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We can’t pinpoint exactly when Twitter first started taking Snapchat seriously as a threat, but we can bet that August 30 2015 was a bitter moment in Twitter’s memory.
This was the day on which MTV ran a Live Story on Snapchat posting short, backstage clips of everything that was happening at the MTV Video and Music Awards. The voyeuristic, candid access that was broadcast in this story was precisely what the Millennials who use Snapchat longed to consume.
It was no surprise then that MTV’s Live Story was popular. The whole arrangement was virtually guaranteed to be successful. It was instead the scale of its popularity that amazed. While the VMAs pulled in around 9.8 million TV viewers, its accompanying Live Story on Snapchat reached an incredible 12 million.
This was an important moment that stuck two-fingers up to Twitter. For a long time, 10-year-old Twitter had been scrambling to become our favorite Second Screen through which we respond to our first screen. While Twitter’s back was turned though, 5-year-old Snapchat saw a meteoric rise in popularity. This led to the platform starting to become the favorite first screen for millions of users. People were choosing to watch the VMAs on Snapchat instead of on TV. Something that undeniably took Twitter by surprise.
With Snapchat’s relentless rise in popularity, what we’re seeing is not just Twitter becoming irrelevant for a growing portion of mobile users (mostly Millennials). We’re also seeing Snapchat directly competing with Twitter’s vision to become our first port of call for live events, live news, and live discussion of those events and news. What’s more, Snapchat looks like it could actually turn a profit.
Twitter vs. Snapchat: The Numbers
Before getting into the nuts and bolts of why Twitter is struggling so much next to Snapchat, let’s take a look at a few comparable numbers.
Daily Active Users
Twitter: 140 million (predicted)
Snapchat: 150 million
Monthly Active Users
Twitter: 310 million
Snapchat: 10 billion
Twitter: $595 (Q1 2016), -$80m loss (Q1 2016)
Snapchat: $33m (Q4 2015)
Twitter: $10 billion
Snapchat: $20 billion
The numbers can’t tell the whole story, but what we can see is that Twitter’s growth has stalled. Snapchat’s is ploughing on. The engagement on Snapchat looks to be far more loyal and intense than on Twitter. Snapchat is valued at twice the price of Twitter, and is growing faster than Facebook ever did. And it’s only just started experimenting with monetization.
Why is Twitter Struggling?
To boil this down to a sentence: Twitter has never been able to change, nor take advantage of opportunity.
Just a few years ago, Twitter thought it, and its 140-character limit, was irreplaceable. It was the place where news on events like the Boston Bombing and the Arab Spring was first broke. It’s where citizens and journalists could share news faster than the news publications could ever dream of.
In the past 24 hours we have had people in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania set themselves alight in echo of Tunisian protest.
— Doug Saunders (@DougSaunders) January 17, 2011
Twitter became home to citizen journalism.
It seems like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is simply harking back to these good old days when he says:
I want to make sure that Twitter is the place that you check first thing to start your day. It will tell you exactly what’s happening in the world.
Dorsey had a huge opportunity to push this vision. When Twitter launched its livestreaming app Periscope last year, this could have been the perfect tool to help its aspiring citizen journalists. But Periscope just sank into the background.
Twitter also neglected Vine, a looping-video app purchased in 2012 when Snapchat was still a baby. Both Vine and Periscope could have been Twitter’s answer to attracting Millennials: that video-obsessed generation that Twitter has consistently failed to woo.
It’s Twitter’s almost-complete neglect for video that has allowed Facebook Live Videos to become a major player in citizen journalism. And it’s this neglect of video that has enabled Snapchat to capture the attention of young users, which advertisers are desperate to access. This growth in video wasn’t a surprise, though. We predicted it year after year. Twitter simply and consistently failed to make the most of the opportunity that video offered.
Failing to Evolve
While Twitter’s overwhelmingly text-based platform was being outshone by its video-focused rivals, it also catastrophically failed to make any meaningful changes to its few features in order to improve user experience.
The features available on Twitter now are pretty much what we were available 10 years ago. All the negative things that come with scale are thrown into the package, too.
Not Enough Truth
As more people started using Twitter to find breaking stories, more tools were needed to prove the veracity of those tweets. Just this month, Sky Sports was caught “reeling off fake facts [from Twitter] about Celtic’s Champions League victors Lincoln Red Imps.”
— Chris. (@cfccod) July 13, 2016
Granted, the onus is on journalists to fact-check, but the more Twitter became home to “fake news” and “fake facts”, the less people trusted the platform. After all, it’s much easier to trust a hard-to-fake video on Facebook Live (or Snapchat), than an easy-to-fake tweet.
A Cesspool of Trolls
Twitter also failed to act on the growing cesspool of trolling that the platform has become known for. In February 2016, one of Twitter’s most beloved power-users, Stephen Fry, quit the service. His open break-up letter puts it better than I ever could:
Oh goodness, what fun twitter was in the early days…We chattered and laughed and put the world to rights and shared thoughts sacred, silly and profane. But now the pool is stagnant. It is frothy with scum, clogged with weeds and littered with broken glass.
