Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed

Welcome back, @jack !!

The news yesterday that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is stepping down from that leadership role next month has attracted widespread commentary and opinion, not least on Twitter itself.

There’s credible opinions that Costolo is going because he hasn’t evolved Twitter as many observers and critics expected or believe he should have. Indeed, the stock market greeted yesterday’s announcement with a 10 percent rise in Twitter’s share price at one point.

An analysis in the Guardian today – you can read the full story below – is a pretty good assessment of a real predicament confronting Twitter, not only from an investor’s perspective but also from that of users and marketers.

[…] Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth $50.73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

Yet there’s a more fundamental element that needs attention – what is Twitter?

[…] who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Those questions aren’t new at all. Even though how Twitter itself talks about what Twitter is has become more clear in the past year or so, is it how users, marketers, etc, see Twitter?

Our mission: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

I’m not so sure. As a Twitter user since 2006, I’m often asking that question myself even though I’m more than happy to continue my thinking out loud and occasional engagement with others on the platform. I don’t have massive personal expectations of Twitter beyond the implicit simplicity behind that mission statement (but I have a different view if I put on my marketer’s hat).

Yet maybe Twitter’s not entirely sure about that either – the mission statement is slightly different on Twitter’s investor relations page.

Twitter strives to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

Maybe change is afoot already: Twitter also announced yesterday that the 140-character limit on direct messages will be changed to a whopping 10,000 characters. Note this is for DMs only – the 140-character limit for regular tweets remains. For now, at least.

While that news will be appealing to many who will relish the opportunity of penning short stories to DM to their friends, I fear it also opens the door to push marketing – whether you like it or not – on a grand scale.

In any case, might Costolo’s departure herald a pivot of sorts in Twitter’s next steps with the (re)appointment of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as interim CEO while Twitter starts a search for a permanent replacement?

There are all sorts of opinions about that.

[The Guardian report below is published here with permission via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.]


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed” was written by Jemima Kiss, for theguardian.com on Friday 12th June 2015 09.41 Europe/London

It says something about the extraordinary scale of social platforms when a technology behemoth with 302m active users every month can be seen as failing to achieve its potential. Yet that is exactly why it appears that Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, now has to go from the company’s top post.

In after-hours trading following the sudden announcement on Thursday, Twitter stock briefly fluttered up 8% higher. It was a reflection of the uneasy feelings from investors towards a man who fell under their increased and ultimately poisonous scrutiny as he navigated the social networking firm through its public offering in November 2013, having been CEO since he took over from Evan Williams in October 2010.

Despite being a very different product serving a very different audience, Twitter is often compared to Facebook – and often unfavourably. Therein lies an identity crisis of sorts.

For Twitter’s investors the concern was less about user numbers than the growth and aggressiveness of the company’s online advertising. While Costolo was popular with many staffers for bringing structure and co-ordination to a chaotic young company, and took it to a market capitalisation of .4bn, he also oversaw the process of risk and uncertainty in pushing towards a brand new space.

Costolo and Jack Dorsey, who now takes over as interim CEO, have both insisted that the move was not connected to Twitter’s recent financial results – which saw those user numbers grow just 4.86% – so much as a decision made purely by Costolo himself, as a capstone to discussions that had been going on since last autumn.

Right now Twitter is in danger of becoming a niche product: it is beloved by journalists (guilty) and marketers, yet viewed with confusion by mainstream consumers.

Where the selective friendship groups of Facebook make sense (to varying degrees), Twitter’s public face can be more intimidating. On the other hand, the 140-character simplicity of Twitter’s platform and the potential to be the “civic square” of popular debate offers just as much value and, usually, less flatulent conversations.

In an era of endless feeds and the digital burden of email and obligatory posts from friends, Twitter’s brevity and ambience is a welcome change; what you miss is just missed – not mourned, nor added to a tedious, ever-increasing pile like email.

