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Brand Deep DivesApril 29, 2022

Trends, Trolls, & Takeovers: The Odyssey of Twitter

April 29, 2022
Cory Profile Picture
Cory Schröder
Senior Content Marketing Manager

Having staked its claim as the world’s real-time news feed, Twitter occupies a unique position within the social media landscape.

Not as influencer-heavy & image-focused as Instagram, as video-obsessed as TikTok, or as interpersonally-driven as Facebook — Twitter sees itself as “more of an information network” than a social network. It’s a place for so-called “microblogging”, where users can share their thoughts & opinions, the latest news, and more — in 240 characters or less.

This distinction has led Twitter to become the home base for political pundits, public figures, brands, and business “gurus” alike — all of which have found their niche within the omnipresent Twitter universe.

However, Twitter’s success has been called into question over the last few years — with many claiming that while its officially-reported metrics may look promising, the platform is at risk of losing its most important resource: users who actively tweet.

That being said, the recent takeover by US billionaire Elon Musk seems to have given Twitter a boost. After Musk revealed that he bought 9.2% of Twitter for $2.64 billion on April 4th, 2022, the brand’s stock rose by 27% and Twitter’s shares experienced the “biggest intraday increase since its first day of trading following the company’s 2013 initial public offering.”

As of April 25th, the Twitter board of directors has accepted Musk’s offer to acquire Twitter for $44 billion — which means the company is soon to go private. So, where does Twitter go from here?

Let’s take a look at Twitter’s journey from obscurity to prominence, as well as identify a few tips other brands can take into consideration.

Twitter’s Journey To Global Fame

Source: New York Magazine

Twitter started off as many other businesses do — the products of a “daylong brainstorming session” among friends and colleagues.

Originally pitched as a way for individuals to use an SMS service to communicate with a small group while the group was working at Odeo, its disemvowelled code name was twttr. But the origin of the brand name itself? Co-founder Jack Dorsey explained in an article for the LA Times:

“we came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’, and ‘chirps from birds’. And that's exactly what the product was.”

On March 21, 2006, Dorsey published the first official tweet, which read:

Funnily enough, this first-ever tweet was actually sold as an NFT in March 2021 to crypto entrepreneur Sina Estavi for $2.9 million, who proceeded to re-sell said NFT in 2022 and donate half of the proceeds ($25 million) to charity. What a small world!

But, back to Twitter’s origin story. The first full version of the platform was introduced to the public on July 15, 2006. Within the same year, Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone, and other members of Odeo formed a new company called Obvious Corporation — which then acquired Odeo, as well as Twitter.com.

However, in 2007, Twitter officially spun off into its own company — and the platform’s founders worked hard to define exactly what it was Twitter was supposed to be. In a 2013 interview with Inc., Williams explained:

“They called it a social network, they called it microblogging, but it was hard to define, because it didn't replace anything. {...} Twitter actually changed from what we thought it was in the beginning, which we described as status updates and a social utility. {...} Twitter was really more of an information network than it is a social network.”


With this new direction in mind, Twitter began to gain some organic traction, with the “tipping point” being identified as the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference in 2007. During the event, Twitter’s usage went from 20,000 tweets a day to 60,000 — a huge step forward for the brand.

In Steven Levy’s 2007 article for Newsweek, he attributes this growth to Twitter’s marketing efforts, stating:

“The Twitter people cleverly placed two 60-inch plasma screens in the conference hallways, exclusively streaming Twitter messages. Hundreds of conference-goers kept tabs on each other via constant twitters.

“Panelists and speakers mentioned the service, and the bloggers in attendance touted it. Soon everyone was buzzing and posting about this new thing that was sort of instant messaging and sort of blogging and maybe even a bit of sending a stream of telegrams.”

It was a smashing success in more ways than one — influential bloggers of the time lauded Twitter and the platform even received the coveted SXSWi Web Award prize!


From 2007 to 2010, Twitter experienced rapid growth. In 2007, the platform had 400,000 tweets per quarter — and by 2008, it was 100 million tweets per quarter. Cut to June 2010, and it’s 65 million tweets per day. That’s some exponential growth if we’ve ever seen it.

From 2009 to 2010, Twitter went from the twenty-second to the third-highest-ranking social networking site in the world — and continued to break its own records of daily tweets and tweets per second as the years went on.

In the fall of 2010, Twitter got a makeover. Dubbed “New Twitter”, this updated version of the platform now allowed users to view pictures and videos without leaving Twitter itself — which afforded members with a much more holistic, enjoyable experience.

