Twitter, the much-loved microblogging service that has already done so much to revolutionise reporting, is growing up.
From its infancy as a means to exchange concise, to-the-point messages to its current status as a powerful communications medium and news source in its own right, Twitter has been shaped by the needs of its users into something completely new and very exciting.
However, at some point, Twitter has to grow up, and someone has to pay for the party.
Advertising is the obvious path, and it has just announced it is set to raise $1bn in ad revenue next year. Nonetheless, it’s clear that the service can use its unique position to bring more than just an ad model to the table. And that’s just what they’re starting to do.
Let’s go through some of the changes announced within the past few weeks.
The old logo was a comforting thing; a slightly podgy chap with a friendly tuft of hair, cruising at a steady altitude. As a colleague said, "you could see yourself having a drink with him".
But Twitter’s brand isn’t about just hanging out with friends anymore. It has a more than legitimate claim to underpinning a whole new way of peer-to-peer communication at a global scale.
Responses to the Arab Spring and Japanese tsunami were heavily informed by insiders Tweeting to the outside world; information is cleaned and filtered through and by the listening crowd. The service has been a great enabler of civilian journalism and awareness campaigns alike.
The slick new logo, simplified and ascending, is a reaction to this - a conceptual execution of a promise both massive and uplifting. In a way, it’s almost noble.
It’s easy to write the change off as purely cosmetic, but make no mistake: Twitter is stating its vision.
"There comes a point where a partner can start to look like a competitor if you tilt your head the right way." So says Matthew Ingram in an insightful article on GigaOm.
The point Ingram makes is that this is not just a livestream of Tweets, as a hashtag usually is. Nor do the Tweets necessarily have to include the tag.
Rather, this is an editorialised aggregation: someone is pulling the levers on this one, to the effect that the feed becomes a rolling, on the tarmac newsfeed with thousands of contributors.
The potential for covering events is clear; the branding and advertising opportunities even more so.
This one’s been around for a while now, but Twitter’s polished up embed feature does a great job of enabling reporting on Tweets - already a noticeable trend in modern news - while keeping everything just so, and bringing in more users.
In the same vein, Twitter has also just announced improved Facebook integration - crossposting Tweets now retains rich media, which is a much-improved execution.
This sort of cross-pollination again shows that Twitter doesn’t necessarily see itself as a direct competitor.
Instead, it’s working on building the value of its own unique services in conjunction with the unique services of others.
This is where we find the most relevance to the world of paid media. Twitter recently enabled tracking via its widget , with the aim of offering better suggestions of whom to follow.
This makes a lot of sense, and there’s already been a noticeable improvement - and less repetition - in its suggestions.
It’s a smart move: this may mean the end of ‘Beliebers’ polluting topics for everyone else, while avoiding the thorny issue of impairing the freedom of expression Twitter is actively supporting.
However, this tracking and personalisation is clearly aimed at capturing data, and for wider use than Twitter is necessarily letting on.
Sure, it will be an important part of audience acquisition and retention, but Twitter is also slowly arming itself with the tools it needs to offer advertisers better targeting.
I’ve always called Twitter a Contextual Broadcast Platform, and not just because I like acronyms. It struck me that its chief value was in the self-selection of a user’s interests - which is a step above the relatively throwaway action of Facebook’s ‘Like’.
What Twitter has built is a platform upon which communities of strong shared interests can flourish, directed by influential voices.
As a marketer, reaching this kind of committed, talkative community is - when done in the right way - an obvious win.
What Twitter seems to be doing is gearing itself, at an appropriately cautious pace, to offer marketers the tools and packages with which to reach these interest blocs, while cultivating the technology on the back end to better define the end user.
If they can pull it off, they might be looking at a bit more ad revenue than $1bn.