Twitter turns ten this week, but it continues to suffer a difficult year, with share prices plummeting, key executives jumping ship and new user growth stalling for the first time in its ten-year history.
Last year, co-founder Jack Dorsey returned as ceo to try and bring the company out of a tailspin that has left it with a two billion dollar deficit and a product that seems increasingly unsure of itself.
Rumours of an impending takeover by Facebook or Google have been rife in recent months, but Twitter's long-term prospects depend on it sorting out several key issues which have left it losing ground in an unforgiving marketplace.
So what are Twitter's problems?
Social networks tend to build a large pool of users first and worry about how to monetise them later. Nobody wants to join a new social network that's plastered with ads. Twitter amassed a huge user base - currently around 300 million active users - but has struggled to find an advertising product that doesn't push people away.
Twitter's ad products were always designed to look native. Promoted tweets, trending topics and recommended accounts are nestled among organic results. But advertisers have been disappointed with the in-stream ads Twitter has offered.
Twitter's ads underperformed against Facebook's, despite the average CPM being five times as expensive. The fact is that Facebook's network reach dwarfs that of Twitter, it offers a far more diverse demographic and its users share things ten times as much. Twitter needs to work out a way of offering real value to advertisers without scaring off users. Not an easy task.
Twitter is an important part of modern culture. It's a place where revolutions are born and where vital information gets spread during good times and bad. Hashtags and live-tweeting have changed the way we communicate. Virtually every president and prime minister on earth has an account.
But none of this necessarily makes Twitter profitable. And tech investors are losing patience with social networks whose dazzling valuations are now causing worries of a second dot com bubble.
In a February earnings report, Twitter warned that user growth will continue to stall and profitability is unlikely any time soon. Its focus is now on making itself indispensable again.
Twitter has never been an easy sell to casual users. Dorsey recently conceded that "new users may initially find our product confusing", noting that there's a "perception that our products and services are only useful to users who tweet, or to influential users with large audiences".
The constant tinkering with its core product certainly hasn't helped. The possibility of changing the two features that have defined the platform since its launch - the 140-character limit and the chronological presentation - don't inspire confidence in the platform's staying power against other, more visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.
Twitter is doing the right thing in trying to make its product simpler but it risks losing its identity by becoming a noisier version of a Facebook feed. The Lists feature is a great way to split your timeline into categorised groups but without a third party application you can't see them all at once. Twitter is the only social network that gets more frustrating the more you use it.
In addition, Twitter has become an increasingly hostile environment, with countless cases of individuals being publicly shamed on the platform. The dark side of Twitter's collectivist ecosystem is the "snowflake in an avalanche" effect that creates a diffusion of responsibility amongst those who participate in mass shamings. Nobody takes the blame, apart from Twitter itself.
Twitter's reporting system is notoriously difficult to enforce on a platform that encourages handles over real names and requires only a fresh email address to create a new account.
Anyway, editorial censorship is likely to cause a backlash from users who would see it as a slippery slope towards letting people silence any negative attention, however justified. And yet the difference between simply posting a negative opinion about someone and bullying them is difficult to judge even by humans, let alone an automated process.
Making headlines and getting celebrities and world leaders to use your product is great for attracting new users, but it won't keep them there unless you offer them something that's both enjoyable to use and provides genuine value - the huge number of dormant accounts is clear evidence of that.
Twitter is likely to sink more money into R&D and acquisitions in order to overhaul its product. Buying Periscope, a live-streaming video service, was a good start.
But there are still problems with its advertising product and the only way it can fix them is to put its users first and advertisers second. The recent acquisition of cross-platform tech company TellApart, which allows advertisers to remarket to users who aren't logged in or don't have an account, is concerning.
Jack Dorsey recently announced a big restructure of Twitter's staff, slimming down its team and pledging to recruit new top talent. A bit of downsizing isn't such a bad thing for the brand. Perhaps Twitter could benefit from changing its identity from "the big idea that was meant to change the world" to being just another quietly efficient tech company.
Copyright © 2016 Rob Diggle, digital marketing manager, Databroker.
Trust is an essential component in the success of any business. It's key to converting a prospect into a lead and turning a lead into a satisfied customer. When you are operating an online-only business in a high-ticket market, it becomes the single most important consideration.
For Carspring, this high ticket is a car, which, on average, is the second largest lifetime investment a customer will make after buying a home. Carspring launched in Spring 2015 and its main focus has been on building trust through transparency. Reaching that take-off point is dependent on building trusting relationships with customers.
