I have an ongoing email thread with another SaaS app developer about how social networks are closing access to their data, APIs, and members, and its impact on third party apps such as Triberr. The discussion primarily focuses on Twitter, but applies to the other social networks and the Big G(oogle). Since it’s relevant to both the SaaS industry and our users, and drives business decisions for many apps, I wanted to share my thoughts and predictions.

We have a love / hate relationship with Twitter. Our app relies heavily on it (a bit too much in my opinion). Even after questionable moves this past year such as removing share countsit seems like the company is really making an effort to find its footing again in 2017. In fact, they recently gave their abuse policy a much-needed refresh, which will help in repairing its damaged reputation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do much for the bottom line. 

Something’s up with Twitter – whether it be good, bad, or ugly. I can’t pinpoint exactly what’ll transpire this year but Twitter did make some positive moves last year such as:

  • Loosening the 140 character limit (ex: replies, photos, links, and usernames do not count towards the limit)
  • Moments – Moments allows us to collect and curate Tweets to tell stories
  • Twitter Polls
  • Launching Engagement

Whether or not the above changes will help Twitter make more money and grow is yet to be determined. In the end, the metrics that will matter to investors will be growing the user base, MAUs (monthly active users), and profitability.

While such updates are well received by its user base, the following series of actions are concerning:

Twitter is For Sale

There was a lot of buzz in September 2016 when Twitter was for sale and several large companies were mentioned as suitors. Unfortunately, none of the companies were interested enough to make an offer – Google, Facebook, Apple, Disney, Salesforce, Verizon, Comcast. They all passed on a potential acquisition. No surprise – $18 billion for a company no one wants to buy is unjustifiable. Given its lack of growth and concerns about future earnings potential, the share price slid back to pre-rumor numbers.

Whine about Vine

05-twitter-prediction-vine

In October 2016, Twitter announced it would be shutting down Vine – the entire social video network. It seems some influencers tried to save Vine, but to no avail. In my opinion, Vine could’ve been Twitter’s answer to Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram, but it wasn’t executed well nor in a timely manner. Circumstances! As influencer marketing starts to become a channel for most brands, Vine is no more and their users previously driving billions of views have reluctantly shifted their audience to the competitors.

Layoffs

It’s always sad to hear about layoffs at any company. However, for Twitter, layoffs were inevitable after finding no buyers. It wasn’t shocking that Twitter had to layoff hundreds of their employees at the end of 2016, and lost some key personnel in the process. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil for sustainability and profitability as they admitted at the end of Q3-2016.

“The restructuring allows us to continue to fully fund our highest priorities, while eliminating investment in non-core areas and driving greater efficiency,”

The downsizing in Q4-2016 impacted 9% of its staff across sales, partnerships and marketing efforts. The hashtag – #TwitterLayoffs – may be quiet at the moment, but I think the hashtag will resurface again in 2017… sad 🙁

Twitter Dashboard Shutdown

On January 11, Twitter announced it will shutdown Twitter Dashboard – a tool used to manage business accounts – which gives businesses a suite of tools to track tweets, schedule posts, access analytics, monitor tweets about their brand or other keywords and more. With no alternate mentioned, the tool will officially shutdown in a few days on Feburary 3rd, 2017.

Why is this important? It was a tool specifically for businesses – ya know, actual companies with money to spend and advertise. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough traction to justify its continued maintenance and support. Worth noting is that it had only been launched 6 months prior to the shutdown announcement which should provide some insight into how quickly priorities changed in such a short timeframe at a massive company.

Fabric and Crashlytics

On January 18, Twitter quietly sold Fabric and Crashlytics to Google. These tools were used by developers to build better apps, understand their users, and grow their business. While it’s not a big deal for regular users, the sale signals Twitter’s lack of interest in maintaining or growing its developer ecosystem.

Say Goodbye to the Buy Button

Launched in 2014, you may have recently noticed the Buy Button is disappearing. Last year, Twitter disbanded their commerce team which made it clear that no further development was expected on the Buy Button. Now, it’s official. It pains me to see a revenue-generating feature being removed, but Twitter plans on focusing on action-based marketing such as website conversions and lead generation. I’m not entirely sure this will work in the noisy Twitter-sphere.

