While I still believe Twitter shows great value – and continue to recommend it to clients – there are troubling signs ahead for the company. I’m not the only one worried. Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion wrote a post this morning predicting that Twitter was close to jumping the shark. There’s no doubt that Twitter’s growth has exploded since the fall – a staggering seven million users on the service and its now the third most visited social network after Facebook and MySpace.
But there are 6 warning signs that Twitter may be in danger of falling off a cliff. This isn’t to say that Twitter won’t ultimately succeed or that the service shouldn’t be used. It’s important to remember that social media is constantly evolving and moving forward (for example, one trend to keep an eye on is for an explosion in live streaming video through services like Qik).
Here are the warning signs that Twitter may have already peaked:
1. Invasion of the celebrities.
I don’t mean to keep picking on Ellen DeGeneres, but her use of Twitter is a worrisome trend. She has been on the service since March 10 and her stated goal is to collect one million followers. She currently has 196,286 despite only following 14 other people and “tweeting” just 33 times. Her updates are either pleas for more followers, ads for Halo (her pet food product) or her show, or links to photographs of herself. She has used @reply twice – and even after posting questions never engages directly with her followers.
This is an emerging trend for the influx of celebrities and big brands on Twitter. They use Twitter as another marketing channel – with no effort to communicate or engage with their audiences. The whole point of Twitter is to connect with other people. If celebrities and big brands start to use the service as just another one-way communication channel – Twitter will lose much of its value.
2. No one is actually on Twitter.
The Twitter platform is amazing, but the interface is terrible. The vast majority of Twitter users are using other products and services to post and retrieve their information from Twitter. The reason is because services like TweetDeck, BeTwitter, Twirl, TwitterFon, and Twitterrific are better. They allow for more flexibility, ease-of-use, and organization that Twitter doesn’t provide. Twitter should seriously consider buying one or more of these services (maybe a desktop and a mobile interface). Because how much value can Twitter provide as a back-end system?
3. The proliferation of Spam.
The shear volume of “spam” on Twitter has reached nearly toxic levels. The biggest offender is the auto DM to new followers which generally includes a puffed up marketing message and links to a web site, blog, white paper or eBook. The backgrounds on Twitter are also becoming “scenic spam” – designed to look like magazine ads or giant business cards. No one wants to spend lots of times on a platform where everyone is trying to sell you something.
4. Too many followholics.
Twitter has shifted from a place to connect and interact with the “right” people (those people you share interests with) into a showcase of how many followers I have. This mentality can be seen in a another new trend – randomly following large blocks of people everyday and hope they will auto-follow you back. Anyone who doesn’t follow back – you cull out. Then repeat the cycle. There are even services that will do this for you (I’m not going to mention them because I don’t like the practice). This leads to more spam and a headlong rush to collect as many followers as possible. This practice devalues relationships and connections.
5. Here comes Facebook.
The value of Twitter is clear, which is why Facebook recently made changes to its status to make it more “Twitter” like. Facebook still needs to make some improvements, but the new redesign and functionality is many ways is better than Twitter. Facebook allows for more organization, segmentation and provides other valuable services besides micro-blogging. I can see many people wanting to consolidate on a platform like Facebook rather than have several social media accounts spread out across the Web.
6. No revenue.
But the biggest problem for Twitter may be monetizing it. The company still hasn’t figured out how to bring in revenue. How long can Twitter exist (especially in the midst of an unprecedented economic collapse) without a sustainable revenue model? At least other unprofitable social media platforms (like Facebook) are working to monetize their assets. Twitter’s future seems to be as an acquisition target and if they are bought by the wrong company – it could spell even more trouble for Twitter.