Hunting for New Users

Yesterday Twitter announced that their user growth was flattening up. Needless to say, their share prices dropped. Now Twitter CEO says that his number one priority is to grow the user base. I think it is a great idea.

It is a great idea not only for Twitter, but also for Facebook, Google and other corporations, which provide services to connect people. If not today, in near future, their user growth is going to stall.

It seems there are not many ways you can make more money from this business model.

  1. Upsell your services to existing users (advertisers). In order to do this, dive deeper into peoples’ data and share it with advertisers.
  2. Create new users, who have enough buying power that attracts advertising revenue, while safe-guarding existing user base.

To upsell their services, they need to mine more personal data, which can also create more backlash in the form of user attrition and regulatory scrutities. So the trick is to mine more data without appearing to be endangering the perceived privacy, while providing more value per click to the advertisers. This, I think, is a game of diminishing returns.

Creating yet another billion users with enough buying power to attract advertisers is even harder. To achieve this, these corporations have to increase their market share. For Google and Facebook, that would mean creating a whole new market and then lay claim its majority stake, because they already enjoy near monopoly on the existing market. A company can grow as much as its industry, not an inch more.

Google and Facebook already realized this and have been working on this. Beyond philanthropical goals, projects like Google Loon, is ultimately aimed to connect the “unconnected” and thus to create new markets. Which is exactly what Facebook is trying to do in China.

If Twitter wants to grow their user base substantially, they might want to sail abroad too. Not an easy thing to do, especially for Twitter, which doesn’t provide many glitters in their services, but is defenitely worth the effort.

Essentialism in Communication

When I first started talking to my children in their babyhood, my struggle was to talk in plainspeak. They would ask me questions and my response wouldn’t make much sense to them at all. I had to learn to remove all the conversational fluff that I was used to and get to the essential content. I had to communicate in elemental terms.

In hindsight, I can see that it was a great lesson for me. When we are presented with new ideas or difficult concepts, many of us act like 3 year olds. We freak out, stonewall, ignore, get distracted or get confused. The person who is communicating could use the same techniques to peel out the non-essential layers and present the meat of the conversation in plain simple terms. I am not advocating watering down of the content. It is about retaining the essence while removing the fluff and decor. Using building blocks of simple geometric shapes, we could start building complex structures one piece at a time. This strategy could be equally valuable, whether we are engaging in design discussions with a group of programmers or teaching kindergarteners.

Accountability and Ownership

Accountability and responsibility are used synonymously in corporate settings. Accountability is supposed to evoke an employee’s commitment towards a task, a project or a mission. We conduct weekly (sometimes even daily!) accountability meetings to get things done faster. Sure, people gather around in meetings for the fear of shame (call it peer pressure) and give status updates, which we make sure garner respect and approval.

I think there is an alternative approach. Eliminate the word ‘accountability’ or ‘responsibility’ altogether from our lingo and replace it with ‘ownership’. I think this will elevate the spirit of getting things done to a higher realm.

What? How so, you may ask. What is in a mere tweak in how we use our words?

I believe that words have power. When we talk to our colleagues, friends and family members, especially our children, the word choices we make are crucial. Words can move hearts and minds just a little bit, not enough to be seen, touched or sensed, but just enough to make a small shift in our attitudes. The right words evoke right emotions.

In one study mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell‘s blockbuster book ‘Blink‘, young subjects were primed with words representing old age and found that their subsequent responses became weaker to a statistically significant extent.

Words indeed have power.

Let us get back to the word play that we are in. The difference between ownership and accountability is not subtle. The former says we are empowered. The latter says that we are in line. Ownership is all about having an asset. It is about trust and confidence the other person has in you. It triggers intrinsic motivation to do the real work. Accountability on the other hand, is about our liability. It cleverly reminds us about the hidden sticks and carrots. It hints about shadows of danger, lurking around. The psychological shift these two words could make are nothing alike.

If you want to empower people and make them feel that they are richer by an additional asset, use the word ‘ownership’.

Let us cancel our ‘weekly accountability meeting’. Next week, instead,  let us have our first ‘weekly ownership meeting’.