Tuesday 25 October 2016

Why businesses can't be bothered to use Twitter any more

Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30

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Financial analysts talk about earnings, user growth and ad platform challenges. But the company's own senior executives remarks are more instructive: Twitter doesn't actually work for many people.

There is little point telling journalists this. The media is obsessed with Twitter. Journalists and media organisations believe it is an all-powerful, influential network that lets them put their mark on a story or a topic. Mostly, they're completely wrong. Most tweets deliver zero traffic to websites, even when highlighting an interesting story.

This isn't just a theory. Last week, figures from Statcounter showed that Twitter's influence in delivering traffic to websites had slumped in comparison to its biggest immediate rival, Facebook. And the gap is now too big for businesses to discount.

In Ireland, Twitter's share of referral traffic from social media to businesses (and everyone else online) fell from 14pc last year to 5pc today. In the same time period, Facebook's share grew from 62pc to 87pc here.

In other words, if your firm is considering a 'social media' strategy to get paying customers onto your website, there appears largely to be one show in town. (Snapchat, for all you hip marketing executives who like to impress clients, doesn't register in referral traffic statistics as Snapchat Stories generally don't link to external websites. That's not to say that it doesn't serve other purposes.)

Why is Facebook mushing Twitter into the ground when it comes to marketing and 'organic' usage? Why isn't media and celebrity fondness for tweeting translating into a more powerful, influential platform?

One reason is that Twitter is a victim of its own philosophical success. Its 140-character ethos goes far deeper into the psyche of users than it might have thought. Twitter users are unlikely to click on links to attention-sapping articles. They just want to browse headlines.

A second, more obvious reason is the limitations of its advertising platform.

How many ads do you see on Twitter? Have you ever tapped on one?

But the third, most likely reason, is that Facebook is now a utility which is slowly becoming used by almost everyone for almost everything.

People have now incorporated Facebook into their daily lives more than any other medium or habit. Of the estimated 2.5 million Irish Facebook users, 1.8 million use it every single day. Twitter comes nowhere near, with roughly 400,000 people using it daily in Ireland, according to Ipsos MRBI.

So for businesses, it's an increasingly stark marketing equation. An 'organic' online presence on Twitter delivers almost nothing to the average businesses that try it, unless they have some dedicated people focusing very cleverly on it.

Will 'buy now' buttons (developed in partnership with Stripe) help? Some research shows that sports, music and arts events could do well with this kind of commercial tool. For the rest, though, it remains an uphill struggle for companies hoping to gain business using this sort of a device on Twitter.

Pinterest and Facebook are the two networks likely to see the best returns on such payment options, because of the nature of their services.

Doomsday merchants who say Twitter won't last are wrong. The service is useful and addictive to enough people to keep it in business for the forseeable future. I use it every day, even if it doesn't have nearly as much professional impact as it used to.

(Twitter's analytics tell me that it delivers hardly any traffic to articles I post and which gain significant attention. An article I linked to in a tweet last Thursday garnered 11 'retweets', 12 'favourites' and garnered 2,499 'impressions'. But it only delivered 142 clicks on the article link, a typical return. So while the tweet may have been worth it for vanity or personal branding, it certainly wasn't earning Independent.ie much bottom-line ad traffic.)

The basic problem for Twitter remains the one summed up by its own chief financial officer, Anthony Noto, last month.

"Simply said, the product remains too difficult to use," said Noto. "This is both a product issue and a marketing issue."

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