5 Ways Twitter Plans to Defend Itself Against Harsh Critics

New features aimed at the masses

  • Share
  • Read Later
Richard Levine / Demotix / Corbis

Twitter’s not flying quite as high as it was just a few days ago. Its first quarterly earnings report as a publicly traded company revealed that while Twitter is quickly growing its advertising business, it may be plateauing in terms of user base growth. The social network added just 9 million monthly active users in the fourth quarter of 2013, the smallest growth in users since 2010. The anemic figures sent the company’s stock tumbling nearly 25 percent Thursday, wiping out almost $10 billion in market value.

Now the tech darling has been put on the defensive. Twitter is hardly faces insurmountable odds—Facebook suffered similar blowback from Wall Street after its first poor earnings report, but it recovered and just closed at an all-time high on Friday. But CEO Dick Costolo and his will team will have to prove this year that they can transform Twitter into an experience that everyone enjoys, not just celebrities and media entities. Here’s a look at some of the changes Twitter plans to introduce this year to lure in new members:

Add Multimedia Features

Twitter added photo and video previews directly into users’ timelines in October, then added photos to its direct messaging service in December. In his earnings call with analysts last week, Costolo hinted that there would be further visual features added. “The 140 characters really becomes a caption to this much richer card,” he said. Social media users love being able to share photos—Facebook processes 350 million photo uploads each day—so making Twitter more visual could broaden its appeal. More images also present more opportunities to run valuable photo and video ads.

(MORE: Twitter Stock Tumbles on Slowing Growth)

Keep New Users Engaged

The vast majority of people that sign up for Twitter don’t actually use it very frequently. While the social network now boasts 241 million monthly active users, more than 1 billion accounts have been registered total, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company wants to make it easier for new users to quickly connect with friends. Right now it’s experimenting in New Zealand with forcing new mobile users to download its app instead of signing up via the web. The app allows Twitter to access a user’s phone contacts and quickly show them who else from their contacts list is on the social network.

Launch an E-Commerce Platform

Twitter has plans to launch some type of shopping platform soon. The company hired its first chief of commerce last summer, and documents obtained by Re/code show that Twitter has already developed an interface to allow users to buy products via a tweet. A Twitter retail service would open up another battlefront with Facebook, which has been experimenting with online retail for years. Selling products directly through tweets would also drive up the value of promoted tweets and other ad products as companies tried to hawk their wares on the social network.

Organize by Topics Instead of Chronology

Twitter’s rapid-fire torrent of content can be overwhelming for new users. Costolo said the company was going to make a greater effort to organize tweets by topics rather than just in chronological order this year. In 2012 Twitter launched a partnership with NASCAR to curate tweets around big races, and the company just launched a similar page to surface the most-shared photos of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Custom timelines, launched in November, also allow users’ to hand-pick the tweets to create a feed of content that’s more coherent than the regular chronological stream. Twitter will likely do more to make its posts easier to digest as the year progresses.

(MORE: The 7 Most Important Moments in Twitter History)

Keep Tinkering

When talking to analysts, Costolo stressed that the company wants to increase the pace of its product launches in 2014. Twitter has been experimenting with lots of other initiatives, such as sending users breaking news updates via direct message and informing them when lots of people in their network begin following a new account.

These changes may help Twitter jumpstart its user growth, but they also threaten to undermine the simplicity that made Twitter so appealing in the first place. The company’s challenge this year will be evolving a platform that more people want to use without scaring off the power users that generate so much of Twitter’s content.