Long Live a Free Twitter

Many of you know my love of Twitter. A major part of my role studying this industry is to gather information and stay on top of everything as close to real time as it happens. Twitter plays a significant role in my daily workflow to do that. I don’t know exactly how much time I spend daily on Twitter but it is significant. Just look at my top app in usage the last 5 days.


Twitter’s journey has been an interesting one. In the beginning, we thought they were a social network. Now, they say they are a news service. In reality, both are true but news may make more sense to more people. What makes Twitter fascinating is the experience that everything happens first on Twitter. Whenever a major news story happens, it seems to go big on Twitter first then everyone else catches up. If I’m not on Twitter and I hear of something major, the first thing I go to is Twitter to see what is happening and, more importantly, what PEOPLE are saying. The voices on Twitter are broad and dynamic. To read a story on a news site, I get one voice whereas, on Twitter, I get many voices in near real-time — both professional journalists and regular people. It is the most unique blend of news and conversation I’ve ever encountered.

I do, however, recognize not everyone uses Twitter like I do. Their active user base is somewhere in the 300-400 million range with a potential audience size of ~700-800m logged out users )those without an account who still see content from Twitter in some fashion). From data we see every quarter, we are able to track a range of behaviors related to Twitter. Compared to other social networks or news apps, Twitter has a relatively engaged base. 21% of consumers say their average daily time spent on Twitter is 30 minutes to one hour and 19% say they average 1-2 hours per day. This ranks among the top of all social networks we track in terms of engagement. So, while Twitter’s base is not as large as Facebook’s, it is as engaged or more so than most of Facebook’s active accounts.

The top five most common actions, from the most recent Q3 2016 Twitter behavior data, in order:

– Read a news story (by far the most common activity)
– Liked a Tweet
– Watched a video (not a live stream)
– Looked at trending topics
– Clicked on a tweeted link

What you notice about these activities is none of them are actually tweeting. It confirms my early analysis that Twitter is more attractive to the mainstream as a consumption service than a broadcast service. This seems obvious now but much of the criticism of the platform several years ago were people claiming the service was useless because “who cares what I had for breakfast today.” This completely misses the point that broadcasters have reasons to broadcast. They report news, are celebrities, etc. and. for most people, Twitter is simply a near real-time medium to consume that content from broadcasters. Twitter is not actually different from a magazine, website, TV show, news program, etc., with the exception that it is more real-time and allows for the possibility for two-way communication. Again, unlike any other medium.

The other interesting behavior in the top five activities is looked at trending topics. This behavior has grown more over the past two quarters than any previous time since it started being tracked. In both Q2 and Q3 2016, it grew 60% QoQ in its rank as a core behavior. It was not in the top 10 prior to these two quarters. Which, again, suggests the mainstream is embracing Twitter as a content consumption platform.

Many people seem to think Twitter needs to be bought. In my opinion, only Facebook or Google made any sense to buy it and, if neither were interested, then let Twitter be free. Those two companies could have let it keep on doing business as usual and just slotted it into their advertising buying program and added Twitter metrics to their own to sell ads. Considering both these companies are off the table, I’m inclined to want Twitter to stay independent.

Lastly, perhaps the most interesting thing of late is Twitter starting to broadcast live content. You can watch a Thursday night NFL game via Twitter. I watched the US presidential debates last Sunday via Twitter. Recently, Bloomberg West started streaming on Twitter. The list of streaming content options on Twitter is increasing and the feedback I am seeing is extremely positive. I honestly thought it would be more of a gimmick when I first heard Twitter was lining up streaming deals but, having experienced it, I like it quite a bit more than I thought. Many others I talk to seem to agree. It seems like we active Twitter users were adding Twitter, via a second screen, to our TV watching when in reality we needed to add TV to Twitter. I really believe Twitter is on to something here and I expect their engagement metrics will only accelerate their ability to line up content.

The trick is to capture the new eyeballs they get from live content and turn them into consumers of more media on the platform and get them to use the service more. This has been the issue for Twitter for some time and my sense is, this opportunity around live is their best chance to grow their user base. And, for the moment, I am convinced their best chance to execute on that challenge is to stay independent.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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