Twitter has struggled with growth over the last few years. Although it’s remained one of the most influential social media companies, it was widely reported new members weren’t signing up and that usage was declining. The latest numbers, however, reveal that Twitter has turned a corner and is once again on the upswing. Currently, the site boasts 328 million active monthly users, which is the strongest performance in two years. Twitter has been historically vague about disclosing its numbers. For example, it doesn’t like to release information about daily active users. However, the overall trend seems to be positive, most likely in response to certain key changes the social media network recently implemented.

If we look at Twitter’s growth since 2010, we see that the company’s most rapid growth came between 2010 and 2014, when monthly users went from 30 million to over 300 million. The last few years have been, by comparison, relatively stagnant. This, however, is not unusual. Facebook, still the biggest social media site by far, also experienced a plateau in growth. Some observers expect a decline in Facebook’s growth in 2017. What’s significant for Twitter is that the increase from 2016 to 2017, of around 9 million users, is a definite upswing after several years of stagnation.

Twitter Timeline Changes

When it comes to social media results, the timeline is key. Facebook is the undisputed leader in this area. Despite many complaints about the social media giant, users have gotten accustomed to Facebook’s mostly user-friendly timeline. So much so that LinkedIn recently revamped its timeline to resemble Facebook’s. Twitter has done something similar, changing the way it displays tweets in a more Facebook-like manner. In the case of Twitter, there’s no obvious change to the way the timeline looks, as there is with LinkedIn. The big difference is in whose tweets you see. Until about a year ago, tweets were posted chronologically. Users would simply see the latest tweets from the people they followed. Twitter decided to alter this with an algorithm, favoring the most relevant tweets.

When Twitter first announced this policy, there was a backlash. Understandably, people complained that they didn’t want Twitter to become a microblogging version of Facebook. However, the changes seem to be working, at least in terms of numbers. Twitter announced strong first-quarter earnings in 2017, which suggest that investors are confident that the company has a bright future. However, there are still significant challenges to overcome.

What Exactly is Timeline Relevance?

The idea of making the timeline “relevant” is a complicated and controversial issue. Facebook has long instituted this kind of policy. When you look at your Facebook timeline, some user’s posts are favored. While the exact formula is a mystery, it has to do with user’s interests and history. You’re presumably more likely to see Facebook posts or tweets from users who share content that’s relevant to you. This is a mixed blessing and one that favors people (or, increasingly, businesses) that post frequently, making it harder for less active users to get noticed.

Relevance, of course, means customized to individual users. When you express an interest in certain users, it makes sense that you see their posts first. On Twitter, the timeline moves very fast. If you follow hundreds or thousands of people, you only get to see a small percentage of tweets. An algorithm that helps you see the most relevant content makes sense in this regard. On the other hand, it makes it more difficult to see tweets from people who are less active and who, if you knew more about them, might also interest you. However, this is an example of something where people may, in theory, want one thing but actually prefer another. While it’s a nice idea that timelines are completely democratic and posts shown in chronological order. However, in reality, users have limited time to scroll down through hundreds of tweets. Most users, in all likelihood, appreciate seeing content that’s customized to their interests. The recent upswing of users supports this idea.

Twitter is a business as well as a social media site. It not only wants to increase its user base, it has to attract revenue. Advertising is another area where Twitter has struggled. Twitter’s ad revenue has steadily declined over the last few years. Disturbingly, ad revenue doesn’t seem to be helped by increases in usage. Despite the growth in users, businesses apparently still don’t feel that the site provides sufficient value to spend their advertising dollars there, at least in large amounts. This is the main reason Twitter suffered losses of $457 million in 2016.

What’s Ahead for Twitter?

As we’ve seen, there’s both good and bad news for Twitter. Overall, however, the social media site is still in a strong position. It’s not only one of the largest social media sites, it’s one of the most influential. Twitter was in the news daily during the 2016 presidential campaign. Tweets by politicians, athletes and entertainers made the news all the time. This reveals that Twitter isn’t just a business, but an integral part of contemporary culture. It remains to be seen whether the new timeline will continue to drive growth. Either way, Twitter is at least showing that it’s willing to taking proactive steps to make itself more relevant to users, even if not everyone appreciates the changes.

The company does need to find more effective ways to monetize its large user base. With more than 300 million monthly users, this should not, at least in theory, be an insurmountable challenge. There are even positive signs on this front. In 2016, Twitter announced a slight increase in ad revenue. Twitter also laid off 9 percent of its sales staff during this period. We can expect further changes and restructuring from Twitter as the company strives to find its footing and maintain its position as a social media leader.


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