Big news that Twitter is experimenting expanding size limit of each tweet from 140 characters to 280 characters.
This is entirely missing the point
Twitter’s problem is not whether users want to express ‘a bit more’ or not – but its failure to diversify horizontally to satisfy users’ fast-changing social and content needs.
Twitter achieved its success not because ordinary people needed to express, but ordinary people needed to know what celebrities, influencers, and bosses, were thinking.
It grew fast riding on these, however, once you are big, you need to defend yourself by expanding horizontally, otherwise users will gradually lose interest, and your competitors will encroach your space.
This is exactly what Twitter failed to do.
Twitter today is not much different from Twitter a few years ago – they held 140 characters almost sacred.
Even the limited experiments with video and other content types are … at best … sterile.
If not for @realDonaldTrump or friends getting fired from Twitter during downsizing, I hardly hear anything about Twitter nowadays.
FB marching ahead
In the meantime, other social media marched ahead.
Facebook has added so many different features: Messenger, On this day, news feed, live video… Whenever you are about to get bored of Facebook, they give you something new.
As a result, Facebook now is drastically different from Facebook of yesteryear.
You do not see “I will stop using Facebook unless they revert to the original interface” anymore – people are used to, and embracing, change.
Same for WeChat, China’s top social media platform with almost 900 million active users. People who do not use it on a daily basis are often perplexed by the number of functionalities the chat app posses. But for those who do, it is convenience at your fingertips.
Weibo was once there
Weibo, a Chinese microblogging service long regarded as a Twitter copycat, might offer some lessons.
By end of 2010, more than 70 million people had registered for Weibo. Celebrities, influencers and opinion leaders started using Weibo to share their views. During a few major incidents that year, Weibo was the major channel where hundreds of millions of exchanges were posted and shared.
However, even then, Sina, the company that operated Weibo, was cautious about the prospects of monetization. In the meantime, the government, realizing the speed information was propagating on Weibo, forced the operators to step up monitoring and surveillance efforts, adding to the costs and risks.
The major blow came from Tencent’s WeChat, which went online in 2011. WeChat is purely mobile-based, and the product design put lots of social habits of the Chinese into consideration.
Users were shifting rapidly to WeChat, leaving Weibo in a limbo. A turnaround was needed.
Lessons from Weibo turnaround
Fortunately, Alibaba, the main rival of Tencent in China, was not good at building social networks. They chose to invest in Weibo, which gave the company a boost.
In 2014, Weibo started its IPO in the US, telling the investors that it is “Twitter of China”. Interestingly, back then almost ⅓ of Weibo’s advertising income came from Alibaba Group.
Also, Weibo repositioned itself as a media platform and took a lot of effort to diversify its content. Instead of usual social key opinion leaders, Weibo introduced a lot of influencers from diverse fields such as food and travel. Weibo also started live streaming, allowing users to generate more attractive content real time.
Using the platform, the influencers helped attract and maintain more users, which in turn made Weibo more attractive to advertisers. The company also worked hard on making the advertisements effective, sometimes by limiting bids.
By 2016, Alibaba’s ad spending on Weibo, while still growing in absolute numbers, has dropped to 8% of total Weibo ad revenue.
Meanwhile, Square, the other company Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is heading, is doing well.