Tagged: twitter

Twitter’s failure: a failure of management or expectation?

It has just been announced (in a Tweet of course) that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has stepped down, under pressure from investors, because of a perceived failure to either grow the user base or revenue sufficiently.

The real issue here is what is this a failure of.  Is it a failure of management to grow users and (advertising) revenues, or it is it a failure of expectation on the part of investors?  I tend to see it as the later.

Twitter has the same problem that Facebook has in that the ‘clever’ chaps on Wall Street who had to stick a number on it when it started to prospect for investment used the wrong model.  Continue reading

Swimmers ‘failing’ at mountain climbing says Brandwatch study

FireShot Screen Capture #217 - 'Retailers 'failing' on Facebook and Twitter, says Brandwatch study I PR Week' - www_prweek_com_article_1333814_retailers-failing-facebook-twitter-says-brandwatch-studyHere is a report on research from Brandwatch that I think neatly encapsulates where many brands have got to in terms of understanding and using social media.  OK, so it doesn’t actually say that swimmers are failing at mountain climbing, it says are that retailers are ‘failing’ on Facebook and Twitter because they are failing to listen and respond to their audiences.  But it may as well talk about swimmers and mountains because while it has identified the failure bit, it has reached the wrong conclusion about why the failure is occuring or what to do about it.

The failure is one of defining the challenge, it is not a failure of insufficient activity.  The challenge in the social media space is defined by behaviour identifiction and response (i.e. it is all about swimming).  The challenge in the traditional media / marketing space was all about channel and message, reach and frequency (i.e. mountain climbing).  So while Brandwatch correctly identified the problem i.e. failure to listen and respond it didn’t realise this was happening because it was positioned against the wrong challenge.  In effect the article is saying “you are failing to swim up this mountain, but if you flayed your arms about more frequently and thrashed your legs more vigourously you would be more successful .”  True enough, but you wouldn’t be that much more successful.  What the article should really say is “you are failing at swimming, but that is because you are trying to climb a mountain rather than cross a lake”.  Right activity, wrong context.  If swimming is what it is all about, look for a lake, don’t look for a mountain.

In reality, the reason most brands are not responding effectively is because this is not what they got into social media to do.  Listening and response is seen as the rather awkward consequence of being in the social media space.  It is seen as a cost that needs to be paid in order to fulfill the ambition of spreading their content far and wide and maximising  ‘engagement’ with their audience.  And like all costs, it should therefore be kept to a minimum.

Social media is entirely a behaviour identification and response challenge.  It is not a channel and message / reach and frequency challenge.  Listening and response is not a cost, it is the source of value creation.  Most brands haven’t really grasped this yet – but at least they are starting to realise that what they are doing has a problem (sort of).




Forget Ebola, Twitter has caught Ipola

SickIpola is long-term debilitating disease that frequently is contracted in the financial markets during the process of launching an IPO.

Twitter has it bad, as this recent GigaOm piece highlights, and Facebook is also suffering.

Twitter is basically comprised of an idea, some geeks and some server space.  The last of these are not precious or scarce resources and the idea is basically now a sunk cost.  Not just for Twitter, but for anything that aspires to be Twitter like.

It therefore doesn’t cost much to be Twitter (or Twitterlike).  Logically speaking therefore, the revenue opportunities for Twitter, long-term, are likely to be similarly low.  The problem for Twitter (and Facebook) is not generating sufficient revenue to cover its costs, certainly not the costs of delivering the service its users want.  Its problem is generating sufficient revenue to justify its share price.

In the chase for this revenue, an Ipola sufferer turns away from its users and focuses on marketing directors.  It tries to turn itself into a media platform or a data mine, because that is the only way it can seduce the marketing dollar.  And in the process it basically destroys what it was that made it successful in the first place.  Its vital organs start to fail.

Twitter is basically a conversation.  Take the chronology out of conversation and it stops working.

Twitter is never going to be some sort of content lillypad – which has always been its problem.  It has no real estate on which advertising dollars can settle.

Which would all be fine, if it didn’t have try and keep the boys on Wall Street happy.

Ipola is not going to kill Twitter just yet, although it is going to run a sweat.  What will kill Twitter is when the market gets infected by a competitor – and users realise how easy it is to swap, because the size of your accumulated Twitter following means nothing (because they are not actually an audience), you don’t follow handles anymore, you follow or search hashtags (in real-time), and if you do want to follow someone (or have them follow you) they are still only a click away.  Doing a factory reset on your Twitter following is basically a good thing because it means you only get the ones back which were worth anything in the first place.

The only course of treatment for Twitter (and Facebook and LinkedIn) is to recognise your stock is going to become a devalued currency when Wall Street finally realises you are never going to hit the long-term revenue expectations, so use it while it is trading at such a ridiculous premium to buy other companies that can then become the lifeboats for when the business model sinks.

Truth in Twitterland

Here is a very interesting article by Alan Patrick.  It compares the Google and the Twitter windows on a current news story and proposes that the view through the Twitter window is actually more nuanced and investigative than the rather one-dimensional, or populist, view provided by Google.

