Is the train slow enough to jump off? When 140 characters aren't enough anymore

It’s lost more than $2bn since its founding, Vine is gone, it’s struggling to rise above the 300 million user mark, it has constant allegations of unchecked racial and misogynistic abuse, it has switched to an algorithmic timeline and it has managed to turnoff potential investors Salesforce and Alphabet.

So, are things finally over for Twitter? The short answer is no, the long answer is maybe.

socialiconsMake no mistake, for the time being Twitter is staying on our social media landscape.  The service has upwards of 100 million users interacting with it each day (with some estimates putting the number up to 140 million). In fact, the sale of Vine simply reaffirms Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s protestations earlier this year to the #RIPTwitter hashtag that Twitter is focused on ‘live’:“I *love* real-time. We love the live stream. It’s us. And we’re going to continue to refine it to make Twitter feel more, not less, live!

If you find this hard to believe, simply observe how the company has started to incorporate elements of its live streaming app Periscope directly into the main platform, partnering with the NFL to show live football.

That’s not to say there aren’t very real and direct threats to the company’s success from other platforms, specifically Facebook and Snapchat which are arguably far more visual and innovative channels. The latter, in particular, has seen a huge boost in the last year becoming the ‘It’ app for Generation Z and early adopter millenials, and now boasting more daily users than Twitter.

But when it comes to live coverage, nothing is more effective than the 140-character mainstay. For topical evidence, look to the 2016 US election. There was more talk than ever about which social channel would dominate conversation, and there was absolutely no contest. Just isolating activity from the first presidential debate to the following Monday showed over 1 billion election-related posts, and Election Day itself boasted 40 million posts – 2012 Election Day’s  31 million paling in comparison.

That doesn’t mean the channel is as in rude health as it used to be. Organic engagement with brand’s content has started to suffer for a number of our clients. The channel seems to be moving more towards a ‘pay to play’ model which inevitably seems related to the numerous reports of the channel’s financial losses.

In the end though, these losses may be irrelevant: USA Today reported that even with current losses, Twitter’s cash reserves mean the service could run for another 412 years. The real worries are about its number of active users which have stagnated around the 300 million mark since the beginning of 2015 – though it’s worth pointing out the numbers aren’t declining, Twitter still has over 100 million daily users with over a billion tweets every two days.

It is also hard to think of a social channel that is referenced more on daily news bulletins. Twitter is where news breaks, and often where news actually happens. It’s where the next POTUS turns to vent his opinions at 3am and where campaigns such as @StopFundingHate wage war against the establishment. It is controversial, uncensored, reactionary, powerful, emotional and immediate – quite simply, it is a product of the humans that use it.

For brands this offers interesting insight, but also a more pressing challenge. Reacting to real-time events has long been known to offer the best opportunity to go ‘viral’ – but this quest for Oreo style glory has meant that some of the basics of Twitter (such as engaging with users, being part of a genuine conversation and having a relationship with your customers and prospects) have been ignored.

To maintain its place in the world, Twitter will need to keep pace with its rivals’ innovation and work hard to ensure their space on the platform is relevant.

In essence the future of Twitter is up to… Twitter. For now, it is where people are and as long as that stays the case, advertisers will want to be there too.

Adam Gaworski & Anthony Newsom, Creative Strategy