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Donald Trump Proves Twitter Has a Fighting Chance

By Jeremy Bowman - Nov 26, 2016 at 11:31AM

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The incoming president has mastered the social-media platform in a way that few have. Twitter should follow his lead.

Silicon Valley was widely known to be in Hillary Clinton's camp during the presidential campaign, but the election of Donald Trump should be good news for at least one tech titan: Twitter (TWTR -3.84%).

Trump is a well-known fan of the social-media platform. He has accumulated nearly 16 million followers, with the number growing quickly since his election, and he tweets multiple times a day.

Image by Aaron Durand (@everydaydude) for Twitter.

Trump's embrace of the tool has been revolutionary. Most politicians rarely communicate so directly with the general public, and on most Twitter accounts, elected officials mostly post innocuous tweets that are usually composed by staff. Handlers do so because they are wary of a gaffe. Trump's predecessor as Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, required 22 staff members to approve a single tweet. That kind of micromanagement would bring any operation to a grinding halt. 

Trump has jumped the shark on the idea of a political gaffe and has turned the tables on typical communications in the process. Though his statements throughout the campaign offended many, Trump's willingness to communicate directly and openly with his followers was a big reason his fan base embraced him so warmly. And his own fondness for the direct channel that Twitter offers corresponds with his disdain for the mainstream media. Trump has promised to continue tweeting during his presidency, and there's no reason he shouldn't.

The future president's 16 million followers give him a massive audience, and, of course, his posts often get retweeted to various corners of the internet. By comparison, nightly news broadcasts draw an average of just about 8 million each, and The New York Times has a daily circulation of about 2 million. With numbers like that, the traditional conduits for official information are no longer necessary.

Trump signaled his continuing support of direct platforms such as Twitter when he made his first video announcement since Election Night through Alphabet's (GOOG -3.69%) (GOOGL -3.93%) instead of the traditional press conference.

This should be a watershed moment for American politicians, as it's clear the public craves the kind of authenticity that Trump presents through his Twitter account. Trump has also used Twitter as a sounding board for ideas and campaign themes, and during the campaign it served as a virtual non-stop rally. Other political leaders would be wise to follow suit.

What it means for Twitter 

Trump's success gives Twitter a second chance at success. The social-media site has gone from blunder to blunder as it seems unable to articulate or even understand its own identity and purpose. Shortly after he retook the reins of the company he helped found, CEO Jack Dorsey said in an attempt to define the medium: "Twitter is live. Twitter is real time." 

But Twitter isn't really "live," or if it is, then it is also much more than that. Above everything else, Twitter is not a channel for livestreaming or even real-time information, but a general news source and a way to engage with the news and with others that no other tool can match.

It offers a one-way platform for newsmakers like Trump, other politicians, athletes, and celebrities to communicate with their audiences in a way that no other social-media company really does, and the setup encourages further dialogue around an issue.

Facebook (FB -5.12%) has copied much of what makes Twitter unique, including the trending items and the asymmetrical following component, but that site is ultimately about connecting with friends rather than hearing from newsmakers.

Twitter still seems to not understand that news is what it's for. It's ironic that Twitter uses the word "timeline" and Facebook uses the term "news feed" to describe the same thing. Twitter needs to realize that most of its users come to its platform not for a chronology of the last hour or day based on whom they follow, but for news items, articles, statements, and opinions from people who matter to them. It needs to reclaim the news-feed mantle from Facebook, and now, at a time when Facebook is reeling from the fake-news crisis, would be a great opportunity do so.

Repurposing itself as a news and dialogue-focused platform should also lead Twitter to make other decisions. It would be better off ditching its efforts to livestream events such as Thursday night NFL games, which plenty of other companies can do equally well or better, and spend that money on the things that make it unique, building a competitive advantage and increasing engagement with users, which will ultimately sell more ads. It should also get rid of the 140-character cap on tweets. While brevity is desirable in some circumstances, intelligent thoughts can't always be packaged into short sentences, and the habit of using "tweetstorms" to communicate more complex ideas is unwieldy and awkward. Furthermore, the character limit lowers the general level of communication on the site and encourages the kind of trolling and insults that Twitter has become all too associated with.

Finally, the company should continue adjusting its algorithm to show users the most relevant tweets instead of just the most recent ones, as users want more than a simple timeline. 

Twitter is losing the news battle to Facebook, but with the help of Donald Trump, the company can reorient itself around its original core function. With its user base plateauing and revenue growth down to single digits, this may be its last best chance to save the business. 

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Stocks Mentioned

Twitter, Inc. Stock Quote
Twitter, Inc.
$36.85 (-3.84%) $-1.47
Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,237.99 (-3.93%) $-91.47
Meta Platforms, Inc. Stock Quote
Meta Platforms, Inc.
$192.24 (-5.12%) $-10.38
The New York Times Company Stock Quote
The New York Times Company
$33.35 (-1.42%) $0.48
Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,248.02 (-3.69%) $-86.01

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