Desperate Twitter Hires New Marketing Chief, Promises to Hide Marketing from Elite Users

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The desperation plays keep coming from Twitter, including a new marketing executive, while also promising to hide her marketing efforts from “elite” users of the platform.

The new executive is Leslie Berland, formerly of American Express.  The New York Post credits Berland with building AmEx’s presence on social media platforms, including Twitter, as its executive V.P. of advertising, marketing, and digital partnerships.

The Post brings in Re/code to explain how Twitter power users will be able to make do without advertising, in a bid to keep them from departing the platform in annoyance and taking their huge followings with them:

For the past few months, the social media company has stopped displaying ads, or has dramatically reduced the number of ads it displays, to a small group of some of its most prominent and active users.

For those people, Twitter is an ad-free, or nearly ad-free, experience.

Sources say Twitter made the move in an attempt to get some of its VIP users to stay engaged with the service. That seems a little counterintuitive for a company that appears to be focused on getting new users, not pleasing its hardcore base. But CEO Jack Dorsey seems to endorse the notion: Twitter started playing around with the idea in September, when Dorsey was interim boss, and has kept at it since he took the title for good.

Twitter sources say the company doesn’t select the no-ad or low-ad group purely by star power, but by a variety of criteria, including the volume and reach of the tweets they generate.

As with many of Twitter’s editorial decisions, the criteria for the ad-free platinum-level experience are mysterious, but 70,000 followers was apparently good enough to get Re/code writer Peter Kafka into those happy hunting grounds.

Ad-free Twitter seems like the kind of stunt that might annoy the vast majority of users, in these days of constant thunder about “equality” and “privilege,” although most of them will probably never know about it. The more unsettling inference to draw from this particular stunt is that Twitter thinks its power users are so lightly attached to the platform that seeing a few ads might drive them away.

Kafka suggests going with a paid ad-free option, which has worked (with a few hiccups) for services like Pandora music streaming.  PCWorld also suggests taking the “freemium” subscription route.  The ads on such services tend to be much more obtrusive, though, and paid-premium sites usually try to offer added value to convince users the price of a subscription is worthwhile.

Perhaps Twitter could explore ways to deliver premium content.  Like many other proposed changes, it would run the risk of destroying the unique character that brought so many users to the platform in its glory days.  Twitter was free in every sense of the word.  Even the message size limit conveys freedom to readers, who don’t have to work their way through lengthy screeds to get to the good stuff.  If brevity is the soul of wit, Twitter was an exorcism.

GeekWire pronounces another Twitter gimmick: the “curated” Tweets of its “Twitter Moments” feature, a failure because it primarily mines data from existing heavy users, giving them a curation feature they don’t really need, while leaving new users overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information cascading through the service.

A better alternative might be an interface that welcomes new users, gets to know their interests and helps them put together their own experience, instead of making decisions for them.  “Imagine a Twitter where you define which topics interest you, and Twitter curates the best content for you upon each returning visit,” Alex Berg of GeekWire suggests.

Over at The Verge, they’re about ready to pronounce last rites over Twitter, musing that its sense of “gleeful anarchy” has dissolved into a hopeless mess.  Nilay Patel floats an interesting suggestion that Twitter was gentrified into a “media-insidery cocktail party,” surrounded by a vast and unruly mob of “people who don’t seem to like anyone.”

It does seem like established media built its own networks in Twitter, which has been driving news coverage to an astonishing degree over the past few years — one could make a drinking game of how many Big Media stories refer to tweets, or were clearly shaped by Twitter input from people who know how to play the media.

Many media outlets have come to rely on Twitter as a fast-moving distributed intelligence system, a sensor system more delicate and responsive than nearly anything else – there’s rarely a faster way to keep up on breaking news developments.  Unfortunately, it is proving difficult to retain the volunteer ordinary users who provide all that valuable input, or to monetize the user base.  What’s in it for them?  The virtues that appeal to power users are increasingly lost on average folks, and don’t sound appealing to prospective users already comfortable with flashier, friendlier platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Gimmicks, hype, and fusion efforts with services like Vine and Periscope won’t save Twitter, and neither will changing to resemble other services.

The Irish Examiner put together a list of “six things Leslie Berland needs to sort out at Twitter right away,” and while the first item is wise advice to steer away from identity-destroying changes like 10,000-character Tweets, some of the others are the kind of heavy-handed “civility patrol” notions that are leading many users to conclude Twitter is too restrictive, too Orwellian, or on the verge of becoming nakedly hostile to them.  It would be better to get back to basics, revive the spirit of gleeful anarchy, and give new users more powerful and friendly tools without taking away their sense of control.  We’ve all had enough of being controlled.