Twitter’s 140 Character Two Act Play

October 7, 2013

“Ah but something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” – Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man

Twitter bullhorn

I was recently explaining Twitter to my baby-boomer father in-law.  I am a perennial late adopter of technology so it’s always a challenge to find people whom I can play myself off as a subject matter expert and expound on the virtues of technology.  Whereas his generation only ushered in a social and cultural revolution and did it to the greatest rock and roll soundtrack of all time, my generation tweets pithy thoughts about jalapeño cream cheese and Breaking Bad.  Interestingly, I had a hard time explaining the utility of Twitter to him with an economy of words and realized the great situational irony.  A platform that limits its users to 140 characters per message was hard to explain as a concept in as few words.  Given that that Twitter is about to go public, by some insider estimation within 4-5 weeks of this blog posting, I thought it was time to write about the much copied social media phenomenon of Twitter.

This week Jenna Wortham and Vindu Goel from the New York Times wrote about Twitter on the eve of there IPO and their place in the social media ecosystem.  It will be interesting to see how Twitter fares given the intense competition it faces from similar social platforms such as LinkedIn, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Kakao and Reddit.  Twitter is posting 500 million messages a day but has not been able to make money.  One of the great challenges for innovative social technology is figuring out how to monetize their product.  Omaha’s own Matthew Hansen wrote about this recently.  His subject, Alex Epstein, had built an enviable Twitter following but to date has not gotten his hands around how to turn a profit from his ongoing efforts.  Twitter faces an exceptional challenge.  With this many users, Twitter theoretically should not have trouble finding advertisers.  However, unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, Twitter does not have critical user demographical information that might better inform marketers on how to sell to its public.

Twitter has other obstacles.  Although innovative in 2006, Twitter has fallen behind in video and picture content to companies like WhatsApp who have, according to the NY Times, surpassed Twitter in subscribers.  Twitter is working hard to close that video content gap with the recent purchase of Vine.  They are also focusing on international markets as another profitable revenue opportunity.  Twitter owns the texting space for now, so the finding additional markets and understanding other technologies in which integration makes the most sense will be key over the next several months.

This brings me back to the conversation I had with my father in law.  He was not impressed that one might have the ability to blast out a random thought to their followers.  But he did like that reputable publications, companies and people were also using this tool to inform their followers, and as a follower you could pick and choose whom you wanted  to hear from and conceded that there might be something there.  This is why I like Twitter.  I can honestly say that I am at least better informed of my options as to which articles, headlines, journals, jokes and updates I’d like to explore.  There is a weird comfort there.  My wife calls it “Missaphobia,” the fear that somewhere, someone is doing something interesting and I am in the dark.  Twitter can at least ensure that if something is happening here, you will know what it is, won’t you Mr. Jones.