Twitter, whose shares dropped 10% seemingly as Jack Dorsey said he was not satisfied with the current user growth figures. But is growth and its numbers of users the most important thing that Twitter should be focusing on?

That was the sixth topic on the most recent TWIO episode, and here’s what our guests had to say about it…

ALEX TUCKER: I kind of guess it depends on what Twitter’s trying to achieve, really. I mean, if they’re trying to establish themselves as a kind of media and advertising platform then number of users are important but not the most important factor necessarily. So you can’t really take that in isolation. You need to think about engagement and the amount of time that people spend and what they’re doing, what they’re engaging with while they’re on Twitter. But for sure, the total number of users is important. It’s not something we would talk to a client about, though. If we’re talking to them about having a presence on any platform, it doesn’t make sense to us as individuals or businesses to worry about the complete volume, the total volume of users a platform has. It’s more about relevance. Kind of tricky, I guess, but I don’t think it’s something you’d want to look at in complete isolation as a performance indicator, no.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah. I think the concern for me is if they’re not achieving the kind of growth figures that they’re targeted with, then obviously they’re going to turn sharply to monetisation of the platform. But that is likely to significantly change the current user experience. Emily, are you an avid tweeter at the moment? Are you concerned that Twitter might change the way they do things?

EMILY HILL: I wouldn’t say I’m concerned about it. I think all social platforms have to evolve and have to change. I think to answer your original question about are the user numbers the most important thing in business, well maybe in Silicon Valley. I think for most of the most important thing is to make money, and actually in the same announcement they said that their revenue was up by over 60%, which sounds pretty good to me, and they’ve narrowed the loss from last year – no profit yet. But I think Twitter really has to decide what it is. If it’s trying to be Facebook it’s not going to succeed because it’s not as easy to use as Facebook and I see that a lot because I train companies in the basics of social media and they always find it easier to get to grips with Facebook than they do to get to grips with Twitter, which just seems so much more opaque and they don’t understand what it is or how to use it or how it benefits them. So unless they’re prepared to massively change what we understand Twitter to be, they’re not going to get over a billion users, I don’t think. You can sort of look at the two-year growth curve from 200 million users, but Facebook went to 600 million within two years. Twitter hasn’t yet hit 300 million in the last two years. So I think what it needs to do is accept that it’s hit its saturation point in terms of users and how does it give those users a great experience and how does it make money for the company?

DAVID BAIN: Kevin, you appear to be the Twitter guerrilla in the room! You’ve got 9575 followers at the moment, so that’s a decent chunk there. Are you concerned at all that Twitter might change and you might not like it as you do now?

KEVIN GIBBONS: A little bit, I guess. I would say I’m nowhere near as active on Twitter as I used to be. I kind of go in plagues, I guess – not Google, luckily! Interestingly I was talking to a Facebook developer recently and he was saying the way they judged it is not just by users. That’s an indicator but it’s not a KPI entirely, I guess, from that point of view. But he said they have a hard moment, and for them it’s if you have seven friends within ten days of joining Facebook, you know that that person is likely to be active. Active users are much more important than number of total users, because a lot of people will sign up and they might never come back again. Twitter is obviously the same. And for Twitter, that moment was once you followed 30 people, you’re much more likely to engage and become an active person and I remember back when I joined Twitter, which was a long time ago now, I didn’t really get the point, I didn’t understand why you would use it until lots of other people I knew were on there and I’d started engaging with them. So I think that’s very true that once you have a certain amount of people that you know using it, it becomes something… Like Facebook, I think everyone’s got to the point where they’ve forced to be on Facebook because all their friends are there, rather than perhaps wanting to be there. So for them it’s about active users and I think almost for Twitter and Facebook they’ve probably got to that stage where it’s no longer about building it up, it’s probably about retaining it in a lot of cases as well. How do you make sure that people aren’t getting bored of Facebook, aren’t getting bored of Twitter, and they keep that going as well as finding new members or users in this case.

DAVID BAIN: I guess the challenge is that retention isn’t a sexy word for investors and it’s difficult to justify that to people that want growth. Pete, what are your thoughts on that?

PETE CAMPBELL: I think Emily said it right that Twitter is at a mature stage now. I think it has hit its peak in terms of getting growth. It’s a very well known platform. I think the amount of active users versus registered accounts is very high and I think now they’re only going to achieve growth by either significantly revamping and changing the platform the way Facebook continues to controversially do, or they go down a path of acquiring whoever the next big Twitter will be, to stop people shifting elsewhere. I mean, when I read that Jack Dawes is on the hunt for a Chief Marketing Officer to achieve growth, I don’t think a marketing strategy is needed for Twitter. They’re going to have to focus on retaining people by making significant changes to their product. It’s only recently in the last few years where they’ve started to introduce photo embeds and video embeds and rich media, so there is the thing to say that maybe Twitter move too slow and maybe that’s why they didn’t achieve the faster growth that they need.

DAVID BAIN: Mm, it’s how much the platform can change whilst at the same time keeping their users happy because looking at Twitter now, when I log on, the first thing that I see in the top of the screen most of the time is a video playing, and I’m not sure if I like that as much as seeing what’s going on, and if they move too far away from their existing model, then it could put people off, and I can’t think of another social network that I would be likely to move to instead of that, but you never know. Maybe something entirely different likely Periscope would be something that they use instead of Twitter, but we’ll see.

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