“New Twitter” also had a complete overhaul of its interface — shifting “@mentions” and “Retweets” links to above the Twitter stream and moving “Messages” and “Log Out” to the top navigation bar. By November 2010, the “New Twitter experience” had been rolled out to all users and allowed the site to transition to a more seamless experience.

2011 saw the introduction of the “Connect” and “Discover” tabs, as well as a timeline of tweets and completely redesigned user profiles — which some compared to rival networking site Facebook’s setup. And by 2012, the platform was celebrating its 6th birthday, when it announced that it officially had 140 million users and 340 million tweets per day.

Between 2011 and 2013, Twitter acquired many notable companies — each of which enhanced the platform’s service and offerings. From Vine to Crashlytics, Twitter was buying up companies left and right with the goal of growing more efficiently. And for a while, it really worked.

The Dawn of Brand Twitter

Source: Wealth of Geeks

While Twitter had been steadily gaining steam since its founding in 2006, it wasn’t until February 2013 that some would say Twitter truly exploded.

During Super Bowl XLVII on February 3rd, unfortunately, the power went out — which led to it being dubbed “The Blackout Bowl”. But what was bad for the rival football teams was good for Twitter — and, thanks to a savvy move by its marketing team, none other than “America’s favorite cookie”, Oreo.

When the power went out, the vice president of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Mondeles International, Lisa Mann, was asked (and agreed) to tweet, “You can still dunk in the dark” — which was in reference to Oreo cookies.

In a 2020 interview with AdAge, Mann said that “literally the world changed when I woke up the next morning”, — with some going as far as to pinpoint Mann’s tweet as a “watershed moment”, which marked “the beginning of an era when brands endlessly commented on culture”.

According to Nathan Allebach of Vulture, marketing and advertising have “always been integrated with culture — mascots brought brands to life, influencers became human billboards”. But Twitter took it a step further, making it possible for users to respond to brand’s tweets “without consciously thinking it’s an ad” — a real coup for brand and social media managers everywhere.

In many ways, this was the beginning of “Brand Twitter” — which “facilitated a new sort of intimacy for brands, one in which they can blend in with people and develop their own personas.” Many brands got off to a rocky, if not entertaining, start.

Just think Los Angeles Chargers way back in 2007:

To be completely fair, this Twitter handle was previously owned by the team’s “digital-media person”, and, thus, when the Chargers acquired it, it came with some historical tweets attached. So, while this tweet wasn’t intended to represent the Los Angeles Chargers, in true Twitter fashion, it quickly went viral and became “an artifact of Brand Twitter history”.

By 2009, many big-name brands had jumped on the Twitter bandwagon — but it wasn’t until 2013 that Brand Twitter really took on a life of its own.

From KFC to Old Spice, brands of all kinds were finding their Twitter groove and building out their “Brand Twitter” identities — which, usually, went hand-in-hand with their overall brand identities.


For example, consider fast-food chain Wendy’s Twitter presence. It’s saucy, brazen — if not a bit rude — and was one of the first brands to really solidify its brand image through the use of snappy, 140-character tweets.

In fact, the brand became so well-known for its cheeky, witty tweets that its yearly participation in National Roast Day feels totally natural. On February 12th each year, Wendy’s hard-working social media team “steps up its game even more to celebrate the made-up (but now very real) holiday and send not-so-subtle jabs at its competitors and customers alike.”

And more often than not, brands actually nominate themselves to be roasted. After all, going viral thanks to a scathing Wendy’s tweet is fantastic (if not always 100% positive) exposure. From roasting big-time energy drinks…

…to well-known alcohol brands…

Thanks to the brand’s established Brand Twitter persona and the platform’s quippy, irreverent environment, Wendy’s is able to poke fun at brands, influencers, and regular Twitter users alike without facing any real backlash — something that could not be done as effectively on any other social media platform.


Over the years, plenty of other brands found their Brand Twitter identity and solidified their place in modern pop culture.

From Denny’s “quirky-surreal-teen-blogger” iconic tweets — which “arguably kick-started the trend toward ‘weird corporate’ personification” — to Hamburger Helper’s 2016 mixtape, Twitter became a place where brands could be daring, outrageous, and even a bit offensive, all in the name of exposure.

Cut to 2016, and Twitter had become a hub of political discourse — with brands like Excedrin and Merriam-Webster taking the opportunity to comment on the US Presidential election and increase brand awareness in the same stroke.

This was also the beginning of the era of “self-aware Brand Twitter”, where companies became conscious of the fact that they could use their Twitter content to stir up controversy… and get their brand in front of new audiences.

According to Allebach, the mainstream “meme-ification” of Brand Twitter officially began in 2018. He explains that:

“Users talked about brands like they were celebrities, admired their cleverness, embraced their absurdity, and even wanted to get roasted for fun.”

