Twitter is taking a nosedive. By all accounts, the end is nigh for the once-beloved micro-blogging site. The recent firing of executives, outages, minimal new user growth and continued operation in the red has left Twitter’s stock around its all-time low of $16.69 per share for most of 2016. Leaving soothsayers to predict a takeover and the end of Twitter as we know it. Recently appointed CEO and co-founder, Jack Dorsey, is in a tough spot as the new captain of an overloaded ship lost at sea. So what went wrong for the old Blue Bird?
Twitter is bloated. It ate too much when it added on feature after feature: retweets, reply, favorites (or is it likes?), pictures, videos, Vine, Periscope, changing its feed organization, the Moments tab, the heavily-hinted-at-but-still-not-announced expansion to a 10,000 character limit, and plenty of ads. But it’s not bringing in the new members that they need to satisfy investors. All of this excess makes Twitter too big, too much, and it’s losing its identity in the process.
To better understand Twitter’s predicament we can turn to everyone’s favorite Bush: Jeb! Jeb Bush was the front-runner at the start of the Republican Primary race—he’s not anymore. Without making any endorsements, he has a solid CV on which to sell himself. He was popular as Governor of Florida, a key state for Republicans during the Presidential elections. He is fluent in Spanish and married to a Mexican woman, giving him a unique voice and an in with the Latino community. And he has the most financial backing of the whole lot. According to OpenSecret.org, at the end of June 2015, still very early in the primary race, he had $128 million in donations—he had almost twice as much as the next Republican candidate and roughly $30 million more than Hillary Clinton.
He has all of the pieces to develop his public identity and campaign along with the money to really put himself out there. He started in pole position and the expert pick to win, but almost immediately fell flat. Trump leads as an outsider appealing to those tired of the status quo, Ted Cruz continues to pull in the far right of the Tea Party, and Marco Rubio is the lead establishment candidate while Jeb’s been floundering below all of them.
Instead of building from his notable record using the stellar funds at his disposal, Jeb has tried to reinvent his public persona in response to the negative criticism levied against him; criticism that he lacks intensity and has the personality of bland oatmeal. Thus the inexplicable exclamation point on his logo, like a faux imitation of excitement at the end of a text message “Ok!” It is trying to energize a man who speaks in muted tones. It is trying to inject charisma into a man who can’t deliver a punchline. It is trying to force prideful confidence in a man who carries an aura of humble confidence. It is trying and failing to make Jeb someone he’s not.
And his advisors have pitted him directly against Donald Trump, the candidate who exemplifies everything Jeb is trying to be. If you’ve watched any of the Republican debates (sans the last one) then you’ve seen the Trump v. Bush sideshow. They squabble and insult each other. Trump fends off Jeb’s jabs (Jeb’s Jabs should be the name of his blog) with self-righteous confidence while Jeb responds with hesitant wit and forced aggression—true entertainment. The polls suggest that Jeb is losing these duels. In his attempt to confront the front-runner he exposes himself to Trump’s mocking. It’s hard not to laugh at Jeb when Trump mockingly told Jeb at the second GOP debate during a spat between the two, “more energy tonight, I like that.”
In a social listening study done by our own Content Strategist, Hallie Wright, she found that people talk about Jeb frequently, but the conversation lacks passion and is frequently centered around Trump. By pitting against Trump, Jeb is capitalizing on the massive volume of mentions surrounding the most controversial candidate. But he has failed to stand out and get them to engage with him in a passionate way.
Instead of focusing on his positives, Jeb’s whole campaign has centered on what he is not. Everything from the logo to his debate performances, his persona projects a clearly inauthentic person. So much has been theorized and written about why Trump has definitively lead the polls, and if anything Trump exemplifies the ideal loud, charismatic, aggressive populist candidate. Republican voters don’t need another one and they certainly don’t want a less-loud, less-charismatic, awkwardly aggressive copy of one. They want someone who’s not afraid to be him or herself. By trying to give the voters what he thinks they want, Jeb gave them exactly what they don’t want and don’t need.
In the same vein, this is exactly what Twitter has done. In an attempt to attract new users, Twitter has added so much to only create a service that the user doesn’t want or even need. We don’t need another Facebook, but Twitter is set on copying The Social Network, crippling what makes Twitter great. At it’s best, it is a nimble public communication platform. The more that gets stapled on, ineffectively, the more burdensome it becomes and the less accessible it is to new members. We don’t need another place to write 10,000 letter screeds about Marco Rubio’s boots. We do need a place to write 140 character screeds about Marco Rubio’s boots.
It’s not too late for either of them to make a turnaround, but it is up to them to have the courage to do so. Jack Dorsey needs to take his Big Blue Bird and Jeb Bush on a spiritual journey into the desert, where they will delve into their roots and each find their true identity.