Twitter’s outlook in 2017 just got a little brighter: at long last, the social platform has found a new product head. But will this be enough to solve their problems?
Keith Coleman was previously head of startup Yes Inc, which developed social media apps such as WYD and Frenzy. Prior to that, he worked at Google, where he helped develop products such as Gmail, Inbox, and Google Chat.
Much has been made of the fact that, prior to his appointment, he had only tweeted a grand total of 143 times. Much has also been made of the fact that Coleman is the fourth person to hold this role since Twitter’s IPO, and the sixth person since 2007. Coleman’s lack of experience with the platform is not necessarily a liability, but it does indicate that Twitter might be willing to change its business strategy in order to induce growth.
Looking ahead to Twitter in 2017
Now that Twitter has found a new head of product, they can begin to address the systemic issues that are slowing growth, hurting revenues, and basically creating terrible PR for them. Their failure to adequately address user harassment was reportedly one of the biggest factors in Salesforce’s decision not to buy the company, and has kept other potential buyers at bay. And while they have in recent weeks rolled out a series of features designed to restrict abuse and other hate speech, their success remains to be seen.
Another major issue that needs to be dealt with is Twitter’s stagnating user growth. It has struggled since 2015 to get beyond 230 million monthly average users, whereas Facebook has more than 5 times as much growth year over year (16% in the last quarter, compared to Twitter’s 3%). Considering Facebook already has an enormous base of regular users, Twitter’s inability to keep pace with their competition does not bode well for their future. And unlike Snapchat, whose smaller, younger user base works to their advantage, Twitter needs sustained growth in order to start turning a profit.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Twitter has shown an inability to capitalize on its content. While other platforms are turning increasingly to video, Twitter recently announced plans to shut down Vine, its popular video app, in spite of the popularity of its content. Despite its cultural prominence, the company has failed to convert the extensive media attention received into profits, instead cutting its staff by 9% in an effort to reduce costs.
Not all bad news
Despite the closure (or possible sale) of Vine, Twitter recently announced a partnership with the NFL to livestream 10 Thursday Night Football games to users around the world. This is in line with their new emphasis on live video, starting with their 2015 acquisition of livestreaming app Periscope and continuing with the recent success of their election livestream.
Ultimately, Twitter’s problems stem from the fact that it has no coherent, long-term plan for continued growth or even profitability. Their inability to fill the role of product head for nearly a year suggests this, along with the continuing exodus of top-level executives. If this continues for much longer, Twitter may be forced to make serious changes to its operating model, at the risk of alienating the dedicated user base that is currently keeping it alive.