But in focusing its business Twitter has made some strategic decisions, such as closing off access to selected third parties – Instagram at one point, Meerkat at another, and earlier to a wider stream of third-party developers. Twitter was under pressure to protect its valuable audience and its scale, and in doing so cut off the community that helped it grow.

All of which left many users and especially those investors wondering: who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth .73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

For a young public company those numbers are sounding more and more like a death knell. For investors, Twitter’s plans – and Costolo carried the can for this – have not confidently set out its future. Chris Sacca, a major investor, wrote an insightful essay on the company’s challenges: “Twitter has failed to meet its own stated user growth expectations and has not been able to take advantage of the massive number of users who have signed up for accounts and then not come back. Shortcomings in the direct response advertising category have resulted in the company coming in below the financial community’s quarterly estimates.

“In the wake of this Twitter’s efforts to convince the investing community of the opportunity ahead fell flat. Consequently the stock is trading near a six-month low, well below its IPO closing day price, and the company is suffering through a seemingly endless negative press cycle.”

But he says Twitter “has boldness in its bones” and that it can improve by making the service easier for new users, more supportive for users intimidated by the site, and by making it feel less lonely.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Sprinklr raises $46m to build out an omnichannel offering: Experience Cloud

Empowered Customers

“Omnichannel” is a word to get used to as I expect we’ll hear this buzzword more and more as the technical marketing term to describe something relatively simple: the seamless customer experience. More on that in a minute.

It’s a word used in much of the media reporting on two announcements from enterprise social media firm Sprinklr yesterday, the first being that it had raised $46 million in new investment funding to value the company at $1.17 billion.

As Fortune magazine notes in its report, it’s a significant valuation increase in a short amount of time as Sprinklr’s last round of investor funding in 2014 valued the company at $520 million.

It’s Sprinklr’s second announcement yesterday that caught my attention most – the launch of the Experience Cloud, what Sprinklr describes as “a complete, integrated, and collaborative technology infrastructure that connects all of a brand’s social touch points.” It’s what they raised the $46 million for – to launch the Experience Cloud.

You’ll probably need a bit more than that to fully understand what Sprinklr is introducing, so here’s a 73-second video from Sprinklr explaining the Experience Cloud.

Let’s go back to the word “omnichannel.”

If we are in a world that’s about experiences, as many say we are – and as many of our own experiences as customers illustrate we are – then understanding the landscape and the behaviours of those in or on it become ever more important, whether you’re a marketer or a customer.

As good a definition of omnichannel as any I’ve seen comes from Omer Minkara, Research Director leading Aberdeen Group’s Contact Center and Customer Experience Management research:

Omni-channel: While companies using this approach also use multiple channels to engage their customers they distinguish themselves through two additional factors: consistency and focus on devices involved within client interactions. These businesses are diligent to ensure that their customers receive the same experience and message through different channels and devices involved within their interactions with the firm. For example, a company that provides customers with the ability to engage it through a mobile app, social media portal and website would be focused to ensure that the look and feel as well as the messages they receive across each touch-point are seamless.

It’s a bit wordy, but I’d say it describes what Sprinklr’s new offering is about. The above-all keyword is “seamless” as one differentiator from “multi-channel.”

Add to that this piece from Stan Phelps in Forbes magazine:

The Experience Cloud promises a unified view of the customer. It allows brand to manage a multitude of touchpoints. The key question is speed. The problem for most organizations is that response times differ whether its social, phone, chat, e-mail, or snail mail. Sprinklr’s offering allows all of these channels to managed from one central hub. It allows brands to take a channel agnostic view with the ability to deploy resources and a workflow for each interaction. The biggest benefit is that response time can be greatly improved.

And in a marketing email coinciding with yesterday’s announcements, Sprinklr Founder and CEO Ragy Thomas says:

We believe every business must focus on delivering relevant experiences at every social touchpoint.

If you agree, then Experience Cloud may be for you.

Worth a look.