Periscope

Silence. Periscope lets you explore the world through the eyes of somebody else. Unfortunately, I rarely hear anyone talk about Periscope so I believe it’s going by the wayside soon to join Vine. Hopefully, it surprises me, and everyone else, and becomes a smash hit. I just don’t see it happening given the chronological pattern of events in the Twitter portfolio.

Closing Access to Data

Historically, Twitter does not have a great reputation with developer community. I’ve personally worked on applications that leveraged Twitter’s API only to find functionality suddenly unavailable or new limits imposed resulting in devaluing our apps. Here’s a summary of Twitter’s 10 year struggle with developer relations. Most notable are the removal of share counts, handling of oAuth updates, and the lack of analytics data for third party developers (unless you’re willing to pay thousands per month to Gnip for access). However, I don’t blame them for gradually being protective about their data as other social networks have done exactly the same by closing off parts of their APIs to only approved partners or apps.

In my opinion, social networks will continue to create a moat to prevent third parties from accessing their data which equates to less and less apps built on these platforms. The big social networks want to own your time! For example, Facebook has 50 minutes of your time – every day! And they certainly do not want you spending it on third party apps.

Why is this important to you? 

Since these networks have reached critical mass, there’s an obvious pattern and desire to build a moat around their network. This begs the question what will happen to third party apps that rely on these social networks?

  • Instagram already shunned developers at the onset by closing off most actions via its API to control the user experience. If you’re a startup focused on Instagram, you’re already dealing with a closed API that does not allow directly pushing posts to Instagram (must be done via their app).
  • Twitter removed shared counts and access to analytics data and puts it behind an enterprise subscription nobody can afford.
  • Facebook is tightening its API with regular releases each further limiting developers or requiring special permissions / app reviews.
    • As one user said: Facebook is “following in the footsteps of Instagram and Twitter in limiting data outflow when it no longer benefits them.”
  • Snapchat laid down the law on third party apps a while back.

The writing’s on the wall.

If you’re a company that depends on the social APIs, are you comfortable knowing the big networks can limit or close access at any time? I’m not. As developers, we have to be careful how much reliance our apps have on these companies. Users helped grow these giant social networks to the their current size and scale. Now that they’ve reached critical mass, they don’t need us. Therefore, we need to be careful not to put all our eggs in one basket.

If you’re building an online presence, the question to ask is who really owns it?

If you’re an influencer or blogger, does the demise of a single platform impact your earnings potential or traffic significantly? A million or many thousands of followers on any platform on the brink of disappearing is worrisome. The effort to build such an audience is time consuming and requires commitment.

Bottom line: Take steps towards owning your online presence and community (cough cough, ** tribe **).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how much you’ve invested into Twitter? and do you continue to do so?

Amazon, Please Help!

I believe that of all the companies that would be a worthy buyer, Amazon has the resources and ecosystem to actually do something with Twitter. Given their reach is already extending into a variety of areas:

  1. Media and Partnerships – The rollout of Amazon Prime Video competes directly with Netflix, and Twitter can help. Additionally, Twitter’s streaming and advertising partnerships with NFL and other giants can be leveraged by Amazon for all sorts of cross-marketing fun.
  2. Advertising – Other than their main site, Amazon doesn’t have a strong advertising channel to compete with Google and Facebook. Twitter could be that chip.
  3. Social – Amazon has no social presence whatsoever. Playing catch up to Facebook’s platform + Messenger, Google and Google+, and Microsoft + LinkedIn will not be fun starting from ground zero.
  4. News Content – From a news standpoint, Jeff Bezos owns Washington Post and it’s making progress going digital and growing subscribers. Twitter can provide a nice boost to solidify hockey stick growth.

It may sound ridiculous but I truly believe this acquisition would be a win-win.

