Trump Changes Twitter: But Can He Change its Fortunes?


You’d have to have been living under a pretty large rock not to have noticed the new US President’s tweets over the last few years. Even then, you’ll probably have heard or read how Donald Trump, via his direct, sometimes flippant and usually controversial 140-character assaults has changed political dialogue.

So impactful are Trump’s tweets–projected to 24.1 million people as @realDonaldTrump and 15.1m as @POTUS–that they can cause serious impact to any private enterprise he mentions.

Twitter has, in the past year, transformed from a symptom of the news to the news itself. Twitter wars–even between the most powerful men and women on earth–have become commonplace.

But can this new status revamp Twitter’s flagging fortunes?

Paul Kagame, the controversial president of Rwanda, is thought to have become the first world leader to tweet, in 2010. Since then it has become ubiquitous.

Several years ago delegates at a conference held by the George Washington School of Media and Public Affairs asserted how it wasn’t enough simply to have a Facebook and Twitter page, in order to be elected to public office. Today, that may have changed.

But since its foundation in 2006 Twitter, whose CEO Jack Dorsey took charge in 2015, has grown into one of the Internet’s business enigmas.

Twitter’s 313m active users pales in comparison with Facebook (1.871bn); WhatsApp (1bn); QQ (877m); WeChat (846m) or even Instagram (600m). That alone should provide most of the answer why Twitter has not been able to find a buyer–or much confidence on trading floors.

According to USA Today Twitter generates far less revenue per user than other social media platforms, too. LinkedIn, for example, has 467m users–and generates $32.41 from each of them. Twitter, by comparison, makes just $7.99 from each of its 313m users. That is not enough to excite investors.

Trolls, an all-too-familiar phenomenon on Twitter, have not been mitigated on Twitter the way other platforms have done so. Millions of fake accounts, too, are present on the site–and offers to pay for thousands of followers are notorious, and true.

In October Twitter announced that it would shed 9% of its workforce–around 300 employees–with an eye on a profitable 2017. This came after a Q3 2016 performance that was higher than expectations.

The company has now focused on video content for the new year. Periscope CEO Kayvon Beykpour has risen to oversee video content at the firm. Deals with the NFL, NBA, MLB and Bloomberg have cemented Dorsey’s plan to make Twitter one of the web’s premier video providers.

“Has Donald Trump changed Twitter?” asks marketing expert Mark Schaefer? “Yes and no.”

The beauty of Twitter is that it is the most human-powered social media platform,” he adds. “All the best stuff on Twitter has been invented by its users, not by the company. Hashtags. Twitter Chats. Twitter games. But the thing that’s different now is that Donald Trump has invented a new role for Twitter, a use that might be forever unique to him. He is using Twitter as a weapon of mass destruction.”

Trump has already sent digital wrecking balls in the direction of Rexnord, Boeing, General Motors and others, causing slumps in share prices. In response one firm, Trigger Finance, created an app alerting users when the President mentions a company.

Dorsey should better leverage Twitter’s huge amounts of data for revenue; something that is itself limited thanks to Twitter’s relatively small amounts of information per user compared with other platforms.

Attempts to change that have had mixed results. But adding video content that everyone–not just ‘Tweeps’–wants, like football, will open doors to more data possibilities.

Better acquisitions must be made, too. While Facebook’s Instagram buy, and Snapchat’s recent purchase of Israeli augmented reality outfit Cimagine Media, have been hailed by the industry, Twitter’s forays–Vine; Tellapart; We Are Hunted–have had more lukewarm receptions.

Donald Trump has undoubtedly changed the political game via Twitter. Whether Twitter can change its own game, though, is another matter. 2017 will be a seminal year for American politics. It will also be make-or-break for Dorsey and co.