Is Twitter going through an identity crisis?


Over the past few days, a number of announcements have come out of Twitter HQ about new features – both for users and marketers.

The option to privately message more than one user at once has been a glaring omission from Twitter for years. But with the announcement yesterday that it will be rolling out a group DM function over the next few days, it seems like that particular frustration is a thing of the past.

With this new feature, you can start conversations with up to 20 people who follow you on Twitter, and they don’t necessarily have to follow each other in order to participate. It is a step towards taking some of the instant messaging market share away from WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

According to Twitter product director Jinen Kamdar, “The people you interact with on Twitter—publicly and privately—tend to be people you don’t know in real life,” he says. “We think that the conversations you have with group DM could only happen on our app.”

At the same time as announcing group DMs, Twitter also announced a native video tool, where users can shoot 30 second videos and upload them directly into tweets. Again, another feature that had been frustratingly missing from Twitter’s arsenal.

This looks to be a direct shot at Instagram’s video capture feature. Since Facebook withdrew Instagram support for Twitter, Instagram videos no longer show up as inline objects on your feed. According to Twitter, the 30-second videos will exist “alongside”, rather than replacing, Twitter-owned six-second video service Vine.

Finally, Twitter has introduced a new way of geo-targeting ads ahead of the UK general election in May which sees it trying to position itself as a key electioneering platform. Brands, political parties and  can already target their ads by nine different regions, including distinct geographic regions areas, such as the East Midlands, the North West, and South East England. The new feature means you can more specifically target to areas like Birmingham, Liverpool-Manchester, London or Glasgow.

All of these are welcome additions, without a doubt, for both end users and those of us who use targeted advertising. Group DMs have great potential for brands – for instance in a customer service environment, solving multiple queries in one fell swoop. But playing devil’s advocate, the best thing about brand interaction on Twitter from a user’s point of view is the ability to have a one-to-one conversation without feeling like you’re speaking to a robot (depending on the brand, of course!).

In allowing brands to more specifically target their advertising within the UK, there are clearly better results to be had from paid on Twitter, and more chance for local companies to promote themselves somewhere where there might not have been a possibility before.

But there is something niggling away at me that feels like all of these changes are seeing Twitter become Facebook by stealth. Everything that Facebook users are becoming increasingly frustrated with is being added to Twitter – a news feed full of targeted (mostly wrongly, in my experience) adverts instead of posts from people they follow; native, auto-playing videos; top stories instead of most recent posts (see also Twitter’s ‘while you were gone’).

By continually adding features to match what their competitors are doing, I can’t help feeling that Twitter is focusing too much on monetisation, and not enough on how and why people use it alongside – or instead of – its competitors.

I know this is a divisive issue, so would welcome your comments below. Or add us on a Twitter group DM.

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