However, it couldn’t last forever, and, over time, the “impact of communities like r/FellowKids dwindled because brands were in on the joke and intentionally trying to get featured; it was like a badge of honor.” What followed was brand humanization, or the process of making your brand more relatable, approachable, and, well, human.

However, it was around 2019 that Brand Twitter began to take a turn for the worse — and even more absurd. From the “Silence, Brand” memes to Vita Coco’s infamous jar-full-of-piss tweet, Brand Twitter seemed to be going off the rails.

Interestingly, this also seemed to coincide with what some dubbed the decline of Twitter — but in what way? Let’s break it down.

The Decline of Twitter

Source: Forbes

In 2019, Forbes published a deep dive into the changes Twitter made to its user metrics — where the article’s author, Kalev Leetaru, stated:

“Twitter is fading. Fast. In the last six years it has dropped by 100 million tweeting users per day, plummeting from an average of 350 million posting users to just 250 million {...} In short, Twitter has been in a six-year decline and stagnation it can’t seem to shake.”

In order to fix this issue, the article pointed to Twitter’s decision to “pivot to yet another definition of what counts as a ‘user’ in a desperate attempt to paint its decline in a more positive light.” This new user metric was called a “monetizable daily active user” or an mDAU, and could be defined as anyone who “consumes a tweet in a way that the company can show them ads.”

And Leetaru had the data to back up his claim. By shifting its focus to how many users it can show ads to, Twitter managed to pull attention away from the fact that the number of members creating content — aka tweeting — was on the decline.

Leetaru went on to explain that:

“the company steadfastly declines to provide the kinds of metrics that would permit actual evaluation of its health, from the number of daily tweets to the number of daily tweeting users to its retweet density and average account age.”

And without active users creating daily tweets, “the platform is merely an empty box without all those users pouring in new tweets each day”. After all, consumers come to Twitter to see tweets, memes, and reactions — not to view ads.

So while the increase in mDAUs was a positive factor for Twitter, the platform still seemed to be in quite a bit of trouble if it couldn’t get the number of tweets up again.

Now, if we fast-forward to 2022, one could say that Twitter is emerging from its slump in a few notable ways. First, the platform has reported a consistent increase in users from Q3 2020 to Q4 2021 — with overall annual users going from 139 million in 2019 to 186 million in 2020.

And that is only including the mDAUs, not the regular DAUs, which are “reportedly between 350 and 400 million”. However, while this growth is a positive thing, it still doesn’t address the issue presented earlier: are the number of tweets, aka content, increasing or decreasing?

Additionally, while the company has reported a consistent increase in quarterly revenue for all of 2021 — with a majority of said revenue being (unsurprisingly) driven by advertising on the platform — it also saw a net profit loss of $1.1 billion in 2020.

Clearly, Twitter is still walking a dangerous line. So, will the platform’s new owner be able to breathe fresh life into it? Or will its popularity continue to wane?

Twitter Goes Private? The Elon Musk Era

Source: MSNBC News

Elon Musk has been an active, popular Twitter user since June 2009. With 86.1 million followers and 17.5k tweets under his belt, Musk is a highly influential user on the platform.

Back in March of this year, Musk polled his followers to ask them whether or not they think Twitter adheres to the principles of free speech:

A whopping 70.4% said “no” — and Musk followed up this poll with another tweet asking if a new platform was needed. In a recent Bloomberg article, Tom Forte, an analyst at DA Davidson & Co. was quoted as saying:

“Given Elon’s prior comments about wanting to start a social media company, I would say it’s possible that he will increase his stake in Twitter or take a controlling interest in the company sometime soon”.

Talk about prophetic. And when Musk did indeed purchase a 9.2% stake in Twitter on April 4th, the price of the company’s shares rose sharply — as seen in the Bloomberg chart below.

And as of April 25th, Twitter’s board of directors has officially accepted Musk’s offer to acquire the company for $44 billion — which means that Twitter will soon transition from a public to private company.

And since private companies are not as open to scrutiny and regulation as public ones, many fear that Musk’s staunch free speech beliefs will only increase the platform’s current issues surrounding regulating what counts as “free speech”.

Most recently, Musk has claimed that Twitter operates as “the de facto public town square” — where “failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy.”

But according to Microsoft researcher Tarleton Gillespie, “the notion that social media platforms can operate as truly open spaces is fantasy, given how platforms must moderate content while also disavowing this process.”

In fact, when it comes to platforms such as Twitter, Gillespie states that they are

“obliged to moderate, to protect users from their antagonists, to remove offensive, vile, or illegal content and to ensure they can present their best face to new users, advertisers, partners, and the public more generally.”

