Why doesn’t anyone want to buy Twitter?

Twitter on iPhone

This article first appeared in the Lansons Autumn Newsletter, which reflects on the world of business since the UK referendum result. Read the entire newsletter here.

Twitter’s mission is ‘To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers’, but it looks like these dreams were not possible for the social network as an independent company. The process of selling Twitter has begun.

Potential suiters Google, Apple, Disney, and Salesforce have all reportedly ruled out the possibility of a takeover. Leaving only turbulent times ahead for Twitter as the social network tumbled another 5 per cent and future bids look abysmally unlikely, a disappointment to investors much like its stalled user growth.

It’s no secret that Twitter has never made a profit in all its history and continues to struggle with trolls (people who start arguments and upset people, mostly for fun, on the internet). The social intricacies of interaction has no doubt been a barrier to new user growth and the shift to video has put pressure on Twitter to move beyond its limited 140 character count.

Whilst the latest statistics from Twitter may paint a picture of doom and gloom for investors, arguably for its users there is another story. Twitter has become the social network for customer services interaction, still giving those with profile the ability to build their own following and not rely so heavily on traditional media, and regularly informs mainstream media of breaking stories and insider information.

The challenge to remain relevant and deliver revenue

Twitter faces three critical issues: It needs to be profitable, user growth must be rekindled, and the culture of the social network needs reviving/cleaning out.

These issues formed the bedrock of Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, returning to the social network he co-founded, replacing Dick Costolo. In that time the social network has made an effort to monetise its 313 million monthly active users through offering new ways to share content and introducing features that simplify the Twitter experience for new users.

Only a week after Dorsey’s appointment, Twitter launched Moments, a product that provides a magazine view of Twitter’s most popular news stories and shared items. Apart from acting as a social news service, Moments is easy to understand, allowing people to enjoy Twitter without necessarily engaging in parts of its technical social etiquette. Some companies have advertised with Moments, with the first being Tesco and their #FeelGoodCookBook.

Other developments have taken place, especially when it comes to video. Twitter’s acquisition of Vine in 2012 was fully realised when Vine videos could be integrated into tweets in 2015. This was the same year Twitter acquired streaming start-up Periscope, which was integrated into tweets in early 2016.

Twitter’s new capabilities provide a rich tapestry of possibilities for businesses looking to become their own media companies, joining in conversations with customers or even B2B stakeholders. It’s just that tricky question of how to make a profit that needs answering.

The $20 billion question

When Microsoft bought LinkedIn for $26 billion, the share price of Twitter jumped as investors licked their lips at the possibility a similar bid coming their way. Ever since the dot com bubble burst, you would have thought investors would have been more restrained when investing into social media ventures. It’s easy to be carried along with the hype and when Twitter had its IPO in 2013, the mood was that this could be the next Google and its advertising network would be sure to grow, along with its user-base. Now we’re three years on and the picture is far different.

Arguably, Twitter needs to convince potential buyers that there is something unique to purchase. As the conclusion of this Recode article quite rightly observes,

“While Twitter’s foray into mobile video distribution is compelling, sources note that Apple can benefit from that without owning or managing it. And, of course, paying upward of $20 billion for it.”

Why invest in a service that would be cheaper to build yourself? The only possible answer to that would be if a certain internet culture already exists that is profitable.

Whether social media is an online touchpoint for purchase or simply referral is a debate that continues in the marketing industry. Quite often this isn’t a case of a social network’s capabilities, but if users are willing to transact through a social site.

We know online advertising works, Facebook has successfully shifted from a social network to becoming an advertising network – people just aren’t buying on Twitter. The closest you can get is pushing traffic to a website, but this means comparing Twitter to successful services like Google AdWords. Forays in social video and socially curated magazines (Moments) deliver results on Twitter, but the marketing industry hasn’t made these primary or default advertising tools.

The birth pains of change have begun. Buzzfeed has reported that a number of Twitter’s 25-person commerce team have left the company and others reallocated into two separate product teams. Rumours and reports have continued throughout the year of senior hires leaving the company. It’s unclear how related Twitter’s financial performance is to the news that Twitter is shutting down their global engineering operations in India.