This is undoubtedly a marketing cliché but a unique visual feel and voice helps guide people to the product you sell. Without a strong brand, people can't remember you and they'll struggle to trust you. All the usual suspects apply here: a great image, an emotional connection, brand consistency, reciprocal consumer relationships and memorable messages.
This is all about communication. Every single one of your consumer interactions has to help with establishing trust, whether it's a transactional email, your customer service team or your website.
Most importantly, it has to stay human. It has to feel like a personal one-to-one interaction. And if your product has a long research phase, great content that informs customers and institutes expertise in your brand is really crucial. FAQs and a blog, for example, help you reach your target audience early on in the purchasing journey.
An online business that sells high-ticket items has to work that bit harder to convince people to complete a purchase with you. One way of doing this is by creating some great USPs that go above and beyond those of the traditional offline players.
There's nothing more powerful than forging partnerships with big players. Being able to use a known brand to leverage your own business gives your brand legitimacy and credibility. Take a look at your wider market - are there any established brands that you can partner with? If so, try approaching them with ideas about how both of you can benefit from such a relationship.
PR is an essential tool for building trust, especially when you get positive mentions in reputable publications. When you receive recommendations from reliable sources, this builds belief in your brand. One big media mention can be more influential than multiple exposures across lesser-known titles. And, thanks to Google, this coverage is often discoverable when people search for your brand, giving your name a valuable stamp of approval.
There are an ever-increasing number of channels for customers to provide feedback. Facebook, TrustPilot and others are key in making your brand appear real and genuine. Customers love reading about other people's experiences. Shout great reviews from the rooftops, tackle negative comments head-on and use every bit of feedback you get for FAQs. It shows that you are a brand that listens and learns.
Sponsored post: copyright © 2016 Selin Burt, Carspring.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of using social media for your brand in an ad-hoc way, especially when you are starting out. But setting standards for tone and branding on social media sites can be a crucial make or break decision for a fledging business.
When you're looking at social media for your business, there are several things you need to consider - from where your audience is, to making sure your social media pages have a consistent look.
It can be daunting to get your social accounts properly up and running, especially with each platform having their own nuances and tricks to learn, but if you do it right, it can be one of the best moves your business makes.
Here are some key tips for best practice if you're starting to use social media as a new business:
There is no point setting yourself up on social media if your target audience isn't using it too. Your audience's demographic will determine how much you use each social media site. For example, if your target market is young people, you'd be best off focusing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - with about 53% of 18-to-29 year olds on Instagram, 37% on Twitter and even more on Facebook.
Of course, you will have identified your target market when you establish your business. It's also worth browsing on social media platforms to see if your competitors' audiences are there and how much they are using it. You can also track the habits of your target market - if they are using Twitter between 5pm and 10pm, you need to be active during those hours.
Branding is huge for any business, especially a fledging one. If your marketing doesn't match your website, people will not necessarily recognise your brand wherever they find it. The aim of good branding is being able to recognise it at a glance - from your logo to your colour scheme. Social media is a great place to implement your signature look as you can ensure your profile picture, tone and font usage remains the same throughout.
We've all seen businesses who try a little too hard to get noticed. Tagging random people in pictures and posts can generate likes but it doesn't always make for good marketing. And refrain from spamming other people's posts with comments - it may seem like a great way to spread brand awareness but you'll just look like you don't know what you're doing.
Social media can be the best starting point for new businesses, if used properly. It introduces your brand to new customers you normally wouldn't find and provides free advertising. (Or paid if you wish!)
Remember our three magic rules of social media; be where your audience is; make your social media pages consistent with tone and feel; and don't try too hard. If you stick to these best practices, you should get real results from social media.
Sponsored post: copyright © 2016 Elena Lockett, digital communications expert, FM Outsource.
Ecommerce is getting more competitive. If a visitor comes to your online shop and doesn't like the look of it or finds something that doesn't work, they'll be just a click away from one of your competitors.
In short, getting the design elements right in your online shop plays a key part in keeping your customers on your website and encouraging them to buy.
A couple of years ago, having large header pictures at the top of every page was a standard look on many ecommerce websites. Today, this is considered a waste of space. Instead, present your top products using a content slider. Don't overload it with graphical elements and text; keep it clean and ensure there is a clear call to action (CTA).
Welcome text at the top of your home page might seem like a nice way to engage with your customers and add a personal touch but it takes away valuable space which you could use for prominently placing products or special offers.
Our recommendation is to skip the welcome text and add a call to action image or a special offer to lead your customers where you want them to go. If you want to have SEO-optimised text on your home page, place this at the bottom.
Often, shop owners settle for describing their products with one or two basic sentences or, even worse, by just copying the original product description of the manufacturer.
