Investors aren’t the only ones reconsidering the value of Twitter. Consultants who have long pushed their campaign clients to use the service to distribute native content and provide live updates to supporters on scheduling and message are also giving it a second look.
Frustration is growing over Twitter’s inability to match Facebook’s ad targeting, user growth and product evolution. Last year Twitter allowed Google to start searching its “firehose” of tweets. More recently, the company enabled GIF search in tweets.
It launched Moments, a feature that bundles top tweets around news events for easier viewing, and added polls and integrated Periscope feeds into users’ timeline.
But its strength in live video — “Twitter is live,” the company said in an April 26 letter to shareholders — is being eroded by Facebook Live. And its latest earnings, reported on Tuesday, caused a double-digit percentage drop in the company’s share price as executives revealed its average number of monthly users had climbed to 310 million. Facebook, meanwhile, announced it had 1.65 billion monthly users on Monday.
Now, some consultants are reconsidering how they use Twitter. Instead of jumping on the #TBT train or tweeting out their latest digital ad, these digital consultants say campaigns should look to the service for social media “listening.” Moreover, they call for ditching the idea of using it for getting their content or advertising in front of supporters.
“Everyone is struggling with Twitter right now – even the bigger campaigns,” said Beth Becker, a digital strategist on the left who specializes in social media.
She noted Hillary Clinton’s campaign had recently retweeted rival Bernie Sanders’ tweet about Donald Trump – a departure from the sniping that had typically gone on between staffers on both campaigns.
“But it’s not about retweets. It’s about genuine engagement,” she said. “If we start approaching Twitter as social scanning, it’s less about engagement.”
Becker said it’s time for campaigns to move away from using Twitter as a live portal or content distribution system. She pointed to the availability of live tweets in Google search results, and the lists and hashtags on the site as effective tools for social media listening. “I’m rethinking Twitter with the campaigns I’m working with,” she said. “There’s nothing better out there for your social listening and building conversations around that.
What is the country talking about? As opposed to having the conversation ourselves.”
Social media listening, or social media monitoring, is a popular service digital firms offer these days. In fact, GOP polling firm Echelon Insights has been offering a service called “Optimized Listening” that tracks popular issues on Twitter and ranks users on their influence.
While Facebook and Instagram are larger social media platforms, Ruffini told C&E after the service launched in summer in 2015, “the problem is there’s very little actionable political content being created on these platforms that we can get at. There’s a lot on Facebook, but we can’t really get at it the way we can the Twitter data.”
But Twitter, possibly as part of the Alphabet family, may soon offer the free equivalent, according to Becker, just as Facebook has undercut any number of traditional consulting services with its ad offerings.
Brian Ross Adams, another D-focused social media strategist, likes the idea of using it to listen in on conversations but shrugged off the suggestion that Twitter could increase in importance for campaigns.
“Twitter is fatally flawed and a dying platform,” he said. “Unless you are a big national figure like Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders or Beyoncé, it is very hard to have your Twitter messages seen by the people who follow you as their newsfeed is most likely overcrowded and chaotic.”
Still, he said the platform can be helpful to “name check” when the candidate goes to an event or organization by tweeting at the host’s handle. But that’s only slightly more useful to a campaign than checking in on Foursquare.
Ian Patrick Hines, a Republican digital strategist, is still a believer in Twitter’s power to reach influencers in the chattering class along with reporters and activists.
“But it’s less and less effective at growing a community around your campaign,” he said. “This partly is a result of how fantastic Facebook has become as a platform for finding, reaching, and converting supporters into donors and activists.
“Since 2012, Facebook has really embraced its role as the public square for online discourse, with Twitter in a distant second place. Everyone is on Facebook, which can’t be said for Twitter, and their targeting tools for both ads and organic content are unmatched.”
Vincent Harris isn’t convinced. He still backs Twitter for its content distribution power, but agrees it has potential as a sentiment analysis tool.
“The way Twitter is designed makes it very useful as content producers to push out creative and target the creative to first-party lists,” he said. “It also allows content producers to push out information to journalists and other political elites who use Twitter as their primary means of communications.”
Harris, who as the digital consultant on Rand Paul’s short-lived presidential campaign put the Kentucky senator on Periscope, disagreed with Adams’ assessment of Twitter as a dying platform.
“Twitter remains a very powerful force in politics and one that should be harnessed by all campaigns,” he said. “It's the main tool of the political class and influencers who create the news and are important to court.”