Twitter's IPO is around the corner, and as we've seen with Facebook, a public social network is never the same after an IPO. With shareholders to answer to and an increase in pressure to generate revenue, Facebook has worked to evolve its advertising and figure out new ways to get ads in front of users. On this journey,
Facebook has struggled to strike a balance between satisfying investors, advertisers and users, so what will happen to Twitter as it faces the same trials?
A Watered-Down, Closed and Ad-Filled Future?
When Twitter first launched it raised some eyebrows. "I don't care what you had for breakfast," was a common statement made by people not using the platform, but those 'in the know' understood the serendipity and the unique relationships that Twitter could allow them to develop.
Twitter wasn't about a closed network of existing relationships. It was an open network in which new relationships could be formed. This was an excellent proposition for passionate users of the platform, but as we've seen with many users creating accounts but never using them and growth stagnating. These are problems a public Twitter will have to contend with.
A post-IPO Twitter will likely be more watered-down than it is today as it works to appeal to more people, emphasizing media and celebrities. Twitter has already gone down this route. It's Amplify program brings video content to the platform from major networks like CBS and ESPN. Twitter's also closed down what used to be a diverse ecosystem of platforms built off of its API. Now, Twitter is working to drive users to its own app ecosystem, instead of third-parties.
Twitter takes some getting used to. Part of that is because Twitter feeds can get pretty unwieldily. Twitter Lists have provided a potential solution, but the onslaught of content that comes from a Twitter feed can be overwhelming. Twitter will have to solve this problem to be more appealing to the masses.
I can see Twitter creating a series of 'media portals' focused on bringing in content for specific topics. Twitter could have a page specifically focused on Breaking Bad (if it was still on….), pulling in the most engaging tweets, tweets from celebrities and ads from sponsors of the show. A page could be set-up for breaking news as well, such as the Affordable Care Act. A page like that could be sponsored and curated by news organizations like CNN. That kind of execution allows Twitter to be more consumable for the masses, but Twitter would likely push this upon users who do not want that experience. The challenge will be making both groups happy.
It will also be interesting to see how Twitter overcomes the challenge (but also benefit) of its public nature. Users on the platform love its openness, but not everyone wants that. Facebook offers the ability to connect with those you want to without exposing content to those you don't. Twitter will either have to convince users that openness is something they should want or offer a compelling reason to use it over Facebook for private interactions.
Finally, Twitter ads will become even more prominent. Facebook ads now make up 5% of user news feeds. This isn't because it improves user experience. A public Twitter will have to answer more to investors, and users will be more exposed to ads on the platform than ever.
More Brand Friendly
The good news of a post-IPO Twitter is that it will become an even more brand-friendly platform, giving marketers more options and likely opening up more data and analytics for brands to leverage.
Twitter's future is bright. It will have challenges and will frustrate users and brands alike, but as long as it delivers results, we'll continue to love it and lean on it to deliver business results.