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Can Twitter retain its userbase?

Amid stiff competition with fast-growing social networks, Twitter needs to address spam and user-retention problems. 


Among the modern social networks, Twitter differs from the likes of Facebook and Google+, in that it focuses on the conversations rather than simply the connections. Starting out as a microblogging service for short updates, Twitter has now expanded into multimedia content, better interactivity and  targeted messages through advertising. But even after amassing more than 1 billion registrations, the network  has just over 240 million active users globally. Twitter now faces the big problem of the proverbial “leaky bucket”.

A big part of these sign-ups involves spam accounts and inactive accounts. With a 20 percent retention rate, Twitter faces a dilemma: how to make the service attractive to newcomers, as well as an indispensable tool for old-timers. Compared to Facebook, for instance, Twitter does have a learning curve. New users would have to learn the lingo: how to follow a friend, the difference between  tweets and replies, direct messages, and how to add people to lists, for instance.

Otherwise, Twitter may see itself hitting the wall. The company’s stock plunged 24 percent in a single day last Thursday, amid news of the company’s difficulty in retaining users. What will Twitter need to do to plug its leaks?

Improved connections lead to better interaction

Twitter does have an edge over its social networking contemporaries, however, and it is in mobile. The 140-character limit makes it ideal to adopt Twitter usage even on non-smartphones. Short bursts of updates from smartphones are also easy enough. To improve engagement, CEO Dick Costolo told analysts in a recent earnings call that the company is focusing on on-boarding, or jump-starting users’ friend lists with people already in their contact lists.

“The native mobile sign-up that we are launching allows us to make on-boarding much more seamless for people and quickly connect you with the people you know who are already on Twitter,” Costolo said. Users signing up or signing in from mobile devices are asked to sync their contact lists with Twitter, and the service will automatically give suggestions on which accounts to follow based on your existing network of contacts.

Twitter’s core business depends on scale. Even though the company is doubling its revenue each quarter, having found ways to get a bigger ARPU — average revenue per user — its market value is still dependent on growth.

Chat apps on the rise

In the media call, Costolo said that direct messaging rose 25 percent over the previous quarter, while interactions like retweets and favorites have increased 35 percent. This might be indicative of how Twitter would take its business moving forward. It has been rumored before that the company might be launching its own standalone private messaging app to better compete against the likes of LINE, WhatsApp, Viber and even Facebook Messenger.

Plus, Twitter is now sending push messages based on context, such as sustained conversations about a particular topic that a user has been interested in, or increased follow activity toward certain accounts. CEO of DigitalMarketing.com and social media guru Eric Schiffer told VR Zone that Twitter still has an edge over other platforms like Facebook when it comes to businesses ensuring their “reputation is pristine.” By using context awareness and being part of the conversation, businesses can engage customers, in order to gather feedback, resolve issues and become, overall, a provider of relevant content to their lives.

Twitter wants to “reach every person on the planet,” and it has a long way to go from 240 million to the seven billion plus population of the world. Facebook, in its aim to reach more people, is trying to tap into emerging markets with low-end connectivity options. Twitter is also doing laudable efforts in tapping into the underserved, particularly with SMS-based interactions.

The world certainly does not lack for mobile and desktop Internet users. The question for Twitter now is how it will both gain and retain users, and then how to keep everyone engaged.

J. Angelo Racoma
J. Angelo Racoma has written extensively about mobile, social media, enterprise apps and startups. Angelo develops business case studies for Microsoft enterprise applications and services. He is also co-founder at WorkSmartr, a small outsourcing team.

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