It's Time For Twitter to Grow Up

Each of us starts out with a clean slate and ends up more or less in the same place. In between, everything’s up for grabs, but one thing’s for sure: none of us get anywhere in life until we get our act together and grow up.

It’s OK to fumble around and be clueless when we’re young, but at some point we’re expected to figure out what the heck we’re doing. Sadly, some of us never quite get there. We look like adults and dress like adults but we don’t act like adults. And that can be frustrating for the real adults in our lives.

The real adults say there’s a time and place for everything, and it’s called college. But what they really mean is quit screwing around, figure out what you want to do with your life, and go out and make something of yourself.

It’s the same with companies. There’s a time and place for everything, and it’s called startup. That’s when young companies get to fumble around and sow their wild oats. But some of them never mature. They never grow up. And some companies go even one step further. They go public anyway.

And when I say “some companies,” I mean Twitter.

It’s time for Twitter to quit screwing around and figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. Actually, it’s long past time for that. Ideally, the social media company would have figured out its value proposition and business model before its IPO. But more than two years after the fact, it still hasn’t a clue.

In all fairness, Twitter is just 10 years old and therefore a relatively young company. And just as in life, things never go according to plan in the corporate world. That’s especially true in the hyper fast-paced tech industry. But just as there are some things adults simply don’t do, there are some things that adult companies don’t do.

And when I say “adult companies,” I mean public companies.

A public company can’t just toss its entire management team whenever it gets the urge and expect to be taken seriously, let alone sustain any kind of growth or momentum.

Between the time that former CEO Dick Costolo took Twitter public in November of 2013 and his departure last July, the former improv comic turned over nearly every executive in his management team at least once. And if you thought that was bad, get a load of his replacement, Jack Dorsey.

After three months at the helm, the Twitter cofounder Monday confirmed that four executives – the company’s top engineering, product, media and HR execs – would be stepping down. In addition, Vine head Jason Toff is reportedly heading to Google. The company announced Tuesday morning, via a Tweet, a new CMO.

At this point I’ve sort of lost count of how many heads have occupied each position but, with the exception of COO and former revenue chief Adam Bain, I’m pretty sure the company has an entirely new leadership team since the day it went public. That sort of volatility is unprecedented.

Twitter’s executive turnover is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the waterline are a product strategy and a business model that have never been ready for primetime. And those are two very big issues that public companies simply can’t have.

Granted, there comes a time when even mature companies plateau and have to reinvent themselves, but that’s not what happened at Twitter. Twitter never invented itself in the first place. Referencing the old Geoffrey Moore paradigm, it never crossed the chasm from niche usage to mainstream adoption. It never matured.

Twitter achieved viral growth early on as a social communication platform for the news media, entertainers, and those who follow them, but beyond that, the product failed to catch on. It’s hard to use, it’s not particularly engaging and its benefit is unclear. Most users try it a few times and quit.

It would help for the company to communicate its value proposition to mainstream users, but fumble around as it has, it still hasn’t found a way to articulate what Twitter is, why we should use it and why marketers should spend their precious ad dollars on the platform.

That’s why Twitter’s user growth has stalled at 320 million monthly active users (MAUs) behind WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Instagram, not to mention Faceboook’s 1.55 billion MAUs. It’s also why the company is still a long way from turning a profit.

Simply put, Twitter never matured. It never grew up. Now it has to. Dorsey has to come up with the team, the product, the business and the value proposition that can get Twitter from niche to mainstream, all under the bright lights of Wall Street. I for one do not envy the task.