'Everyone wants us to win' — Twitter's marketing chief on the company's future

Posted on Jan 13 2017 - 2:00pm by Huzoor Bux


What’s posted on Twitter inspires headlines, but looking at the last few years of stories about Twitter itself? Not so inspirational. 

Rampant abuse is leading high-profile celebrities to abandon the service. Same with c-suite executives and other prominent users. As for everyone else, user growth has all but stalled. 

Twitter’s aspirations of being acquired suddenly fell under a flood of media reports (which included, pretty much everywhere, reports of the aforementioned harassment problem). The dismay is plainly shown in its three-year stock chart, which investors— those who control the valuation of Twitter— have watched languish.

“Twitter needs to reverse that narrative, not just stop the bleeding,” said Jeff Reeves, analyst and executive editor at InvestorPlace.com.

Enter Leslie Berland. 

The 39-year-old New Yorker joined Twitter almost a year ago as its first-ever chief marketing officer. Twitter hired Berland from American Express, where she worked for more than 10 years, most recently, leading their digital partnerships. At Twitter, she’s trying to shape and tell the story of what Twitter’s been, what it is and what it could be. 

“We’re the place that you can check everything. Same thing I do every morning. I’m checking throughout the day, and I check it before I go to sleep to see what’s happening,” Berland said, fresh off a 15-minute, one-woman presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. 

Berland joined as a key advocate and strategist among a slew of several major executives departures in the last year. She, along with newly-appointed Chief Operating Officer Anthony Noto and new product lead Keith Coleman, spent their time at CES telling advertisers and publishers this new story, attempting to dispel what they see as misconceptions about the company.

But the challenge ahead involves speaking to and prioritizing two groups of Twitter users: those who love it and those who don’t get it. Priority number one is curbing abuse, Berland said. Priority number two is explaining Twitter, and investing in that effort—something the company barely did before she was hired. 

“I believe everyone wants us to win, to succeed and be better. And, by the way, you can’t say that about a lot of companies out there.”

Why don’t you use Twitter?

One of the main narratives against Twitter is its stagnant growth. While Facebook has risen to more than 1 billion daily active users, Twitter has 317 million monthly active users. Twitter doesn’t disclose a daily number, but it’s expected to be around 140 million. That’s far less than Snapchat’s 150 million and Instagram’s 300 million. 

Twitter could exist without substantially growing, and yet, Berland said she’s focused on finding out why someone wouldn’t join. In a study conducted in June, Twitter asked people who don’t use Twitter all over the world, “What do you think Twitter is for, and why don’t you use Twitter?”

Through that research, the team identified three barriers: 

“One of the things we found that was amazing is that people described Twitter in lots of different ways,” Berland said during her presentation. 

“We were a platform, a product, a service, a watercooler, a town square, a microphone, and we are every single one of those things, but we realized that the people who don’t use Twitter are really confused of what we are for.”

As Berland etched out the three barriers on stage, and her slide went out on Twitter, people on Twitter retweeted the image, asking a similar question:

Despite what the slide showed, abuse on Twitter has been viewed as one of the main drivers to why growth has stagnated and at times shrunk. It ‘s led several celebrities, including actress Leslie Jones, to abandon the network, and it reportedly contributed to Walt Disney Company backing out of a bid to acquire Twitter late last year. 

And yet, abuse didn’t make the cut as a top reason for why people don’t use Twitter based on the company’s internal research.

“It just wasn’t the top three,” Berland said, in an interview after the presentation. 

“There’s abuse and then there’s the perception of abuse. We are obsessed with dealing with abuse on the platform. Before we get into marketing, communications and everything like that, we’re working to fix this issue on our platform.”

“We are obsessed with dealing with abuse on the platform.”

“We know it is absolutely a barrier,” Berland said, continuing to defend the platform. “It’s a barrier for people who don’t use Twitter, and it’s a barrier for people who do, but I’m very confident we are going to make a difference here with that,” she said.

What Twitter is not, according to Twitter, is a social network. The company made that clear to the media—at least—and anyone who had to yet to download it when they moved it from the “Social Networking” category to “News” in the App Store. 

“Twitter is just described in so many different ways. We see reporters who say ‘social network Twitter,’ but that’s just not the essence of who we are,” Berland said. 

“For employees, by the way, this is not something new for us. This is truly what we’ve always been. No employee at Twitter thinks we’re a social network. Nobody.”

Too little, too late?

Investors have remained skeptical, even in the months and the full year following the marketing effort. Research institute MoffettNathanson issued a report in May of last year, calling the changes “too little, too late.”

“Things have only gotten worse,” Nathanson wrote in an email to Mashable last month. 

“No employee at Twitter thinks we’re a social network. Nobody.”  

“It is currently unprofitable, it has no user growth and any past revenue growth was exceeded by a commensurate increase in its cost of revenue. That is not a recipe for success,” said Reeves of InvestorPlace.com.

Investors like to shout about Twitter. This year, Twitter shouted back. In fact, this sentiment inspired the design for the outdoor marketing campaign Berland organized for the Wall Street subway station in New York City. 

This billboard was one of several Twitter recently introduced throughout the country. Many of them, which Berland showed during her presentation, featured celebrities and memorable moments over the last year. 

“We saw it was trending on Twitter so we made it trend in the physical world,” Berland said during her presentation.  

The same images were brought into its meeting space at CES, where executives would meet privately with marketers and sales people. 

The marketing campaign was an attempt, Berland said, for Twitter to show vibrancy and relevancy on the platform. 

“It’s working very well for us,” Berland said. “People are seeing Twitter more than they’ve ever seen it before. Interest around this platform and what this platform can do has never been more tangible.” 

“That’s a massive opportunity for us.”

Apart from the pack. 

Despite Twitter trying to distance itself from Facebook (as investors and potential users keep comparing it to the platform), its big bet in live video mimics that of the social networking giant. 

Berland’s presentation came shortly after Facebook’s, and to no surprise, Facebook spoke about the power of mobile marketing and video, as well.

“You come to Twitter with the expectation to see things that are happening right now.”

For Berland, Twitter’s leg-up fits perfectly into her larger narrative. 

Everything is live on Twitter. You come to Twitter with the expectation to see things that are happening right now. It’s not like here is this live video thing that’s a part of other stuff that’s going on,,” Berland said.

“There’s going to be a ton more user generated but also from the live-streaming deals you’ve seen around the NFL and others, and that too was tapping into what’s happening and what people are talking about,” she continued.

It’s the first month of the year, and already, the headlines for Twitter haven’t been so sunny: 

Trump tweets must come to an end, according to majority of Americans recently polled“ 

Martin Shkreli’s Twitter account suspended after he posts creepy photo collage;” 

We now know when Twitter will shut down Vine.”

Which isn’t to say there haven’t been good moments, too: 

Man tweets NSFW ‘complaint’ about donuts, gets the perfect reply;” 

J.K. Rowling shares spectacularly awkward anecdote about drunk man in bar“ 

The sass master behind Wendy’s flame-throwing Twitter.”

Twitter cannot just “win” with marketing. When asked about the state of the shrinking executive team affecting the company’s success and what they needed to change, Berland pointed to CEO Jack Dorsey’s tweet at the end of the year, asking people for their thoughts and ideas for product changes. 

“Those are people who use Twitter and love Twitter. They have their requests and asks and then people who don’t use Twitter have theirs. The key message is that we listen. We’re obviously Twitter. We are listening all the time. We care deeply. The feedback matters, and you’ll see us working to get better every day.” Berland said. 



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