Stephen Fry was victim to huge amounts of love on Twitter, but also huge amounts of abuse. In 2016, this simply went too far.
With Twitter, for me at least, the tipping point has been reached and the pollution of the service is now just too much.
Despite banning revenge porn, issuing anti-harassment rules, and setting up a trust and safety council, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo still thinks “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls”. Users are still receiving death threats and rape threats. Yet on a platform that’s open to anonymous users, and to the wider public, Twitter fails to act forcefully enough to protect its users.
I feel so sad about Stephen Fry’s comments. there’s a lot I’d like to discuss but I don’t think Twitter is the right place. :-(((
— olly alexander (@alexander_olly) April 11, 2016
On Facebook, there are more options for combatting abuse. And while abuse isn’t unheard of on Snapchat, it’s (so far) less of a problem than on Twitter.
It’s no wonder Twitter is struggling to attract new users.
Why is Snapchat Succeeding?
Twitter may be getting a lot wrong, but for many, the appeal of Snapchat still seems elusive. Even Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel struggles to explain concisely what Snapchat is. If you still don’t get the appeal, sign up to Snapchat, then follow these Snapchat accounts to learn what it’s all about.
Yet despite its difficulty to grasp at first, Snapchat is getting a lot right.
The Attention Economy
The value of social media is largely based on the amount of attention a social platform can extract from its fans. Facebook’s pretty good at this. Twitter is terrible. Meanwhile, Snapchat is incredible. This is largely due to the structure of how Snapchat works.
Each snap posted to Snapchat has a lifespan of only 24 hours. After that, it’s deleted. This introduces a sense of urgency, and compels users to addictively check Snapchat to ensure they don’t miss any worthwhile snaps. (Perhaps Twitter should introduce self-destructing tweets?)
This transient nature of snaps permits Snapchat users to be more authentic. To think less about what they’ll look like. To show a #nofilter life.
Tweets, on the other hand, are notoriously hard to delete. They can be used against you years into the future. And therefore, they are highly filtered, and carefully crafted, resulting in a more filtered view of those you are following.
More Curation of Content
To combat the feeling of drowning in tweets, Twitter half-heartedly launched Moments. This is a space of popular, curated tweets showing todays news stories from various angles. In theory, it was a good move, but in reality, it was a flop.
Snapchat, on the other hand, has turned curating content into one of the main focuses of its business.
Snapchat’s employees in its Venice, California, headquarters and its New York City offices curate and release Stories every single day—covering sports matches, music festivals, and world events, as well as creating travelogues. (Fast Company)
Snapchat doesn’t just curate individual stories, though. Within the app’s “Discover” tab, Snapchat has curated a team of publishers, each publishing their own Millennial-centric, exclusive content, onto Snapchat. We’re talking companies like Cosmo, Buzzfeed, Esquire, and Vice. If the content they’re producing doesn’t resonate with Snapchat’s audience, they’re fired.
All of this adds up to create a platform which doesn’t drown the user with too many irrelevant updates. There are just a few, quality channels to choose from, plus a few Snapchat accounts of your own choosing. It’s hard to become overwhelmed with this setup.
Owning Live Events
Twitter still believes a large chunk of its future lies in live events, but its expansion into that industry has been far too slow. Facebook is making that move, too. And so is Snapchat.
The one thing that will dictate which of these platforms wins the live events space contest will be which platform corporations will choose to promote their live events on. With Twitter’s dismally low level of interaction and click-through rates, it’s unlikely to come out on top.
This takes us back to the story of Snapchat’s success at last year’s VMAs. Neither Facebook, nor Twitter has seen success like this. Not only did 12 million people tune into that live Snapchat story, but MTVs Snapchat account received over 25 million views, too.
According to Snapchat, more people already watch college football on Snapchat, than on TV. A large chunk of this success is thanks to Snapchat’s Our Story feature…
Which lets users attending specific live events submit pictures and videos through the app to a curated collection or Story. Those collections are made available to all Snapchat users, regardless of their location at a given moment or who they follow, in near real-time.
The nearest thing Twitter has to compete with this is hashtags. Tsk.
Is Twitter Facing an Existential Crisis?
Twitter’s dream of being the center of citizen journalism is being dashed by Facebook, and it’s dream of owning live events is being stifled by Snapchat.
Unfortunately, Twitter seems unable to respond in any meaningful way. It simply can’t keep up with Snapchat’s rapid release of popular features. Like with LinkedIn, it’s momentum is gone, and users are becoming frustrated with a service that’s failing to provide much, if any, value.
That’s not to say Twitter will go bust over it’s competition with Snapchat. Twitter will likely remain as the sluggish horse that it is. The last bastion of small talk between older groups of friends and communities of geeks. A hideout for people who aren’t yet ready for a world reliant on short-form video snaps. An easy way for millions of companies to automatically promote their brands.
Either way, expect an exodus of marketers from Twitter to Snapchat. And expect Snapchat to become more of a cultural influence than you were ever prepared for.
What are your thoughts? Am I being too harsh on Twitter? Will Snapchat fail to be as big as many are predicting? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits:social networking by DisobeyArt via Shutterstock