Check out Sprinklr’s infographic:

Disconnected Experiences and Connected Customers [Infographic]

Adding a face to the HSBC name could go a long way

HSBC coverage by the Guardian

Reputation is built on trust and, for HSBC Bank, that chain has been well and truly disconnected through the revelations of alleged dirty deeds in its private banking operation in Switzerland that say the bank helped a large number of its private-banking clients evade tax that have been paraded through the mainstream media over the past week.

Whatever the actual facts of the matter, HSBC is being pilloried left, right and centre as a financial institution that helps wealthy people dodge tax – a very popular topic for politicians in the UK at the moment, with a general election on May 7, 2015 (that’s less than 80 days away).

Not only that, the bank faces criminal charges in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina – although not in the UK – resulting from information revealed by whistleblower Herve Falciani, the former HSBC IT contractor who blew the lid on this scandal (and did that some years ago, according to BusinessWeek and Der Spiegel).

The political angle took centre stage mid week with HMRC, the government department responsible for the collection of taxes, robustly and publicly accused of failing its duty to pursue tax dodgers in this case, and tax avoiders – again, a popular topic for politicians.

As the week wore on and negative commentary intensified, there was little substantive word from HSBC about the issue other than reports on the bank saying that it all related to “unacceptable practices” within its Swiss operation that took place some years ago and which don’t reflect the bank’s way of doing business today.

Many newspapers have been publishing reports and other content that analyse the bank and its business practices that go way beyond this current scandal. Take the Guardian, for example, which has extensive coverage as the image at the top illustrates, all of which undoubtedly leave the reader with the strong feeling that HSBC is a secretive bank not to be trusted (at best), and one that is run by, employs, and does business with, people who behave like crooks (at worst).

The Economist has a good report on cases in recent years focused on data stolen to expose alleged tax evasion, and a candid assessment of HSBC’s current predicament:

The questions for the bank are whether it reacted quickly enough to tighten compliance with tax laws after governments started to investigate in 2010, and how much pain the scandal will cause.

And now the latest development this weekend – HSBC published a public apology in the form of ads in the national press on Sunday signed by Stuart Gulliver, CEO of HSBC Holdings plc, the UK-based holding company.

He says:

We would like to provide some reassurance and state some of the facts that lie behind the stories. The media focus has been on historical events that show the standards to which we operate today were not universally in place in our Swiss operations 8 years ago. We must show we understand that the societies we serve expect more from us. We therefore offer our sincerest apologies.

You can read the complete statement, embedded below:

HSBC Private Bank Announcement Feb 15, 2015

The document refers to another document the bank has published on an HSBC website entitled Progress Update – January 2015, a four-page report on this affair and some detail explaining what the bank has been doing “to prevent its banking services being used to evade taxes or launder money.”

I know nothing of HSBC’s crisis communication plan that surely is well into execution by now, nor the specific public or investor relations objectives of these documents this weekend.

Yet, I cannot see how two rather dry documents like this – PDFs at that: try reading those on your iPhone or BlackBerry – will do anything meaningful to address the assault on the bank’s reputation and the impending collapse of trust.

I’m reminded of the 2015 Trust Barometer published by Edelman last month, one of the findings in which clearly shows one industry sector where trust has declined for another year, even if by only one percentage point over 2014 – banks (page 16 in the report).

I’m also reminded of a point Edelman has made in almost every Trust Barometer since the first report was published fifteen years ago – the negative outcomes distrust in a company can create (and, in contrast, the benefits trust in a company can generate), as this chart illustrates (page 40 in the report).

2015 Trust Barometer page 40

If you want to really get attention to an apology in a crisis like this – especially one that embroils a company in an industry as reviled as financial services still is – you would want to present a face of humility, humbleness, honesty and authenticity, complemented by assurance, authority and the sense that “I will get things done.”

You may think such attributes come across in both documents. No, they don’t. It means a real face, not PDFs drummed up by the corporate writer which he or she affixes a facsimile of the CEO’s signature to one of them, with the other being wholly anonymous.