Is Twitter really worth a similar investment as Microsoft made in LinkedIn? Can Twitter offer itself as a package rather than a business formed of separate service acquisitions? What will happen if a buyer isn’t found?

Time will tell

The crystal ball remains foggy at present. Unless new buyers emerge, then Twitter looks unsaleable, at least for the expected price tag. As communications consultants, this could reveal a glimmer of doubt in our investment in Twitter as a social network. The mood in the media industry is indifferent: Twitter continues business as usual, but everyone acknowledges that changes/investment is required to maintain the network long-term.

For the moment, nothing changes. Twitter continues as a critical part of most social media programmes and an established communication channel among consumers. It remains (in my opinion) the most lucid social network available, the only real way for normal people to connect with the rich and famous, and a flexible site for businesses to establish their brand.

If the worst happens, and no buyers step forward, then we may see Twitter being dismantled piece-by-piece. The data will remain as it’s a social currency, but only the useful parts of Twitter will survive. It will happen slowly, similar to the process Google Plus is currently experiencing, and the successful services that once formed Twitter could be bought by the very tech companies who are currently rejecting the social sites’ current hefty price tag.

Managing reputation by detecting fake information on social media

Carpetright_store_Tottenham_riots

I first published this post on the Lansons blog.

In the USA, Dow Jones plunged 140 points after a rumour spread on Twitter from Associated Press’ Twitter account. The estimated temporary loss of market cap in the S&P 500 totalled $136.5 billion.

When hackers took over Associated Press’ Twitter profile in 2013

This isn’t the only example of misinformation spread via social media that has had cataclysmic real-world consequences; the England Riots spread violence, false information around the Ebola outbreak caused increased deaths (salt water does not prevent or cure Ebola), and the Boston marathon blasts identified the wrong suspects.

The spread of information via social media can have real-world consequences and the notion of ‘influence’ may spell the downfall or uprising of an organisation. This is why appropriately detecting, tracking, and engaging with false information on social media is critical for managing reputation online.

In a new paper published by Aditi Gupta from the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology Delhi, social media reputation management techniques are explored in detail. Over 25 global events are analysed between 2011 – 2014 that involved the spread of fake images, rumours, and untrustworthy content.

“Online social media has the capability of playing the role of, either a life saver or that of a daemon during the times of crisis. In this research work, we highlighted one of the malicious intended usage of Twitter during a real-world event, i.e. spreading fake images. We analyzed the activity on the online social networking website Twitter, during Hurricane Sandy (2012) that spread fake images. We identified 10,350 unique tweets containing fake images that were circulated on Twitter, during Hurricane Sandy.

We performed a characterization analysis, to understand the temporal, social reputation and influence patterns of the spread of these fake images. We found that 86% tweets spreading the fake images were retweets, hence very few were original tweets by users. Also, our results showed that top 30 users (0.3% of the users) resulted in 90% of retweets of the fake image.”

Rumour tweets posted during the England riots of 2011

The research concluded that after analysing some of the top disasters over the last four years, only automated techniques were able to successfully identify credible updates and categorise. Of course, this was the only option as manually sifting through 5.6 TeraBytes of tweets would take a lifetime! At Lansons we use our own reputation management tools.

When managing online reputation you should watch out for:

  • The creation of fake social media profiles that are designed to look real but instead spread fake information;
  • Fake content, then engage, before it’s spread widely on social media;
  • Online communities that build around disasters that could be considered the ‘core’ group that drive wider conversations.

The research is a valuable contribution to managing online reputation, it allows practitioners (such as myself) to refine and improve our techniques. Whilst the focus of the paper was on Twitter, we know reputation management applies to all social media – even more prominently in Google Search. Make sure you have the right procedures in place.

