LinkedIn and Twitter at @tuckross