I’d like to see a bold move with the CEO on camera delivering the apology along with the plan on what he is doing to fix things, and with a promise to report progress in a similar manner. That means a video, posted on YouTube with open exposure to myriad sharing opportunities across the social web.

HSBC has a YouTube channel.

Even though the 2015 Trust Barometer shows yet again that CEOs generally are not trusted voices for a corporation (page 20 in the report), it’s a lot better than a sterile PDF.

The Apple iOS debacle and PR consequences

iOS 8.0.1 downloading

Whether you’re an iPhone user or not, you can’t have missed the headlines in recent days reporting on the fiasco resulting from Apple’s botched operating system update 8.0.1 for iPhones and iPads, released on September 24.

For the first time in some years, I have an iPhone courtesy of Arena Media, mobile operator Three UK‘s media agency, who sent me an iPhone 6 for review (that review is coming soon) which arrived on the 24th – the day of the 8.0.1 software update.

And so I did: allowed the iPhone to install the update. And, as you do, I tweeted that.

In pretty short order, I started getting tweets from Twitter friends about the problems with the update.

Sure enough, the iPhone 6 had lost its ability to make or receive phone calls and text messages, the problem at the heart of the matter, one that seemed to  affect only the two newest iPhones, the 6 and 6 Plus.

So for the past 36 hours or so, along with thousands of other iPhone 6 users, I’ve had a smartphone with no ability to use it as a phone. Luckily, in my case, it isn’t my primary phone and it otherwise functioned just fine including connectivity via wifi. And so I was able to kick its tyres, as it were, during the Simply SMiLE conference in London yesterday, using many of its features.

And what about fixing the botched update? How hard was Apple on the case?

I imagine this was being treated with the utmost importance by Apple. I visualized their engineers working round the clock to get a fix done in the shortest time possible.  And I guess the shortest time possible was the 36 hours or so from 8.0.1 to the 8.0.2 fix that I saw appear in my iPhone 6 early this morning UK time.

ios802update

iOS 8.0.2 Learn More

And once the installation reached a successful completion, the iPhone 6 had its cellular capability restored and the fixes mentioned in the ‘Learn More’ text applied.

iOS 8.0.2 up to date

And all’s well that ends well, right? Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief. No doubt by this time next week, all this will be just a bad memory, a little one at that (although #BendGate is still ‘an issue’).

And what of Apple the company, one that is the maker of probably the most desirable tech gadgets on the mass market today? Has something gone a bit wrong there where we’ve seen a succession of missteps in recent months: the current issues with the iOS fiasco, for example, and celebrity nude pics in the iCloud a month or so ago?

I expect Apple will continue to feature high up in lists of the world’s best brands. I imagine the rosy glow of success will continue to embrace the company once more news and information emerge about Apple Watch and its launch next year.

So events such as I’ve mentioned may be just a blip on the PR radar to Apple, ones relatively easy to consider and address purely as issues to manage.

Yet I think such events have tarnished Apple’s reputation somewhat. The share price has fallen. The gloss has dimmed a bit on a company which has often in the past said that they make technology that just works.

Not this time, Mr Cook!

Apple share price

I believe there is a cumulative effect over time where things like this add up to a negative sum when it comes to trust and reputation. And, eventually, that will impact you, your products and services and your market position. Not to mention shareholder value.

Not a good place to be, Apple.

Sprinklr adds Branderati advocacy to its ‘social at scale’ offering

Sprinklr + Branderati

Enterprise social media company Sprinklr is certainly making big moves in the enterprise social space with news this week of another acquisition as the firm consolidates a credible position at the leading edge of the emerging business of enterprise-level social relationship infrastructure development.

Sprinklr adds a further dimension to its offering with the acquisition of Branderati, an advocacy influencer marketing firm, to give Sprinklr a major addition to its Social @ Scale product that manages the key and increasingly complex social channels of large companies.