However, the real issue lies in “exactly when, how, and why to intervene.” And in the end, this is the real challenge of regulating content on a platform like Twitter.

But, according to the press release announcing the deal, Musk’s priorities will be to “make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.”

It’s yet to be seen how Musk’s Twitter takeover will impact users or the platform in general, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on how the story unfolds.

What You Can Learn From Twitter

With an enormous, successful company like Twitter, there’s always something to learn. However, we’ll focus on just a few tips in this section.

1. Work Smarter, Not Harder

While they haven’t always been highly publicized, Twitter has made plenty of acquisitions over the years that allowed the brand to work smarter, not harder. For example, instead of building out its own video capabilities, the brand purchased Vine and integrated its technology into the Twitter platform.

And that’s by no means the only example of Twitter acquiring another company in order to enhance its own offerings. Over the years, its service-enhancing acquisitions have been:

  • Vine (2012) - a video clip company, allowed Twitter to have a standalone app that could be used to create and share six-second looping videos directly in Twitter users’ feeds.

  • Crashlytics (2013) - software company, allowed Twitter to build out its mobile developer products, as well as collect, analyze, and organize app crash reports to improve service.

  • Trendrr (2013) - a real-time social data & analytics company, allowed Twitter to better tap into media and TV

  • MoPub (2013) - a mobile-focused ad exchange platform, made it possible for mobile app publishers to “manage their inventory of multiple sources of advertising”.

  • Namo Media (2014) - a technology firm, allowed Twitter to enhance its “native advertising” capabilities

  • SnappyTV (2014) - a company that helps edit and share video content from TV, allowed Twitter to help broadcasters and rights holders share video content on Twitter

  • CardSpring (2014) - a coupon-syncing service, allowed Twitter to enhance its eCommerce strategy

  • Mitro (2014) - a password-security company, allowed Twitter to enhance its own password security

  • Niche (2015) - an advertising network for social media influencers, allowed Twitter to streamline the relationship between advertisers and social media celebrities

  • Periscope (2015) - a live-streaming video app, allowed Twitter to enhance its live-streaming abilities

  • TellApart (2015) - a commerce ad tech firm, allowed Twitter to boost its commerce ads

  • Magic Pony (2016) - an artificial intelligence startup, allowed Twitter to enhance images and videos on the platform

From this list, it’s clear that often, instead of putting its own resources and effort into developing its own solutions, Twitter chose to outsource. Buying up successful apps and companies and incorporating their technology into its own service saved Twitter a good deal of work.

Now, this specific course of action isn’t possible for all brands, as buying other companies can be an expensive endeavor. However, the overall idea can still be utilized: instead of doing everything in-house, expending a great deal of time and effort, sometimes it's a better idea to make the executive decision to outsource.

This allowed Twitter to expand rapidly and grow consistently by incorporating other brands’ work and technology into their own platform. Remember: smarter, not harder.

2. Don’t Be a Copycat

When it comes to social media, it’s all about trends. Hashtags, viral music, memes — to be successful in this fast-paced environment, you need to keep up with what’s cool.

However, there’s a fine line between being up-to-date and trendy and just being a copycat. And while many social media platforms move fast, Twitter moves at lightspeed. What was trending yesterday may be forgotten by tomorrow — the window of time to produce content that’s “on trend” is extremely short.

And because of this setup, Twitter has taught many users an important lesson: Why be a copycat when you can be a cool cat? The most successful accounts and content creators on Twitter are authentic and original — they’re the trendsetters, the cool cats.

While other social media platforms are more open to copycatting trends — think TikTok challenges or Instagram hashtags — Twitter users are quick to call out accounts they feel aren’t producing original content.

For example, consider the decline of Brand Twitter. For a while, posting memes, roasting others, and being wacky were seen as refreshing attributes. But somewhat quickly, users got tired of “brand-posted cringe” and derided those who were late to the game, aka the copycats.

At the end of the day, the most successful and innovative brands are the ones that come up with new ideas, push the envelope, and aren’t afraid to be different. While being a copycat is definitely easier, it pays to be original.

Final Thoughts

Twitter has been on quite a journey since its founding back in 2006. Millions upon billions of people have visited the site and its impact on modern culture is undeniable.

However, like most large, influential brands, it hasn’t always been easy. Figures on both sides of the political spectrum have criticized the platform’s handling of free speech. And, perhaps more than any other social networking site, particularly vicious trolls abound.

Nevertheless, Twitter has been and will likely continue to be a staple of online culture and a hub of important conversation, thoughts, and opinions. Of course, with the recent takeover by Elon Musk, the platform’s future is up in the air.

We’ll be standing by to see when and where it lands.

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