Twitter realizes most people don't know what it does

The company is releasing new a campaign to try to get new users to come on board

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
July 26, 2016
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I have had a number of theories about why Twitter has been struggling to get new users onto its platform. One reason I came up with, for example, is that people have seen the negative power of Twitter, the way that someone's life can literally be ruined by a single Tweet, and the way the network so quickly turns into a mob over the slightest provocation. 

While I still believe that's true, it may be even simpler than that: people still don't even know how to use Twitter.

That was the pretty stunning admission made by Leslie Berland, the company's CMO who joined Twitter in January, in a blog post on Monday.

It's not that people don't know what Twitter is; you'd have to be living under a rock for that to happen. As Berland points out,  90 percent of people globally recognize the Twitter brand. But that's as far as it goes for far too many of them.

"But what about the people who know the brand but don’t use Twitter? We asked lots of questions and two key themes emerged. First, most didn’t know or simply misunderstood what Twitter was for - many thought of Twitter primarily as a social network, a place to find and connect with friends and family members," she said.

"Second, they thought if they wanted to use Twitter, they were “supposed to Tweet every day” and didn’t think they would have that much to say. We realized we had some explaining and clarifying to do!"

Twitter is 10 year old, publicly traded company. For it to admit that now, after all this time, it has done such a poor job of explaining what it is to people is, as I said, simply stunning. It explains why a network that, by most standards, is the second most influential social network, has been unable to budge its user numbers up in years. 

Twitter saw its average monthly active users (MAUs) grow a mere 3 percent year-to-year to 310 million in the first quarter of this user, and grow only 1.6 percent from 305 million last quarter. That was actually an improvement from its Q4 report, where user growth had been totally flat quarter-to-quarter. However its annual growth in Q4 had been 9 percent, meaning that number is falling fast. 

Last month, Twitter was reportedly surpassed by Snapchat, a company half its age, in daily active users. 

 It has gotten so bad that, in June,  Bob Peck, analyst at Suntrust Robinson Humphrey, wrote in a note that if the company couldn't turn things around that it would have to be acquired. 

"We note that if the current trend of meager user and engagement growth remains, we think it's inevitable that Twitter will need to pursue M&A alternatives as has been discussed in the media for some time," wrote Peck. 

At this point there's a real possibility that it might be too late to get users to embrace a network they've decided they don't understand, but Twitter has to try. So it also decided to launch a new video that explains what exactly Twitter is.

"Starting today, we’re taking steps to express what we’re for and what we’ve always been. Twitter is where you go to see what’s happening everywhere in the world right now. From breaking news and entertainment to sports and politics - from big events to everyday interests with all the live commentary that makes Twitter unique," wrote Berland.

Twitter is releasing its second quarter numbers on Tuesday, but analysts aren't too optimistic. Wall Street analysts expect it to add just 2 million monthly active users in the next quarter.