The NCSL Blog


By Jake Lestock

If a picture is worth a thousand words, why would people keep trying to fit their thoughts in under 140 characters? #SocialMediaEvolution

For those interested iTwitter screen; credit Reuters in The Washington POSTn the future of social media, that sentence, which is also a 138-character tweet, is something you should start thinking about.

The social media giant Twitter, which argues that it has revolutionized the internet, transformed the way people receive their news and communicate.

While its transformative impact in the social media sphere has been significant—it played a key role in significant world events such as the Arab Spring political uprising—the platform has fallen on tough times.

Twitter’s shares have plunged about 27 percent in the past month and the company has begun massive layoffs. Many people are asking: Is Twitter doomed?

The dramatic drop in shares comes amid speculation that potential bidders—Google, Disney and Microsoft, for example—are concerned about that very thing. Many are speculating this is has to do with Twitter’s struggle with stagnant user growth, which is especially alarming given that the 10-year-old company has yet to turn a profit. And even as revenue continues to grow, can Twitter continue with the same business model, website, and platform, and survive the evolving social media landscape without a major overhaul?

In addition to profitability concerns, Twitter has been consistently criticized for its toleration of abuse and hate speech, which is the unfortunate downside of the business model that brought it success.

On one hand, Twitter changed the way that businesses, celebrities, and political candidates promote their content and expand their audiences. On the other hand, it also provided a new megaphone for people to spread misinformation and hate. Whether it’s ISIS, hate groups, or even a school bully, Twitter has consistently wobbled on the line between free speech and yelling fire in a crowded theater.

Some argue this freewheeling, free speech atmosphere is a key reason the website became so popular in the first place, and to start banning hateful or abusive comments could further damage the company’s user base and profitability.

Along with these issues, perhaps the largest threat to Twitter’s future has been the rise of alternative social media platforms. Unlike Facebook, whose 1.71 billion users make it the undisputed giant in social media, Twitter has all but plateaued at about 313 million monthly active users.

What is more alarming for the company is that newer social media sites that are centered around videos and pictures, such as Snapchat and Instagram, have surpassed Twitter in terms of users and have rightfully taken their place at the big-boy table. Both of these companies have grown at unprecedented rates, which is chiefly due to their popularity among millennials.

The fact is, we’ve entered a photographic era that increasingly is distancing itself from the technologies of 2006, the year when Twitter was the new big thing. The near universality of high resolution smartphones and their built-in cameras has engendered a culture where sharing your private life in pictures has become the new norm. Both apps also provide a less cluttered newsfeed compared to Twitter’s overly noisy platform, which is filled with links to blogs, new articles, and other content that takes you away from Twitter’s site.

Nevertheless, the 2016 election has proven the value of the platform to all levels of political campaigns. Consider not only Donald Trump's newsmaking 3 a.m. tweets, but also the fact that about half of the nation's state legislators maintain Twitter accounts to connect with their constituents.  Whether it’s through calculated data-driven targeting or the ability of a candidate to reach millions of voters for free, this election has demonstrated that it is unlikely Twitter will be out of the picture anytime soon.

The real question is how long it can hold on without adapting to a new reality: Users want a new aesthetic way to share their lives online. #StayTuned

Jake Lestock is a public affairs policy associate in the Washington, D.C. office. He manages NCSL's Twitter account (@NCSLorg).

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.