Twitter’s Innovation Cycle: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Cheyne Gateley/VIP

When Twitter announces its Q4 results later today, it will be interesting to see if CEO Jack Dorsey addresses how in recent months the company seems to be in the process of reimagining what its platform can be. 

In June, the company started testing voice tweets. In November, Twitter’s stories clone Fleets launched globally. December saw the test launch of Twitter’s audio chat room feature, Spaces.

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy of Twitter

And just look at Twitter’s recent acquisitions: In December, the company announced it acquired social screen-sharing app Squad. In January alone, Twitter acquired podcast app Breaker and newsletter publishing service Revue. 

While it’s likely you were already familiar with at least some of these moves, it’s also likely you didn’t remember any of these announcements. 

That’s in part because Twitter hasn’t made it a point yet to have its recent acquisitions overhaul its core service. The Breaker and Squad deals in particular seemed to be more about talent acquisition, rather than immediate tech integration, for example. 

But it’s also in part due to the fact that two of the features more broadly rolled out to users mentioned above — voice tweets and Fleets — represented relatively bold attempts at reshaping Twitter user behavior that so far have seemed to be mostly ignored by the user base.

Voice tweets, in retrospect, was likely mainly utilized initially due to novelty rather than utility. Since launching (as a test) in June 2020buzz around the feature appears to have died down. There’s currently not even a simple way to search for voice tweets others have made. 

Meanwhile, separate surveys by YouGov for Variety Intelligence Platform show many users haven’t bothered viewing or posting Fleets since they launched globally in the second half of November 2020. 

Yes, voice tweets and Fleets have been out for less than a year, and Spaces only launched to beta testing in December.  

That misses the point. What’s most important to note about Twitter’s recent feature rollouts and acquisitions is that it seemed appropriate for the company to try take these swings in the first place.  

In other words, these moves highlight Twitter as a platform badly in need of innovation. I’m not alone here: NYU’s Scott Galloway recently said not innovating “has been a weakness for years” of Twitter’s. Bloomberg’s Tae Kim in January said Twitter has failed to execute innovative features for over a decade. 

Perhaps that’s why it often seems like many of Twitter’s new features, including prominent ones in the works, just come and go. 

Remember last summer when Twitter confirmed it was interested in testing subscriptions? Twitter CFO Ned Segal did caution in July the company was in “very early” stages of exploring subscriptions, but the company has flirted with the idea for years.

Bloomberg yesterday reported Twitter is considering multiple subscription options, including charging for Tweetdeck, a currently free service that lets users view multiple Twitter feeds at once.

Note that since January 2020, the only observable spike in global downloads of Twitter came during the first week of June (prior to the voice tweet test launch) and early November (prior to the global Fleets rollout)according to Apptopia estimates. 

It’s possible that certain other new Twitter features during June and November played a part in download increases, but it also seems possible that interest in prominent news events around those times (the protests over the killing of George Floyd in June, the U.S. election in November) drove downloads 

That suggests Twitter still has the potential to meaningfully expand the appeal of its platform beyond its core service with at least one of its recent acquisitions: Revue, which seems like a natural Twitter fit, due to the particularly high news consumption on the service.  

The pressure for Twitter to find a home run feature seems to be increasing, at least through the lens of its younger user appeal. 

Despite having added 35 million monetizable daily users over the first three quarters of 2020, Twitter’s stock among teens has precipitously fallen over the years as apps like TikTok and Instagram have risen.  

Reversing this trend could be a key factor in accelerating Twitter’s daily user growth, which would help the company onboard ad clients and become more favorited among investors.  

One way Twitter could get there would be to make it more of a monetizable destination for influencers. Are there currently influencers who call themselves “Twitter creators” in the same way there are influencers calling themselves “YouTube creators”? 

Starting some sort of new program that pays creators to regularly create videos, or even eventually host Spaces on Twitter, might be a way to address this.  

Twitter could also lean more heavily into partnering with professional media companies to showcase and premiere certain titles. Last year, Twitter streamed the entire HBO Max original doc “On the Record” as part of an HBO Max promotional push, for example. Twitter also exclusively premiered the first episode of Hulu original “Love, Victor” on its service before it hit Hulu. 

With a combination of more exclusive influencer and professional media company content, usage of Twitter among younger users may follow. 

Perhaps the company will share some other novel plan it has to accelerate usage of its product during its analyst day on February 25, but I wouldn’t get hopes up.