In 2006, when Twitter was born, growth triumphed over all.
In that so-called Web2 era, safety was an afterthought, the value of data outweighed the right to privacy and advertising was a genius move to fast-harvest centralized data and productize people. This was not just the case for Twitter, but for all social media giants.
Fast forward 16 years and the world has changed. Privacy concerns, bots, trolling and toxicity have prevailed. Thirsty for civil discourse and data dignity, newer generations search outside social media for better means of digital living. The birth of Web3 has also given rise to a new era of digital equality with the democratization of access, influence and information and new ways to monetize.
Twitter’s partners – brands and publishers who once pumped content and advertising to fuel its growth – have taken note, and are building healthier online spaces and engaging experiences of their own around a community economy model.
Therefore, social media platforms, including Twitter, will no longer be the only internet gatekeepers. Twitter has a unique opportunity to reimagine its role in this future. And whether Elon Musk succeeds or fails, his takeover marks a pivotal moment in digital history and will serve as a valuable case study in the future of social media, unfolding in real-time, with the world watching.
Here's the playbook Twitter, and all brands, must follow to create a sustainable business model and a thriving community for today and tomorrow:
Strengthen privacy protections and user safety to build trust
The social media landscape has become rife with misinformation, privacy breaches, harassment and toxicity. This has led to a rapid erosion of trust that threatens the future of platforms like Twitter and has driven users to safer, healthier online communities.
To rebuild its reputation and repair its relationship with users and partners, Twitter should communicate the steps it’s taking to improve privacy protections and create a safer space for users.
Content moderation should be a central focus. Adopting more sophisticated mechanisms, setting stricter community guidelines, partnering with technology providers and embracing a fairness-by-design approach will signal to Twitter’s users and stakeholders that it’s taking privacy and safety seriously.
Despite some initial Tweets to the contrary, Musk might soon find that user and revenue growth requires more, not less, safety. This will allow Twitter to operate on the same playing field as brands and publishers – once customers; now competitors.
Build a first-party data strategy that prioritizes quality and insight.
More visible privacy policies and a more hospitable environment for civil conversations can be a foundation for increased user engagement and, as a result, first-party data collection.
But before Twitter starts collecting more data, it needs to clean up the data it has with an emphasis on quality and capturing valuable insights for advertisers. Musk has been rightly concerned about bots on Twitter. Spam is another problem that has deterred users and advertisers.
Twitter needs to quickly understand the identities of its real users and begin building accurate social graphs that compile signals that allow the platform and its advertisers to improve personalization and targeting.
Twitter’s new competitors arguably have a head start, having learned from the mistakes of social media giants and proactively invested in building brand experiences that aren’t reliant on cookies and device IDs, instead incentivizing users to voluntarily share first-party data.
Test monetization strategies and get started right away.
A focus on economic viability will push Twitter to reorient around monetization. Musk acknowledged that Twitter “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.”
In an open letter to advertisers, he set a new north star: “Twitter aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens your brand and grows your enterprise.” And just like publishers and brands, Twitter is testing other avenues including adopting subscription tools, building out new e-commerce capabilities and creating new models to monetize creators. Binance’s investment is an intriguing and powerful move that might set Twitter up for success as a super-app.
Today, Twitter is competing with its past partners, publishers and brands, to attract, retain and engage paying users who demand a safer space and data dignity. So regardless of what avenues the platform pursues, the pathways to Musk's monetization “North Star” necessitates the first two plays in this playbook.
The bottom line
It’s easy to blame Twitter’s accelerated decline on a series of obvious failures, but really, its current dilemma is a result of being outmoded by former customers that are increasingly less reliant on social media and have made incredible gains in building environments that are engaging and data rich.
To regain its footing and avoid becoming a relic of the past, Musk and Twitter will need to lead the way in excelling at this modern playbook.
Tiffany Xingyu Wang is the chief marketing officer of OpenWeb. This column first appeared on campaignlive.com.