Twitter’s comms chief, Gabriel Stricker, departed suddenly in July, and now more execs will likely follow. A key marketing figure is already job prospecting, sources say.
Bottom line: If Twitter doesn’t find a permanent chief executive quickly it risks a flight of talent within its marketing organization. And it's not at all clear how much longer the CEO search will take.
A Re/code report this week suggested interim CEO Jack Dorsey will stay at Square, likely taking him out of the running to become Twitter’s permanent CEO. And, at a Wednesday tech conference hosted by Deutsche Bank, CFO Anthony Noto declined to provide a timeline for the hire.
That’s a major problem since Twitter needs to push its platform to new users or risk disrupting the steady revenue flowing in from advertisers.
These issues are making the executives hired to market Twitter to the general populace a little antsy. People in Twitter’s marketing department – who now report to Noto – have advocated for a dedicated CMO. Specifically, there is an internal push for a marketing chief with experience at a big consumer brand as opposed to another Silicon Valley company.
Certainly, Twitter has been very public in its hunt for a CMO. In an Ad Age interview, Noto said: “The delightful thing that I have found is that many of the people we're talking to really think of the opportunity at Twitter as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think of it as a marketer's dream.”
But some at Twitter believe that’s hollow rhetoric designed to get Wall Street off its back, and those insiders are aware that no good marketing chief will take the role until it has at least hired a full-time CEO.
It’s unclear when that will happen. Certainly Dorsey understands that Twitter must become a platform people engage with daily, and to do that, it needs to clarify its value prop both to new and lapsed users. But, as mentioned, Dorsey doesn’t fit the Twitter board’s parameters that it “will only consider candidates … in a position to make a full-time commitment.”
And even with a full-time CEO, the CMO role has unique and unattractive challenges. “There’s not enough low-hanging fruit,” one exec grumbled – meaning a potential CMO won’t have any easy wins at Twitter.
Why is Twitter having such trouble getting its messaging straight? Part of the problem, according to one person, is a disconnect between Twitter’s communications and marketing departments – that its comms people don’t always understand how marketing campaigns work.
Right now, it’s too early to tell if these problems will come back to haunt Twitter. Jordan Bitterman, chief strategy officer at Mindshare NA, said Twitter’s value proposition is clear to many consumers, though he acknowledged it needs to keep developing new offerings.
“To reach the next plateau of monthly active users and to create deeper engagement, Twitter needs to roll out a generation of product enhancements,” he said. “In general, consumers get bored when their wants and needs outpace the rate of change of their mobile apps and social networks.”
And Rick Doerr, RAPP New York’s managing director, said Twitter’s unique interface helps it differentiate from other social networks. “But I understand, too, how it could be a hindrance for wider adoption of the product,” he said. “There is still room for improvement with the feel and function of the service.”
Twitter seems to be banking on a big user-facing initiative called Project Lightning to better organize its content. Both Noto at the Deutsche Bank conference and revenue chief Adam Bain at DMEXCO (after deflecting a question wondering if he might be Twitter’s next CEO) referenced its upcoming release.
It remains to be seen whether this improvement will be enough to alleviate Twitter's issues with product and marketing.
For now, however, Twitter still has enough users for marketers to feel comfortable on the platform. While Doerr said the investor community is better equipped to evaluate Twitter’s user growth rate and trajectory, it’s still “a valuable place to invest efforts.” And as long as Twitter continues to be a forum for real-time one-to-one interactions, it will hold value for marketers.