Final Thoughts

Overall, whatever decisions Twitter makes this year will either make or break the company. I’m hoping it finds its stride and starts making money – after all, 10 years is long enough to figure it out. Better yet, Amazon can play hero and saves them from bankruptcy. On the bright side, the fact that Twitter is going to be a much friendlier place this year is a great way to start 2017.

Let me know your thoughts below, and let’s all hope that Twitter perseveres through these rough times.

  • Pamela Morse

    wow, much to consider…much of this is news to me!!! Thank you.

  • Hi Charlie, I do love Twitter and would hate to see them go. I spend most of my social time there but have my own blog. All of the social networks are like rental property. We never know when they may begin to charge or go away all together. Never put all your eggs in one basket!

  • Glad it was helpful Pamela. Times are changing and these are the discussions our team has behind the scenes to future-proof ourselves. Cheers!

  • Agree with your analogy that the social networks all like rental property. You get value from the networks during the “rental period” until suddenly they cease the property under eminent domain with no compensation for your efforts. 🙂 It’s the calculated risk we all take.

    Like you said, building your audience and brand on your own blog is key (though, Mr. Google dictates a lot of that traffic nowadays). And if you can find other channels that allow you to protect the hard work and effort put into your blog and community, that’s gold!

  • Fantastic article Charlie. I think the abuse and trolling has gone way too far and makes it much harder for them to get acquired. You have a unique perspective on this too. I shared this one over on Inbound. Hope that helps spread the word.

  • triberr

    Thanks Ileane for the comment. Agree with you that it’ll be difficult for Twitter to find an acquirer. I think folks like you are already doing the right thing and diversifying your online presences elsewhere.

    Thanks for the extra effort in submitting the article to Inbound. Much appreciated!!!

  • The fall of twitter was its noise. They never had a way to filter out the noise and find what was relevant. While there were numerous ways of searching and filtering, none of that was a trustable method.
    I had fallen in love with the concept of expressing yourself in 140 characters, when Twitter started but slowly lost interest.
    Somehow I feel that Twitter was never planned to be a revenue generating platform. It was after the unexpected popularity Twitter witnessed, that people started thinking of ways to generate revenue. And that is when they realized that 140 characters was too short to make money from. But by the time they could introduce variations and diversify, there were other social media sites that had planned ahead and were running ahead of them. And the result – they couldn’t win the race.
    I will surely miss the platform, if it ever shuts down.

  • Hey Dilip – Your comment resonates with me:
    “Somehow I feel that Twitter was never planned to be a revenue generating platform.”

    Guess Medium wasn’t either. After raising $132MM dollars, they’re still figuring it out.
    https://blog.medium.com/renewing-mediums-focus-98f374a960be#.pbjqmjsvh

    Though, I’ll be the first to admit that generating revenue in an environment where everyone wants everything for free (i.e., the internet) is super difficult. Somehow, these companies have to pay the bills. We’re in the same boat.

    Thanks for the comment. Cheers.

  • I used to enjoy each tweet in my timeline. Now it is filled with noise. The average user is accustomed to filtering out hype visually or with tools. Most of the follows I get are robots that disengage after reciprocal follow or not. I still use it but don’t expect much unless tweeting to known members. Celebs have better success.

    I have tried promoted tweets with lousy ROI. Overall, it seems we shouldn’t bet the farm on Twitter. My Tweets earned 12.9K impressions over a 28 day period. By contrast my Pinterest account analytics report 2.2 million avg. monthly viewers of my pins with 47K avg. monthly engaged and 30K daily views of pins from my website.

  • triberr

    Thanks for the comment. I agree with you that there’s just too much bot traffic on Twitter and we all hope that our tweets are seen by real and relevant people. It’s just the nature of the internet that some bad apples will always try to manipulate and take advantage of the network. We fight a lot of spam both manually and through automation inside of Triberr as well. It’s a never-ending cycle.

  • İMGE TERCÜME

    It is really interesting to send a message to everyone with twitter.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cd02fd1eb5827b6701974e8cc8749c1541b8d0ca07990cf67ce065bb6aaafdcb.jpg

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