Twitter: Your mobile phone is changing the world

Did you know that your mobile phone is changing the world? Twitter would certainly like to remind us, especially as it’s partly down to Twitter’s growth over the last 9 years to reach 302 million active users that has made the real difference. Familiar to digital crowds in the UK, Tariq Slim took to the stage at Social Media Week London to cover innovative ways Twitter is being used by brands, including how new functionality can breathe fresh life into old content, or better integrate mobile with other communication channels.

Twitter UK, Tariq Slim

He highlighted the three ‘Cs’ spearheading mobile; Communication, Content, and Consumption. Below are some of the cleaner notes I took during the talk.

Communication

  • The way we are communicating is changing due to our mobiles. For instance, the most used word online in 2014 wasn’t a word at all, but the heart emoji, showing how often we use our mobiles for writing content online;
  • There is a small Spanish town that has decided to use Twitter to replace traditional civic communications. Residents use Twitter to report town maintenance and crimes, police uniforms show their individual @handles, more here;

Content

  • There are creative ways to match social interactions with online advertising methods. One of the best examples is TopShop’s #livetrends campaign during London Fashion week that monitored for upcoming trends, then quickly updated Twitter Ads and digital ad boards around London to improve campaign results;
  • Good examples of Twitter video Ads have been done by BT Sport and EE, because they caught the attention of people in the first 3 seconds of the video and repurposed TV advertising for mobile;
  • First innovative campaign making use of the live streaming app Periscope was run by Skyscanner, who did a 24 hour periscope in 24 cities around the world. Travel influencers did an hour periscope each. More here;

Consumption

  • The growth of mobile has impacted other industries, such as the sales of traditional cameras Vs smartphone sales.
  • Mobiles are changing the way we consume information and this was highlighted during the presentation through two creative images.

 

Kanye West, Nandos
Mobiles are changing our behaviours. When Kanye West invited people to take a photo of him, everyone faced away for a selfie.
1993 VS 2013
1993 VS 2013: One smartphone to rule them all.

 

 

 

 

 

The end of ‘business as usual’ for financial services

The financial services sector has an opportunity to develop offerings, seek new business opportunities and diversify its stakeholder relationships using social media. The latest Ofcom report on ‘Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes’ (2015) shows that internet use has never been higher, with nine in ten adults online (a 27% increase from 2005) and 90% using apps on their smartphone. Along with higher internet use is additional social media consumption; 72% of internet users have a social media profile (was only 22% in 2007). Most importantly, 68% of internet users have gone online to bank or pay bills.

Changing media use has had a direct impact on the financial services sector and how decision making is being influenced. Research carried out by Greenwich Associates in 2014 revealed that a third of asset owners made an investment decision or recommendation based on social media output; 85% of which relied on social content from LinkedIn. Whilst Facebook is not deemed as a ‘professional’ network, the research revealed 78% of institutional investors in Asia Pacific said Facebook was used at least once a month to source financial information.

In my role at Lansons I’ve undertaken small-scale research that revealed since The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards in 2012, the reputation of the financial services sector still requires urgent medical help. Of the 60,000+ conversations about banking culture on Twitter this year, many make scathing references to “Eton Old Boys” and unjust bonuses. With the election of a new government come further conversations about the financial services sectors’ behaviour. Just how do you weigh up regulatory changes against the sector’s 9.4 percent contribution towards GDP?

This figure includes fintech start-ups, insurance companies, and brokers. All face the similar challenge of doing business in a world where traditional media ‘touch points’ are seeing competition from digital alternatives. Conversations are taking place online; are you listening and making use of opportunities? Communication programmes must offer an integrated approach and the financial services sector has developed to cater.

After public consultation, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published its finalised guidance to ‘Social Media and Customer Communications’ (March 2014). Covering how financial promotions on social media should be conducted in a transparent and honest manner; tactically making use of the social features available. The Financial Services Forum recently ran a session on the “challenges of content marketing in B2B banking”; exploring how traditional networking can be used effectively in the digital space. Even at our offices in Farringdon, we can feel the innovation from fintech companies and projects being emitted from London’s Silicon Roundabout.

