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Twitter's Tightrope: Keeping Current Users Happy While Adding Lots Of New Ones

The social network needs to appeal to people who don't use it, without turning off those who already love it.

Twitter's Tightrope: Keeping Current Users Happy While Adding Lots Of New Ones

[Illustration: Christopher DeLorenzo]

In most contexts, 310 million is an impressively large number. But when it comes to Twitter—which has that many monthly active members—Wall Street sees it as a problem.

That's because investors instinctively benchmark Twitter against Facebook, which has more than 1.65 billion monthly users and is still growing. It also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, all of which are also big and booming.

Twitter's challenge, then, is to keep those 310 million people happy, while simultaneously reimagining itself to attract a whole lot more people. And it's not just about scaling up so that nobody sees it as a 98-pound weakling in comparison to Facebook. The company also has to keep its eye on a surging Snapchat, which recently passed it in daily users.

Herewith, a look at Twitter's current users, the ones it wouid like to attract, and the factors that the company must keep in mind as it aims to please them both.

Psychological Profile

Current Users
Skittish. The Twitter faithful are prone to freak out over change—or even the specter of it (see #RIPTwitter)—which helps explain why the service has long evolved at a pace that’s leisurely by Internet standards.

Future Users
Intimidated. Twitter has a persistent reputation for scaring off newbies before they’ve figured out the intricacies of its interface, whom to follow, and racked up enough followers themselves to feel like they’re part of a community.

By the Numbers

Current Users
Many of Twitter's 310 million users are highly engaged. But in the last quarter, it added only 3% more new active members than a year prior, which suggests that it’s found its tribe in its present form.

Future Users
Twitter needs many more eyeballs which it can monetize with ads. Fairly or not, Wall Street measures it against Facebook’s 1.65 billion users (not to mention its also-thriving Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp services).

How Twitter Caters To Them

Current Users
Rather than jettison Twitter’s 140-character limit, the company has decided to stop counting photos, @names, and other elements against the total. CEO Jack Dorsey says that the limit is "a good constraint for us."

Future Users
Many recent changes aim to help casual users get more out of Twitter, such as smarter recommendations for whom to follow and the Moments section of curated news. Even people who aren’t logged in now have a richer experience.

Long-Term Project

Current Users
Members have complained for a while that Twitter doesn’t do enough to combat abuse: especially harassment of female users. It now has a Trust and Safety Council and has beefed up tools for reporting trolls, but more work remains to be done.

Future Users
Video! Twitter has started embedding live streams from its Periscope app in users’ feeds, has a research team working on real- time image recognition, and will broadcast 10 NFL games next season.

What To Watch

Current Users
Despite many would-be Twitter killers—hello, Peach!—the company still has no rival for real-time chatter. And users may be more adaptable than they think: Only 2% shut off the feature that pushes the best tweets to the top of their feeds.

Future Users
Twitter’s best efforts to improve its approachability may simply not be enough to ignite growth. It’s a koan worthy of a tweet: Is a Twitter that appeals to vastly more people still Twitter?

A version of this article appeared in the July/August issue of Fast Company magazine.

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