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?

The art of the business tweet

Wednesday

A question I used to hear a lot from people in business is “How do I tweet?” Today, that question has evolved into “How do I tweet effectively for my business?”

The response is quite a bit deeper than answering the question purely in terms of writing out a text in 140 characters or less and hitting ‘tweet.’ Participating on Twitter is as much about listening to what people are saying as it it about adding your tweet to the conversation. Twitter itself has some great how-tos and tutorials.

It’s also about what to say and when to say it, two topics that are the focus of a neat video that Twitter has just published. Simple in its concept and execution, this video is one of the best I’ve seen that will give you a good and clear sense of some simple steps you can follow that will give you confidence in using Twitter effectively in your business communication.

The video will help you understand these five key points:

  1. Make a plan: what’s your goal and how will you measure its success?
  2. Be clear on who your primary audience is: in this case, your customers.
  3. Create a calendar: decide what you’ll tweet on which day.
  4. Think about what you’ll tweet: is the content relevant to your audience?
  5. When people in your community respond or ask questions, make sure you reply.

And the best advice of all:

How you tweet and how you respond to your followers matter as much as face-to-face interaction. So be friendly, be helpful and be yourself.

Using Twitter effectively in business may not be a science. But it is an art.

Twitter eight years on

Public. Real-Time. Conversational. Distributed.

Today marks the eighth anniversary of Twitter, the communication platform that is globally ubiquitous today, the eleventh most-visited website in the world.

From co-founder Jack Dorsey‘s first tweet on this day, March 21, in 2006, the number of active users of the service now exceed 240 million per month worldwide who tweet in more than 35 languages, with over three-quarters of people now using Twitter on a mobile device. Users range from the average Joe to celebrities, big brands, the mainstream media, presidents and PRs.

Who would have imagined Twitter would become such an integral part of the way in which a lot of people connect with others and with things that interest them?

Twitter monthly active users

The platform (for that is what Twitter is) has changed in these eight years from the cosy curiosity of public and private text messaging between geeky early adopters in a little social network out of San Francisco to a sophisticated service from a publicly-listed company that reported annual revenues of over $660 million in 2013, and that now lets you record and share short videos and lets governments and other organizations alert you to emergencies.

I first heard about Twitter in early summer of 2006 and joined in December 2006, mainly because I wanted to see for myself what others I knew were increasingly talking about. The service really began to take off after SXSW Interactive in March 2007.

From the communicator’s perspective, there’s no doubting the value of this tool today as a method of listening to what people are talking about – a foundational step in communication planning, something you do before you start talking. It also offers you terrific opportunities to engage with others once you do start talking.

In my view, there’s no right or wrong way to use Twitter from the business communication perspective, only effective or ineffective ways. And like all online communication tools and channels, Twitter is a mirror on the behaviours of people, reflecting what they say and do.

Just like the real world.

To mark this milestone, Twitter posted #FirstTweet, a nifty tool that lets you find your first tweet.

#FirstTweet

Mark your milestone.

Seven years on Twitter

Today marks the seventh year I’ve been on Twitter. And this post marks that milestone to the minute as I signed up and posted my first tweet at 12.48pm UK time on December 7, 2006.

7 years, 68.6K tweets and 12,160 followers later, I see Twitter as part of the online plumbing, as it were – a tool, a channel, all things to all 300 million of us now who use it, whether to listen or to talk, to engage in dialogue or simply to broadcast in the manner of behaviours of old when it was just the media who could do that.

Quite a few milestones mark these seven years, in different ways for different people and events.

A History of Twitter [Mashable]

Twitter is word of mouth writ as large or as small as you want to make it.

I wonder where we will be in seven more years.

Related posts:

Know where the legal line lies in what you can and cannot say online

Attorney General's OfficeIf you need further evidence that social media is now very much part of the fabric of contemporary society, it comes in the form of an initiative by the Attorney General’s Office designed “to help prevent social media users from committing a contempt of court.”

Attorney General for England and Wales Dominic Grieve, QC, MP – the British government’s senior legal adviser – announced a change in government policy today about ‘not for publication’ advisories issued to the mainstream media designed to make sure that a fair trial takes place and warn people that comment on a particular case needs to comply with the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

[...] Blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean that individuals can now reach thousands of people with a single tweet or post. This is an exciting prospect, but it can pose certain challenges to the criminal justice system.

In days gone by, it was only the mainstream media that had the opportunity to bring information relating to a court case to such a large group of people that it could put a court case at risk. That is no longer the case, and is why I have decided to publish the advisories that I have previously only issued to the media.

In other words, anyone with an internet connection can now read publicly what previously went privately only to a small group.

You’ll be able to read future advisories on the Attorney General’s Office website and via Twitter – just follow @AGO_UK.

In his announcement, the Attorney General added:

[...] I hope that by making this information available to the public at large, we can help stop people from inadvertently breaking the law, and make sure that cases are tried on the evidence, not what people have found online.

