As rumors about Snapchat’s impending IPO announcement continue to swirl, news about a possible Twitter buyout seem to barely make a blip on the media radar. This disparity would have been impossible to predict when Twitter was first launched a decade ago, not only because Snapchat was still five years from taking off, but more importantly because at its launch, Twitter was viewed as one of the great media disruptors of the digital age.
Twitter was supposed to change everything; with it, anyone could become a reporter, publisher or critic. And in some ways, it succeeded. So what happened that turned this social media behemoth into the stagnant shell of what it could have been?
The simple answer is Twitter’s inability to change and adapt. But that doesn’t necessarily paint the full picture. When executives saw the millennial gravitation toward video, the app launched Periscope, for example. More recently, following years of user complaints, Twitter relaxed their rules for images counting toward the strict 140-character limit. There certainly have been updates to Twitter in an attempt to adapt to changing preferences, and for the most part, they have been well received (barring a few notable exceptions).
At its core, though, Twitter has failed time and time again to address some of the most serious and persistent complaints that users have brought forward — follower abuses, inability to edit, clunky privacy options. And when all of these come together, many users simply turned to another platform for their digital connections.
Enter Snapchat: at five years younger than Twitter, almost entirely visual and with options for tight privacy or complete public broadcasting all within the same platform, it was everything Twitter wasn’t, and in some ways, didn’t want to be.
Users loved it, and the media took notice. After learning to hone their social skills on Twitter and Facebook before that, publishers and advertisers were primed to pounce on Snapchat when it hit the market. With seemingly less to lose, Snapchat jumped at everyopportunity to monetize that came their way, testing branded geofilters, sponsored accounts, native event spaces and finally finding the original publishing platform Discover.
Publishers and advertisers were being asked to innovate, and their efforts were being rewarded. In June of this year, it was announced that Snapchat daily users had officially surpassed Twitter and was continuing to expand at an even faster rate. Although Twitter is still bringing in more ad revenue all together, the gap is quickly closing.
That’s not to say that Twitter hasn’t been successful. It has, and it will continue to stick around for years to come. But it isn’t the media darling that it once was. That position has been firmly filled by Snapchat.
But don’t expect it to stay that way forever. If there is one thing that is a constant in digital media, it is the drive to change and innovate. What is new one day feels old the next. And there is always another platform waiting in the wings, poised to be the next big thing.