Twitter says it’s struggling to attract new users, teases major changes

twitter bird on a fabric background

At least they’ve admitted it, loud and clear.

In what was one of Twitter‘s most candid earnings calls to date, interim CEO Jack Dorsey and CFO Anthony Noto agreed: Twitter is still failing at convincing people to use its service. This lack of growth could mean serious changes on the horizon. 

The company added just two-million users last quarter, raising the number of monthly active users to 304 million, the smallest increase to date. Though if you count “SMS fast follows,” or people that signed up through Twitter via text message, that number increased from 308 million to 316 million. (Twitter has never split up user numbers like this before.)

The weird presentation of user growth to amplify what appears to be a slow quarter wasn’t the only thing that was different this time around. Dorsey was on the call in place of recently ousted former CEO Dick Costolo, and from the very beginning of the call, the sweatshirt-clad, bearded interim leader talked honestly about the company’s struggles to attract and retain new users. 

Twitter, Dorsey said, hasn’t done a good job of focusing the company around strategy and growth, and listed three needs the company will hone in on in the coming quarter: ensure disciplined execution, simplify the service to make it obvious what the point of Twitter is, and better communicate why anyone would want to use it in the first place. 

People all around the world know of Twitter, he said, but not how or why they should use it themselves. Dorsey said the goal of the service is to become the first thing people check when they wake up in the morning and be “as easy as looking out your window to see what’s happening.”

To that end, a number of changes are coming to Twitter. 

Project Lightning” is Twitter’s attempt to make it easier to follow breaking news and events, putting hand-picked content into a completely separate timeline for people to read and follow. Project Lightning is slated for launch in the fall. 

Perhaps the biggest shift that will come to Twitter in an effort to attract new users is switching up the way people read tweets. Dorsey said people can expect to see the company “continue to question” the layout that puts tweets in reverse-chronological order in the timeline, instead shifting to a feed determined by algorithms, similar to Facebook’s news feed. Twitter already experimented with this, including adding “While you were away,” and “Tweets for you,” features that highlight tweets you likely missed that were popular or from people you interact with on a regular basis and would want to read. 

It’s clear that Twitter needs to seriously overhaul the way it markets itself. The service is still way too confusing for new users, and oftentimes harassment on the platform makes them want to leave if they don’t realize how to make profiles private—trolls are a part of the service Twitter hasn’t quite figured out how to deal with yet. Dorsey and Noto both alluded to the fact Twitter needs to get its act together in terms of growth, and said it might take quite a while. 

“We continue to show a questioning of our fundamentals in order to make the product easier and more compelling to more people,” Dorsey said. 

On top of the unusually straightforward earnings call, Twitter also livestreamed its earnings call on Periscope for the first time ever. It attracted more than 20,000 live views

Wall Street wasn’t impressed with Twitter’s honest take on its failure to grow. Shares were down more than 10 percent after hours on the news that it’s got a long way to go before growth rebounds. Additionally, there was no word on who would take over the CEO role moving forward. 

Illustration by Max Fleishman

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