It’s the end of ‘business as usual’. Maintaining or growing market share is going to rely on the provision of competitive products, and the implementation of a slick social media programme that targets the right people, at the right time. It’s necessary for public relations consultants to be social anthropologists, supported by tools that can make sense of online data, and use innovative strategies to be heard above the competition.

Social innovation for your organisation could be:

  • Monitoring international reputation by conversations on social media or how articles are being edited by the community on Wikipedia;
  • Social media community management of Twitter profiles;
  • Advocacy programmes on forums;
  • Producing a podcast

Social innovation is making sure that the Google search results about your company are a true reflection of the work you do. The financial services sector has an opportunity to reinvent itself and invest in its future. It’s up for the industry to decide what the future of financial services looks like.

This article was originally published for Lansons’ Future of Financial Services event 2015. Register your interest for 2016 here.  

 

To reply or @reply? That is the question.

Twitter’s head of news, Vivian Schiller, caused chaos on Twitter when she revealed during her speech at the Newspaper Association of American mediaXchange 2014 in Denver that Twitter is “…working on moving the scaffolding of Twitter into the background”.

It’s widely expected that the day of the Twitter [email protected] may be numbered, opting for Facebook styled mentions instead. However, scaffolding may also refer to the use of #hashtags.

There is no doubt that the @reply function on Twitter has become synonymous with the network and if this change goes ahead then this would be one of the biggest cosmetic refreshes on Twitter since the network was launched in 2006. As reported in TheNextWeb the use of [email protected] and ‘#’ on Twitter may make it hard for newer users to understand the service, but there is no doubt that existing Twitter users will protest against the change.

Twitter has been making a number of changes to its service recently, with the latest update revealed on their blog last night that Twitter photo sharing will begin to get more social. This means mobile users will soon have the ability to tag up to 10 people in a photo and share up to 4 photos in a single tweet.

Is Twitter making improvements to its service or is the network just copying Facebook? Now that is the question.

Originally published on the KeeneComms blog.

What does your Twitter network say about you?

Currently my profile description on Twitter reads as the following:

Digital Consultant for @keenecomms. Writer for Thought Symposium. Sell ideas, words and attention for a living. Fuelled by coffee and ale.

It’s written as an attempt to introduce myself to potential new Twitter followers, in the hope of converting them to avid fans. It sort of works! If you manage social media programmes for clients then you will know that it tends to be the descriptions on Twitter that helps us identify who Twitter users are. My description attempts to convey, in a sort of creative way, that I work in the PR industry and enjoy blogging.

For social media programmes Twitter descriptions are crucial because once you’ve identified the influencers in a client’s campaign, you want to know everything about them. Yet, most of the time agencies will only look at Twitter descriptions and ignore the depth of data behind each Twitter account. Assuming you’ve identified an influencer in the first place then you probably already know the following aspects about the account:

  • The user’s lifecycle of content, the type of content they share and how popular it is
  • The number of followers the user has and what that ratio is to following
  • Number of reactions the user receives online (RTs, shares and favourites)

The next step is to perform exploratory data analysis (EDA) to discover the main characteristics of an influencer’s Twitter account. In the case of the graphic below, I have visualised the latest 500 followers to my Twitter account (data captured in Sept 2013 but it’s still relevant).

As with my last blog post, the key to the image below is as follows:

  • Colours represent organic communities (AKA. value groups)
  • Lines indicate follow/followed relationships
  • Node size refers to influence (bigger the better), as calculate by the number of connections

michaeltwitternetworkfull copy

In an instant I can see from my personal network that the groups who follow me and engage with me the most are:

  • Travel blogging community (DARK PINK)
  • Media industry (GREEN)
  • Social media & SEO (BLUE)
  • Cheltenham community (LIGHT GREEN)
  • PR Students (DARK PURPLE)
  • Pirate Party UK (RED)

With a larger dataset and graphic, I’m sure other sub-communities of my Twitter account would also be discoverable. Even with capturing the last 500 followers of my account, those who know me will understand the communities I’ve identified in this post summarise my online activities well.

