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Twitter takes a page from the news media’s digital transformation playbook

The tech giant is looking to users to reinvent its model.

Twitter was full of news about itself and its future this Thursday. The company said it would double its revenue by end-2023 and introduce a “Super Follow” function that would allow Twitter users to set up a kind of subscription offering for extra (premium) content. 

Jack Dorsey’s company will also introduce a new feature called “Communities”. This is basically a copy of Facebook’s Groups – a very popular destination for many users on the social network.

Twitter walking a mile in media’s shoes

This all has a “tide of history” feel to it. 

First news media had to go through a digital transformation, looking for new and sustainable business models to replace advertising. Meanwhile, big technology platforms reaped the benefits and introduced easier and better ways to buy and distribute ads for customers. Now, Twitter, the 15-year-old “micro-blogging” platform, has to undergo a similar transformation. 

Only this time it’s not about moving from print-first to digital-first, or even mobile-first. Twitter has to reinvent itself, its relationship with users, the value proposition it offers to new ones… Most of all, it has to do something with its ad business which is still in terrible shape. (Have you ever tried to buy an ad on Twitter?)

So, following the lead of some of the most successful news publishers around the world, Twitter is looking towards its users. It wants to embrace the recurring revenue model, which investors have become very keen on in recent years.

So far, so good. CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged they have been slow in terms of innovation. 

Just yesterday I discussed this with some colleagues from the media industry. Like me, they love the service and see the benefit (there is nothing comparable at the moment). Still, everyone agreed Twitter hasn’t kept up with the times. The competition has evolved and gone through a series of innovation cycles.

Now if that sounds to you as if hearing an exec from a legacy media company talking about its past and future, raise your hand.

Make social media competitive again

Independent journalist on Substack, Casey Newton, wrote on his blog Platformer this week that 2021 is finally the year that we see new social networks emerge and cause headaches for such juggernauts as Facebook.

Newton lists TikTok, which has sparked copycat solutions among bigger peers. This includes Facebook (Instagram Reels) and YouTube (which is developing Shorts).

Then he points to Substack, which inspired a growing number of journalists last year to set sail on independent waters without a big newsroom behind them. The reaction from big platforms was quick to come. Twitter acquired the Dutch startup Revue and is already including it in its future subscription plans. Facebook is also working on a newsletter feature as part of its Journalism Project.

There is also Clubhouse which has gained more than 10 million daily active users in about a year. Twitter is openly beta testing its Clubhouse-clone Twitter Spaces.Facebook has set in motion a team to develop a similar feature internally.

As Newton points out there hasn’t been this much movement in the social media space since 2016. Then, social networking was mostly dealing with scandals and Facebook was swallowing emerging competition.

What’s next for Twitter’s digital transformation

That brings me back to Twitter. If you were to believe the company’s managers and CEO during their Analyst Day, the future for the social network looks bright.

They did the necessary mea culpa, they promised a bunch of new features for existing users and some to attract new ones. They also set a north star goal of doubling revenue by 2023.

If you were to tell me that an anonymous company has done this and that I was to guess in which industry it happened, I would have a clear answer. Without hesitation I would assume you just presented me with a transformation plan of a legacy news media company that finally came to terms with its current unsustainable business model and is prepared to change.

Now, that is definitely the right approach. It is also very similar to what is written in this great report from Google News Initiative & FT Strategies Subscriptions Lab 2020.

But, as many legacy news media companies have found out the hard way, even though the path forward is laid out straight in front of you it is not that easy to change. Especially if you have been reluctant for years, just looking around as your competitors left you behind.

More from the Fix: Twitter buys Revue amid newsletter acquisition frenzy

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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