Not only does this negatively affect your Google ranking but it also sends the wrong message to your customers. Take time to write your own unique product descriptions that are easy to read and show your customers that you know your products well.
Your website is the main face of your business but you don't want to have the same appearance as your online competitors. So stay away from standard stock photos and try taking pictures of your own products.
Authenticity and personality are more important than ever. Show your customers what makes your shop unique. If you are not able to produce your own pictures, take some time to look for stock pictures that fit your shop perfectly.
Have you painted your living room in ten different colours? If not, why should your online shop have ten different fonts? A lack of design integrity gives your website a chaotic and amateur look. Choose your own corporate design and focus on one main font for your headlines and another one for product descriptions.
Copyright © 2016 Richard Stevenson, Head of Global PR, ePages.
It's hard to overstate the importance of brand recognition, but how do you go about building it? And how do you do it on a tight budget?
One simple tactic for start-ups and small firms is pop-up marketing. The big brands call this experiential marketing and they do it because they value face-to-face interaction with customers and are looking for specific geographic focus.
But this type of promotional marketing isn't just for big names; it's accessible to all and can be one of the most effective uses of a tight marketing budget in terms of generating sales and building brand awareness.
Put very simply, any company can rent a small area of promotional floor-space at a shopping location and tell thousands of potential customers directly about their product or service. If you apply a little smart thinking to what you do with your space, then you can create a lasting impression.
You don't have to spend a fortune either; the space itself is usually great value and you just need to use it well to draw people into a conversation.
Say you run a local gym; you can offer passers-by a 30-second fitness test and a discount on their first month's membership. You're not just delivering a sales pitch here, you're talking about something you love and know a lot about and this will show. This face-to-face contact with customers is really important for building trust and a strong brand.
Aside from the personal contact with customers, the ability to target promotions geographically is one of the main reasons companies choose to run pop-up marketing campaigns. Arguably the geographic targeting with pop-ups is even more effective than social media and targeted adverts online.
Another great benefit of running a pop-up promotion is the association with the host venue. Generally, venues are fairly clear that they are not officially endorsing your product or service, but it certainly can look that way in the eyes of a customer.
This can be a huge boost for new businesses trying to make a name for themselves, and coupled with the face-to-face contact with customers, it gives pop-up promotions one of the best ROIs of any marketing tactic.
Sponsored post: Copyright © 2016 Emmanuel De Ryker, chairman and founder of Promotional Space.
With over 300 million users (70% outside the US), Instagram is fast becoming a top social media platform that small businesses cannot afford to ignore. Here are my top tips to boost your following and increase engagement on Instagram.
Recent research has found that images with faces attract 35% more likes than those without on Instagram. So focusing on people shots is a good way to introduce the people behind your business and get extra exposure for your brand and business.
Like other social media platforms, Instagram is a great way to present your brand less formally than your website or through more traditional communication channels. Share photographs of what goes on behind the scenes - including all the members of your team and even the office dog!
If you can tell a story through your images, that's even better; these images show the personality behind your brand and encourage an emotional connection, an important element in creating brand fans.
Posting original content regularly is important, but you can increase your Instagram activity by paying attention to what your followers are posting. Like and share images posted by your followers, especially any that mention your products or services.
This "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" approach will encourage your followers to share similar photos with you. And it also helps to present your business from a new angle. Always credit the person that posted the image by tagging them in your caption.
Hashtags and the text you use with your Instagram image are as important as the image itself. Hashtags help people connect with people and to find topics and brands that they're interested in. Researching relevant and popular hashtags that will appeal to your target audience is essential. Tools such as Iconosquare or FindGram are useful and they also offer access to key metrics to help you track what works and what doesn't.
Creating a branded hashtag is a sensible strategy. Encourage your followers to use it; it will increase engagement and improve your visibility on Instagram in one fell swoop. Generic hashtags, such as #shoes or #design, don't work because there are simply too many other images with the same hashtag. Instead, try to find something unique that relates specifically to your business.
Don't be tempted to use too many hashtags; it gets messy and smacks of desperation. It's best to concentrate on two or three hashtags that are absolutely relevant.
Calls to action work as well on Instagram as they do in the rest of your marketing. Try asking your followers what they think about an image; it's a great way to start a two-way conversation.
If you've done your hashtag homework, you will have discovered users that have a large Instagram following; they may well be key influencers that are relevant to your business and worth connecting with. Engage with them and start to build a relationship.
Consistency is everything. A flurry of activity followed by weeks of nothing posted will not foster a loyal following. Decide how many posts you can commit to per week and stick to it. It will also encourage you to be more discerning about what you post - quality is always preferable to quantity - and your followers will appreciate it.