Branderati’s service offering is focused on helping companies build their own advocacy networks on Facebook, Twitter and other social channels by enlisting fans and customers to market those companies, their brands, products and services.

In its news release announcing the deal, Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas said with 92 percent of consumers trusting recommendations from friends and family more than any form of advertising, “advocacy now must take a more central role, not only in marketing but also in the overall business strategy.” Thomas added:

Branderati has unlocked the key to sustained brand advocacy at scale and having their technology and know-how on board will mean big things for our clients.

The news release also includes some interesting metrics about Sprinklr as it now is:

Sprinklr now employs more than 500 employees in five countries and serves more than 650 enterprise brands worldwide, including:

  • Four of the top five U.S. banks
  • Three of the top six insurance companies
  • Three of the top seven hotel chains
  • Four of the top six retailers
  • Tech titans such as Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, and Dell

With Branderati marking the firm’s third acquisition this year, Sprinklr has doubled in size in numbers of people. Sprinklr raised $40 million investment capital in April. Now there’s more speculation about a potential IPO sometime very soon, even this year according to some opinions.

Whether an IPO is on the close horizon for Sprinklr or not, this acquisition looks a logical step for Sprinklr if you believe that social media will become an increasingly important element in the business strategies of large companies.

If you look at many large companies and what they’re doing with social media and social channels – just check the four names mentioned above – it seem quite clear to me that a firm that can offer a holistic approach to social at scale – two very key words – is in a pretty good place today.

Defining Twitter by more than the numbers

Twitter user growth

Twitter reported its financial results for the second quarter 2014 this week:

  • Q2 revenue of $312 million, up 124% year-over-year
  • Q2 net loss of $145 million and non-GAAP net income of $15 million
  • Q2 GAAP EPS of ($0.24) and non-GAAP EPS of $0.02
  • Q2 adjusted EBITDA of $54 million, representing an adjusted EBITDA margin of 17%

Depending on which media report or commentary you read, it’s either an unimpressive financial performance, or a strong performance to silence critics.

Either way, a common view in mainstream media reports is that the results exceeded financial analysts’ expectations.

One other significant element in the earnings announcement is growth in the number of users, as the Financial Times chart above shows – a consistent increase every quarter since mid 2010 to arrive at today’s number of 271 million average monthly active users, an increase of 24 per cent over the same period last year.

The combination of financial results that exceed expectations and continuing user growth are facts that the stock market and investors like. Indeed, the FT’s report includes a bottom-line statement:

[…] Shares rose to $51.25 in after-hours trading, the highest price since Twitter reported its first results as a public company in February, prompting the stock to plummet. The stock is almost double the price at which Twitter listed last year.

One other aspect I find interesting relates to what Twitter is, ie, how people now describe Twitter.

In media reports, you’ll see it described variously as a “micro-blogging service” – that moniker arose in the very early days of Twitter – or a “social-networking service,” both labels used in a BBC News report. It’s a “social network,” says the Telegraph. The FT calls it a “messaging platform” while The Wall Street Journal says it’s a “social media company.”

And Twitter? How does the company describe itself? From the ‘About’ paragraph in the earnings report:

Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) is a global platform for public self-expression and conversation in real time. By developing a fundamentally new way for people to create, distribute and discover content, we have democratized content creation and distribution, enabling any voice to echo around the world instantly and unfiltered. The service can be accessed at Twitter.com, via the Twitter mobile application and via text message. Available in more than 35 languages, Twitter has 271 million monthly active users. For more information, visit discover.twitter.com or follow @twitter.

Compare that to the mission statement on the Twitter corporate page:

Our mission: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

And note the latest user metrics on that page:

  • 271 million monthly active users
  • 500 million Tweets are sent per day
  • 78 percent of Twitter active users are on mobile
  • 77 percent of accounts are outside the U.S.
  • Twitter supports 35+ languages
  • Vine: More than 40 million users

Clear?