Social media gets exciting when you can perform network analysis. I just did.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 20.47.24It’s peculiar that the majority of mainstream social media tools tend to focus more on the content shared across social media, rather than how accounts are connected with each other. There are various ways to conduct social media research but my favourite way is to perform network analysis. Over the last couple of years there have been astounding developments in these sorts of tools.

Twitter is a network which lends itself to be ideal for network analysis because of its non-mutual relationships between accounts (e.g. I can follow @stephenfry but he doesn’t have to follow back) and it’s fairly open data sharing policy. Even without official access to the Twitter Firehose, I am able to scrape enough data in a few seconds which can be visualised beautifully.

The image below is a link to an interactive Twitter map that displays the last 915 tweets from the #NeedForSpeed promotional Twitter campaign that ran yesterday (Thurs 13th March 2014). Be assured, this isn’t data from a client campaign and is only fuelled by publicly available data. If anything, this makes the insights even more incredible because a simple geek can quickly draw conclusions about this social media advertising campaign without actually having access to the advertiser’s dashboard.

Do click through and visually navigate your way across the Twitter map, investigate how Twitter users are connected with each other and decide what conclusions you can draw from this campaign (Do comment your conclusions, would be interesting to read).

Twitter Network Analysis
Click this image to visit interactive map

Here’s a guide to the interactive map:

  • Colours represent organic communities (AKA. value groups)
  • Lines indicate follow/followed relationships
  • Node size refers to influence (bigger the better), as calculate by the number of connections

It’s these sorts of visualisations that empower the theoretical side of the PR industry and why some aspects can only be understood from that angle. Do take a deep breath and dive into this post written by David Phillips in November 2012. In the post Phillips talks candidly about his struggle to devise a concept that would bring PR theory in line with what we know about the internet. He had a brainwave…

“It goes back to some work I did on tokens and values in which we identify people and organisation as the nexus of values; the work of Bruno Amaral who showed that people cluster round commonly held values (an empirical study); Thoughts about wealth being based on relationships… In an era of mass-media dilution, communication has a higher and growing dependency on network communication as a mechanism to introduce individuals to the story of the hour. It is this development that is the evolving and critical element that PR theory has to address most urgently. We need to see why and how values (some of them being no more than a hyperlink) spread in networks and how this is different to mass media ‘communication’.”

From 2012 there have been a number of studies to attempt showing the network effect of social media communication but the challenge was to devise a method of instantly tracking network changes, based upon content being shared. At the centre of this, is the foundational understanding that people will congregate around values online (in actual fact the rabbit hole goes much deeper on this issue, but this is a matter for another blog post).

These network graphs highlight another important observation about how we use social media. Even with freedom of expression and ability to link in non-mutual relationships, as a species we are still bound by our very nature. Something that anthropologists may refer to as Dunbar’s number, we tend to communicate in an average group size of 150 people. Any more than this and we are unable to maintain stable social relationships. Different industries need to be aware of this limitation as previous research as shown me that:

  • The PR industry (PRCA & CIPR practitioners) tend to fall into a network pickle. We broadcast content, share and reach agreement as an internal community, rather than engaging with practitioners outside of our digital social circles. Therefore, for most of us, social media is simply a massive echo chamber for internal debate. When, in reality, it’s probably our clients that would benefit from most the materials we create.
  • We aren’t the only ones to fall into this trap, previous research has shown me that the travel blogging community is similar. With some of the top bloggers creating engagement between themselves rather than reaching out to the ‘general public’. It’s too be expected, social media may eventually influence our natural behaviours but for the moment we’re still only humans!

These sorts of visualisations start to get really interesting when applied to other social networks, such as LinkedIn or Quora. Thanks to the research capabilities at Keene Communications and Social Media Research Foundation, I’m getting closer each day.

 

Autumn Statement 2013: Told through tweets

It’s been a busy day for the agency I work for, Keene Communications, as we kept up-to-date with George Osborne’s Autumn Statement. Not only live tweeting the event but also offering political analysis for our clients. Our below Storify below sums up the key facts well.