How Did Twitter Lose Control of Its Own Language?
Creativity Marketing Transformation

How Did Twitter Lose Control of Its Own Language?

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It’s dark times over at Twitter HQ. After 2015 reports that it wasn’t growing its user base anymore, along with lingering concerns that the company can’t build an effective structure for driving ad revenue from consumers, Twitter’s stock price has been tanking. Compared to robust user information available through Facebook’s ad platform, Twitter marketing opportunities seem destined to fall short of what other platforms offer.

And yet, Twitter’s destruction is far from imminent. In its most recent quarterly report, the company disclosed that it is currently sitting on $3.5 billion in cash reserves. That’s enough to run the company, given its current annual expenses, for another 412 years.

But Twitter doesn’t want to merely survive—it wants to thrive. Doing so will require the company to evolve into a more sophisticated social network while retaining what made it original in the first place.

But therein lies part of the problem: What used to make Twitter so unique has now become commonplace throughout social media.

How Twitter Lost Control of Its Own Language

Despite what you might have heard, Twitter didn’t invent hashtags. But that’s of little importance to most of its users, who were introduced to hashtags through Twitter’s unique language. In fact, Twitter’s platform for communicating has had a profound effect on how we communicate in our daily lives, even away from social media interactions.

Beg to differ? Just watch how Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake poke fun of the hashtag’s pervasive influence:


While Fallon and Timberlake obviously take the concept of hashtags to an extreme, they demonstrate how much the hashtag has become not just a means or organizing information, but a legitimate rhetorical device.

For Twitter, its pervasive use has caused some problems. Hashtags were such a wild success that Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social networks have adopted the tags to categorize content. As The Verge points out, Twitter has no claim on the hashtag since it didn’t create it, so there’s nothing to be done about this change.

The same goes for tagging, which Facebook built into its platform. Instagram even ripped off usage of the “@” sign. And Twitter hasn’t helped distinguish its platform-specific language from others: It recently replaced its “Favorite” button with a “Like” button, which brings that social function in line with Facebook’s famous “Like” feature.

New Yorker Hashtag on InstagramScreenshot of CNN Using Hashtag on Facebook

Still, there are ways Twitter’s language and communication platform stand out. The question is whether the company will preserve those features, or dispense with them in hopes of creating something with better long-term value.

Tinkering with New Wrinkles

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is hoping to rebuild the company’s relevance by overseeing some revolutionary changes to Twitter’s most basic functionality.

Some of those changes are relatively minor. As Retail Dive reports, Twitter recently gave retailers the ability to private message consumers in response to Tweets about their brand, effectively supporting real-time customer service through its platform.

Other planned innovations could change the very nature of Twitter. One such change could increase in the number of characters used in a single Tweet. A cornerstone of Twitter’s user experience is the brevity demanded by its format. With only 140 characters, users have to express themselves quickly.

Content is rapidly dispensable, and this strict character limit supports users’ efforts to consume content in real-time, as users publish to the platform.

But as the Content Standard previously noted, Twitter may soon increase that 140-character limit to 10,000. This is a huge change for Twitter, and it creates an uncertain future for the company. The goal is to build Twitter into a more functional, versatile platform, and to bolster the company’s ability to sell ad space in user feeds. But the ability to post long Tweets with little regard to length only brings Twitter closer in functionality to Facebook.

As Twitter starts to look and operate more like Facebook, it must continue to offer a unique experience. You don’t operate two separate Facebook profiles when one will do the job. The first phase of Twitter’s struggles occurred when the company lost control of its language. The next undetermined phase in its future is ongoing right now: What happens if Twitter continues to strip away the communication features that made it unique?

Twitter Can’t Forget Where it Came From

There are still aspects of its original user experience that Twitter can lean on heading into the future. Compared to rival platforms, its content functions as a collective stream-of-consciousness. As The Motley Fool reports, Dorsey and Twitter are well aware of that characteristic, and the company now seems more focused on the format of its publishing than the composition of its content.

For example, Twitter marketing is working hard to build attention for its “Moments” feature, which aims to deliver live features and other content across a number of trending topics. This can help distinguish the social network from Facebook and other rivals. The question is whether these changes will be well-received by Twitter’s original, active user base, or whether a wave of incremental changes will alter the makeup of its user base.

Change for any company is critical, with a caveat: Twitter must balance its necessary changes against the inherent appeal that grew such a large user base in the first place.

But regardless of what the future holds, Twitter’s arc as a company is a fascinating illustration of how much words can affect a company. As Twitter gained in popularity, it lost control of its language. Ever since, the social media giant has been searching for its soul.

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