Twitter has looked about the same for fifteen years. Now the company is poised to move beyond the tweet with a series of changes that could drastically change the way people interact with the platform.
Over the past year, the company has significantly expanded the way its users can communicate. It introduced short-lived content with “fleets,” a feature similar to stories that disappear after 24 hours. He added tweets and began experimenting with Spaces, a clubhouse-style feature for real-time audio chats.
Even bigger changes are underway: Twitter recently acquired the newsletter company Revue, which is a signal that character limits are being exceeded and moving towards lengthy content. It also recently provided examples of new features for groups and, more importantly, a group of new tools for creators looking to monetize the platform. Central to this is “super tracking”, a paid feature that allows users to pay subscription fees in exchange for exclusive content or preferential access to a creator.
What’s equally surprising is how quickly Twitter launched these new ideas. For years, the company introduced so few features that expanding the character limit and turning stars into hearts were considered monumental changes.
“A few years ago, it took maybe six months to a year for our customers to receive a single feature or a new product,” CEO Jack Dorsey said at a recent event. Now, a year and a half later, Twitter is keen to change the perception that innovation is slow.
What is happening
“We’re definitely moving faster now than I think we’ve done in the past,” said Ilya Brown, Twitter’s Vice President of Product who has been on Twitter since 2016. “We feel much more comfortable in our skin when it comes to public experimentation.”
It’s not just that Twitter has spent much of its history slow. It’s that for years the company struggled to articulate what its service was and why people should care. In the beginning, Twitter was often described as a “microblogging service,” a term that had essentially no meaning to anyone outside of Silicon Valley.
Even in its early days, Twitter executives struggled to explain the service to outsiders. “What is Twitter? It’s actually a really hard question to answer because there are so many different things for so many different people,” said Jack Dorsey in a slow 13-minute presentation that is more of a list of tweets than an explanation of the service he made.
This identity crisis lasted for years. The company spent millions on flashy marketing campaigns criticized for being ‘incomprehensible’. And while many may have been happy that Twitter maintained its insider mystique, it wasn’t a strategy particularly helpful in attracting new users.That started to change in 2016, when Twitter launched a new ad campaign. But this one had a much simpler message: Twitter is what’s happening.
“I think it was the first time we really did anything with Twitter: Twitter is about what’s going on around you, it’s what’s happening in the world,” says Brown. “Twitter itself is what is happening. Being able to articulate that for the first time was a catalyst that set in motion the movement to get to where we are today. ”
It wasn’t just a new marketing message that changed Twitter. Brown and other executives have also attributed years of behind-the-scenes experience to improving Twitter’s underlying technology and slowing growth. “We have been working to bridge a significant deficit for years,” Dorsey said during his recent analyst day presentation. “A lot of this was technical and part of wrong priorities … In most cases, we’ve had to go the hard way of prioritizing fewer initiatives and building from scratch, which is never easy.”
There were also outside forces: a year ago, Twitter had serious doubts about its ability to weather the financial ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping through the events industry. And an activist investment company tried to partially oust Dorsey from the company due to the company’s lack of innovation.
“I feel like there is a general atmosphere on Twitter that the company has not innovated in recent years,” said Alex Lieberman, CEO and founder of the Morning Brew newsletter. But he says the company’s recent moves towards audio, as well as its new monetization features, have seen him see a fresh change.
The makers embrace
Much of the current excitement is due to Twitter’s move to create tools that allow users to monetize Twitter directly. While the company previously allowed publishers to monetize video ads, the platform lacked the types of tools available to influencers on platforms such as YouTube or Instagram.
That is changing as Twitter creates multiple monetization features directly on its platform. “Today’s challenge is that while many of those creators advertise on Twitter, which means building Twitter followers and trying to lure people to that content, they basically have to get them off the platform,” says Brown. While we don’t yet have the full picture of how the features will work, according to Brown, the goal is to keep the most creative and influential users on the platform and engage with their followers.
Brown outlined three scenarios for how Twitter users could potentially make money: newsletters, exclusive content, and tips.
Newsletter Subscriptions and Newsletters: When Twitter announced in January that it was acquiring newsletter company Revue, it wanted to make it easier for authors to connect with their readers. Shortly after, Twitter added a shortcut to the service.
But there are plans to integrate the newsletters more deeply. Rather than using Twitter to “drive traffic” for a newsletter, Brown says, the company could make subscription content available directly on its platform.
Twitter integrates newsletters into its service with Revue.
What if you could use that content on Twitter, [and] don’t have to sign up for additional subscriptions to The New York Times, or The Wall Street Journal or that sort of thing? Those are some of the types of use cases we come up with because at the end of the day we want to reduce friction for our users. If we are going to send them off the platform we will do that intentionally but we will not send them off the platform in cases where we may be able to get them on the platform and we don’t create payment barriers for them unless there is a good reason. ”
Exclusive Content – This is where super tracking comes in. But Brown says it has more nuances than just “ paying for tweets. ” Instead, followers who pay to be a super follower get access to that creator’s content. “There may be exclusive content that people may want to give early access or exclusive access,” says Brown. “Imagine you’re a photographer, journalist, or something like that, and you want to be able to post content on Twitter and get paid for it.”
The super Twitter follow feature.
Video creators can provide Super Followers with other benefits. They can be exclusive tweets to subscribers, audio spaces or direct messages. “We really see this as a fabric layer that can bring together all the possibilities that exist on Twitter today and the new ones that we could add in the future,” explained Twitter Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour during his presentation of the day. analysts.
Tipping: Twitter hasn’t said much about how tipping works, although the company has indicated plans to “explore” the feature. (There are already indications that the company may be in the process of integrating payment apps such as Venmo, Cash App or Zelle into its product.)
But Brown pointed out that the built-in tip would be in line with the way Twitter is already being used by some users. For example, it’s common to see someone follow a tweet with a viral meme or joke by posting a link to their Cash or Venmo app. In the future, those applications could be integrated directly into the Twitter product to make it seamless.
“If a user had something that went viral, and people really love it, could you compliment them with some sort of money tip or something?” Brown says. “And it’s not because you have to, to see the content, it’s rather to say ‘thanks for the content’ afterwards.”
More than tweets
When we add all that, it’s clear that Twitter wants to be more of a destination for influencers and content creators. Not just a repository of what’s happening on the internet, but also the platform where most of those conversations take place.
For example Clubhouse, the latest social media favorite. These days, it’s common for people to post their upcoming clubhouse chats on Twitter. And people often tweet live what’s going on in the clubhouse’s popular rooms. It’s no exaggeration to imagine that Twitter would like its own Spaces feature to generate the same amount of word of mouth.