17th October 2016
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Why Twitter could become the BlackBerry of social media

Just a few short years ago, Twitter was the undisputed runner-up to Facebook in the social media world. More recently, however, a new host of hotter social apps has taken the spotlight.

Instagram, Snapchat, Dubsmash, WhatsApp and Pinterest all rank ahead of Twitter in download rankings. Instagram’s monthly active user count of 300 million is roughly equal to that of Twitter and industry insider Tero Kuittinen suggests that it won’t be long before Snapchat is nipping at Twitter’s heels too.

Twitter has failed to achieve the mass-market appeal of other social media platforms. As a case in point, ask someone, “Is your mother on Facebook?” And they will likely answer yes. But ask the same question about Twitter and the answer is almost always no.

The numbers indicate that it isn’t just mothers who are failing to embrace Twitter. Twitter’s user growth stalled during mid 2015 and in the fourth quarter even shrank by 1 million monthly active users in the US. On top of this, if you exclude SMS-only users who access Twitter solely via text messages, Twitter’s global user base also declined, from 307 million in Q3 2015 to 305 million in Q4.

Financially, Twitter has also had a rough ride in recent years. While the company’s share price had hit a record high of US$74.73 in December 2013, by early 2016 this had plummeted by almost 80 per cent.

There are myriad reasons for Twitter’s momentum woes.

According to Kuittinen, one of the main things Twitter lacks is the “fun, adventurous, funky, experimental” feeling users get on younger social apps such as Snapchat and Dubsmash. Twitter has been slow to make the platform more visual; however, its acquisition of the live-video app Periscope in early 2015 could help.

A second key drag on momentum is that Twitter is just not easy enough to use. Even Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was forced to acknowledge this in an October 2015 tweet: “Our work forward is to make Twitter easy to understand by anyone in the world, and give more utility to the people who love to use it daily.”

 Dorsey and other Twitter executives have acknowledged that jump-starting growth momentum will require rethinking fundamental parts of the service, such as the 140-character limit.

For Twitter, the stakes are high. They must engage a wider cross-section, re-invigorate their brand and consider a fundamental technology re-design lest they become the BlackBerry of social media.

Michael McQueen is a future trends analyst and bestselling author of four books, including the recently released Momentum: How to Build it, Keep it, or Get it Back.

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