This certainly chimes with my own experience.  Some while back I compared the Twitter versus tabloid media view, in relation to the Ryan Giggs / super injunction fiasco in the UK in 2011.  The conclusion I reached here was that the Twitter view was, again, much more nuanced and far less sensationalist than the view the tabloid press traditionally put out in these sort of cases.  Most people were really not that interested in Ryan Giggs love life, certainly not to the extent which might justify front page spreads.  Which is probably why many tabloid journalists are so scornful of ‘the people on Twitter’, because Twitter deflates the tabloids’ ability to titilate.

There is a further, more recent example.  Last year the BBC and its Newsnight programme got into a huge amount of hot water over the ‘naming’ of a former Tory politician, Lord McAlpine, as a paedophile at the centre of a child abuse ring.  Lord McAlpine is not a paedophile and while the BBC did not actually name him, it was inferred that his name was the one that was heading a list names that were ‘circulating on the internet’ – primarily Twitter.  McAlpine himself then went on to instigate legal proceeding against some of those people on Twitter deemed responsible.  This just goes to show how fundamentally untrustworthy and downright evil this whole Twitter-website-internet thing is – one might have thought.

Except – as this story was brewing I went and had a look ‘at Twitter’ to see exactly what was going on.  Now whilst Lord McAlpine’s name certainly came up, along with a whole list of other, frequently ludicrous, suggestions – there was another name which was much more firmly linked to much more specific allegations.  If one had looked at Twitter in the whole, you would not have reached the conclusion that Lord McAlpine was the prime suspect in this case.  I was thus astonished to see the BBC allowing McAlpine’s name to enter the frame on the basis that this was already out there on Twitter, because while some individual tweets may have been suggesting this, a consideration of the collective view of Twitter would have led one to a very different conclusion.  (I shall not name who Twitter saw as the prime suspect for obvious reasons).

Thus – the BBC effectively inferred that Lord McAlpine was the suspect – and got it wrong.  And the evil untrustworthy Twitter may not have got it right (we shall never know the truth because the powers that be have dropped this subject like a hot potato), but it didn’t get it as wrong as the BBC did.

The main point, from all of this, is that news in the social digital space, cannot be defined in an institutional way any more.  News is becoming a raw material, not a finished product and the distillation of what is truth is shifting from institutions into processes.  You can’t understand Twitter as an institution, you can only understand it as a process.  Twitter (unlike Newsnight) was not purporting to tell me that something was true or not true – it simply provided me with a process that allowed me to make my own conclusions.   And key to this process working effectively is transparency and the ability to put information in context.  It is what I call the ability to see the whole probability curve of news and where upon it, any individual bit of information sits.

And going back to Alan Patrick’s article, Twitter is much better placed to deliver against this than Google – certainly when it comes to news – because it doesn’t attempt to attach a score to a particular piece of information in order to rank it (or define its truthfulness).  Instead it allows you to see the spread of opinion and apply a probability approach.   Google’s strength is in other areas, where seeing the curve is less important.  Thus Google is good at answering question such as ‘when to prune raspberries?’ whereas Twitter is better at answering questions such as ‘is this news story really true?’


TweetDeck is to be killed. Why, and what wider implications might this have?

The death of TweetDeck has just been announced.  This is a shame, because it is a good tool – I use it and recommend it to others.  The decision has been explained on the TweetDeck blog but I don’t buy the reasoning here at all.  My explanation is more simple.  TweetDeck made Twitter better – but it did so in a way which Twitter (who bought it) couldn’t raise a buck from – so Twitter killed it. Continue reading

Twitter makes You stupid (but Us clever)

Here is a very thought provoking post (sorry, article) by Bill Keller, executive editor of the NY Times.  I especially like the historical perspective and connection to Gutenberg – something which is not debated or understood enough.  We cannot really understand social media unless we also understand history, which is why I always begin my “What is social media?” presentations by looking back 600 years so that we can understand the extent to which our world has been shaped by the enforced marriage between information and expensive distribution technologies – a marriage which social media is ending (because media – the ability to distribute information – is no longer expensive and information is now liberated).

In much the same way as Keller highlights the cognitive trade-offs that have occurred as technology has developed (books effectively reducing our capacity to remember for example) it would seem logical that there will be some form of trade-off associated with social media.  And it may well be that the trade-off is that collectively we become more intelligent and powerful, but individually we become more stupid.  Perhaps it may be that stupid is not the word – rather we will become become more dependant – not just on the technology itself but the forms of community it is bringing into being.   We become a bit of number of brains rather that a brain in itself.  This may be a good thing, or it may not – but it important that we are aware that it is happening and adapt to its implications.

The right to legal priviledge versus the right to sensationalise

Lets be clear about something.  This whole institutional dust-up is not about privacy and human rights.  It is about the tabloid media’s presumed right to sensationalise (and the worrying ability of social media to deflate its ability to titillate) and the legal establishment’s presumed right to exist.  Basically it is all about the erosion of institutionalised privileges.