It’s a good initiative as raising awareness that leads to better understanding will provide people with the opportunity to act within the law and, thus, avoid themselves being in the dock.

It may surprise you (or not) that quite a number of people seem to believe that you can talk about anything online via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook with impunity. Say what you like, it seems to be: there is little consequence from a quick tweet or status update.

Even in professions like public relations, awareness and understanding of what you can and cannot say publicly on social networks from a legal point of view is pretty low, as evidenced by an informal quiz during the Don’t Risk Litigation: Know Your Social Media Law session at the CIPR’s The Public Relations Show 2013 in London last week.

I participated in that session and took part in the quiz, along with the other 50 or so session attendees, being one of only five people left standing by the end of it, ie, we had the correct answers.

You can listen to that session including the quiz in this CIPR podcast:

(If you don’t see the audio player above, listen on SoundCloud.)

In the past, the Attorney General has issued around five advisories per year although the announcement notes that ten have been issued so far in 2013.

Whatever the number, make sure you’re keeping current with the law and social media, especially if you’re a communicator whose clients (or employer) would expect you to know where the line lies between what you can and cannot say online.

Related posts:

Beware lack of Plan B in a Twitter hashtag chat #AskJPM

Tomorrow's Q&A is cancelled...

Using Twitter as a channel to engage in public conversation is a tactic that’s been employed by a number of large organizations in high-profile examples over the past few weeks.

Focused around a hashtag – a word or single-word phrase starting with the ‘#’ symbol – such ‘tweet chats’ can be an effective method of articulating perspectives and opinion on topics of interest to you and your audiences, be they customers, investors, employees, the mainstream media, etc.

They also let you surface issues that interest your audiences as well as concern them, serving as useful barometers of opinion to complement other or formal methods of analysing online opinion related to your company, people in your company, your brand(s) and topics that interest you.

A tweet chat can be hugely useful in creating and strengthening connections between an organization, its people and tweeters and their communities out there as the Bank of England experienced recently.

But is it very much a double-edged sword where things can very quickly spin out of anyone’s control – no matter how hard you try to exercise control – as British Gas and Ryanair discovered last month; and as investment bank JP Morgan found out to its cost last week when it tried to conduct a tweet chat around the hashtag #AskJPM.

It was a classic example of being not in control of the message where it was hijacked during a relentless, unceasing storm of hostile tweets using that hashtag.

Yet it’s deeper than that. It seems to me that the exercise was one of futility for JP Morgan. While I have no idea of the specific and measurable goal they set out to achieve by holding such a tweet chat, it’s clear there was no structured plan that included one all-important element:

What is our Plan B if things go awry? If we get aggressive questions or hostile opinions about our business, corporate and individual behaviours, our culture, our plans, anything that isn’t what we want everyone to talk about, namely a Q&A session with Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee on career advice and leadership?

Within minutes of announcing the tweet chat, the hashtag was overwhelmed with hostile and amusing/sarcastic tweets in almost equal measure, causing the bank to throw in the towel on the exercise.

But the reputation hit was immediate as mainstream media around the world revelled in stoking JP Morgan’s discomfort and highlighting its failure – gleefully in many cases – with commentary and opinion that has one thing in common: portraying JP Morgan as totally clueless in its plans for using Twitter in this way.

#AskPJM media headlines

While this is a ‘good’ example of the consequences that may result through not having a Plan B (assuming there is a solid Plan A), there’s a more fundamental aspect of JP Morgan’s effort than that.

I would argue that a tweet chat for the reason understood – that of a Q&A with a senior executive of the bank – was probably a terrible idea given the landscape and climate surrounding big banks following the role many played in the financial crash of recent years; and the public hostility online about specific banks, such as JP Morgan.

(In contrast, take a look at the positive results the Bank of England experienced in its recent tweet chat. Although at the heart of the financial crisis in common with other central banks, this is a largely untarnished financial organization, enjoying positive sentiment partly due to a new man at the helm, Governor Mark Carney.)

It doesn’t matter whether such poor sentiment and hostile opinion of JP Morgan is justified or not. It doesn’t matter whether the criticism of JP Morgan and highlighting its apparent cluelessness is fair or not.

All that matters is that the organization ventured out onto the public social web to engage with people and quickly learned that the landscape they wished to survey is a pretty hostile one, for which they had no plan of defence, and have suffered a reputation hit that is still in the news (and will be in Google search results for a long time to come).

So the first question they should have asked was:

Is this tweet chat a good idea, or not?

And that should be the start of Plan A.

“Bad idea, back to the drawing board,” declared the JP Morgan official tweeter upon cancelling the event. I hope we see the outcome from that drawing board.

Meanwhile, if you want review JP  Morgan’s discomfort, take a look at “J.P.Morgan shows us how NOT to do Twitter #AskJPM,” an excellent Storify curation by Gabrielle Laine-Peters.

There is some genuine learning there.