Looking first at the media.  What is interesting about the whole affair is that the suspension of traditional media’s ability to report gives us the opportunity to analyse how social media in isolation is handling the story (i.e. the story about the footballer not the story about the institutional fight) and compare this with the way the mainstream media traditionally handles such events.  Within social media we have a simple tweet which states that x footballer had an affair with x semi-celebrity.  This prompts some discussion and debate within the relatively small digital communities that are interested in the individuals concerned.  This discussion goes along the lines of “So-and-so has had an affair.  All these footballers are the same.  Shame though – this bloke seemed to be one of the exceptions, but at least he has patched things up with his missus.  Ah well – lets talk about more important things like the big game coming up next weekend.” There are also some quite good jokes that are made – British pub and terrace humour at its best.

The way the tabloid media might choose to report this story would be to splash screaming great headlines of outrage across the front page, send legions of paparazzi to stalk the individuals concerned and their families, to tease-out (and frequently invent) as many lurid details as possible and do everything possible to convince us that this event is the single most important piece “of News the World” must be interested in.  What a difference – a difference which exposes the fact that the media don’t like the right to privacy because it impinges upon their right to sensationalise and they don’t like social media because it similarly deflates their ability to titillate.

The legal establishment is all in a flutter because it is slowly starting to realise that social media is creating a space within which it is powerless.  In fact, worse than powerless, totally irrelevant.  You simply cannot apply an institutionalised legal framework to the specifics of information within this space because the core assumptions you need for this model to work just don’t exist (and never will).  Social media exists outside of the law, not because it wishes to break the law, but because there is no law yet in this space.  Try as you might to drag bits of current legal process into it and all that happens is that you end up looking silly.  And when we do come around to creating some framework of control that works, we may well find that what works is not actually law as we currently know it (the thing that has lawyers, silly wigs and fees and all that stuff), but something based around the creation of social permission that it all together more, well, permissive.  Basically this will mean working out the codes of behaviour that are required to allow society as a whole, rather than editors or judges, to work out what importance to attach to information.  Critically this is not about determining what is right or wrong – something  that is fit for publication or not fit for publication.  Rather it will be based around ensuring the ability to generate a collective assessment of interest or relevance – something which social media actually already does rather well, quite unencumbered from formal regulation (as the general lack of interest in said footballer’s private life, as represented within social media, neatly demonstrates).

Einstein’s Twitter stream: quality content or pointless babble?

In the old world content had to live within a particular means of distribution – a newspaper, a book, a website.  In effect, content had to find its proper place.  Short form written news information could only really live within a newspaper.  Stories tended to gravitate towards books.  Video could only live on the television.

When we talked about content we therefore talked about newspapers, books, the TV etc.  We made the assumption that each type of media (means of distribution) was a type of content because what it was and how it was published, were locked together.

This assumption breaks down when you look at social media – especially Twitter.  Continue reading

Shock new Telephone users poll from Prospect magazine

Here is a news release from Prospect magazine


Often seen as little more than a harmless waste of time, the much-hyped Telphone is increasingly being used as a tool by liberal and left-wing political campaigners. Telephone users are among the most liberal groups in Britain, a new national poll of 2000+ people by Prospect magazine and pollsters YouGov reveals.

The poll tested Britain’s 5.5m Telephone users and compared them to the rest of the country — revealing that British Telephoners actually have a strongly liberal and civil libertarian bias. This is in contrast to the popular view that David Cameron’s Conservatives and their pamphleting supporters are the most adept online force in politics.

The poll shows that while 57 per cent of Britons think greater police powers to tackle terrorism are more important than protecting civil liberties, less than half of Telephone users agree. Fifty-six per cent of the public agree that “the greatest victims of discrimination in Britain these days are often ordinary white men,” compared to only 45 per cent of Telephone users.

Etc Etc…

OK – you may have spotted this is not quite the release Prospect issued.  It was, of course, about Twitter.  And it was recycled by The Guardian and others.

The point is – when are clunky old journos  going to realise:

Twitter is not a web site.

Twitter is not a form of media.

Twitter is not a form of content.

Twitter is just an infrastructure – like the Telephone.  The demographics of its initial adoption carry zero significance – in the same way as the fact that early adopting of the ‘phone took place within a limited segment of the population bore no significance to the role of the Telephone once it became established in every household and on every desk.

When the Telephone first came along people made the same mistake Prospect is now making.  Everyone, including the ‘phone companies, assumed its was a form of content.  Phone companies even tried to determine what type of content was appropriate.  Funnily enough, they actively discouraged people using it for conversation.

Lets learn a little bit from history.

Twitter listing – X Factor for social media types

I must confess I am sometimes a bit slow on the uptake and certain new social media thingies just slip by relatively un-noticed.  Thus it was with the announcement of Twitter lists a week or so ago.  I had a quick glance at it, reckoned that there was nothing a Twitter list could do that my User Lists in Seesmic don’t already do, and let it pass.

But today it has hit me.  Forget listing other people – the number of times people list me is (or will rapidly become) my highly visible social media popularity score.  Its basically the X Factor / Pop Idol for social media types.  Continue reading