Updated 10:25 a.m. EST, Thursday, December 20
Twitter has spent the last few weeks of 2012 attempting to curry favor with users: The company on Wednesday released an oft-requested feature, the ability for any Twitter account-holder to download an archive of all of their tweets stretching back to whenever an account was created. Days prior, Twitter released new multicolored photo filters for its mobile applications on iPhone and Android. And in between, the company noted it had swelled from 140 million active monthly users early in the year to 200 million as of this week.
But all those exciting announcements belie Twitter’s own evolution over the past six years of its existence: From tiny startup to more conventional corporation, a transition that seems to have kicked into high gear in 2012.
For example, in recent weeks, Twitter has also quietly begun quietly sending promotional email messages to more of its account-holders, encouraging them to begin advertising with the company or to invite inactive users back to the social network.
TPM on Monday first received a standardized email from Twitter the company, with an invitation to “advertise on Twitter.” “Gain more followers, reach more customers and grow your business,” the email read, containing a link to Twitter Ads. Here’s a screenshot of the email in question:
A day later, BuzzFeed’s FWD tech blog received a different email from Twitter, asking to reach out to an account that the user followed on Twitter, “@RickPerryFacts,” which has not tweeted since September.
“Twitter’s better with friends. Mention @rickperryfacts in a Tweet to bring them back,” the email read. Buzzfeed characterized the email as “spam.”
Twitter hasn’t openly published any blog posts or news releases explaining these promotional moves. When asked by TPM for more information about the emails, whether they were part of the same campaign and how many users had received them, a Twitter spokesperson provided the following statement:
“As with all of our advertising efforts, we are being thoughtful and deliberate in how we roll out self-serve to all kinds of small and local businesses. Over the last few months, we’ve been slowly making it available to more advertisers. We see a huge opportunity here and we want to get it right.”
That doesn’t explain much about why Twitter is pushing these emails out at this time. But the two types of emails reflect Twitter’s dual mission going forward: Growing engagement on the social network itself, and increasing its advertising business.
It is also clear from some of Twitter’s other words and actions throughout the course of 2012 that the company is moving to position itself more as a viable, lucrative world-class business, one driven by advertising revenues.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo in January 2012 said at the All Things D conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif., that the company needed to “scale up” its advertising business and that it had not seen any significant outcry from users over placing paid “Promoted Tweets” in their streams.
Shortly thereafter, Twitter begin giving larger and more elaborate “brand pages” to those companies that committed to spending at least $25,000 on Twitter ads.
The new emails being sent out to users don’t encourage quite so much spending, but mark a new, more targeted push by Twitter to persuade individuals to promote themselves on the social network.
It’s not clear just how much success Twitter has had by introducing new types of advertisements on its main desktop website or through its mobile apps. Analytics firm eMarketer estimates that Twitter made $134.9 million from mobile ad sales alone in 2012, up from zero in 2011, the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog reported earlier this week. The Journal earlier reported last summer that Twitter was seeing more success with its mobile advertisements than even the much more popular Facebook.
Twitter itself doesn’t have to share its internal sales figures, as it is not a public company — yet. It is reportedly eyeing to present an initial public offering by 2014, according to a report by The New York Times in October. The company will want to have had its advertising revenue growing for several quarters by the time it files its first paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission, whenever that day comes.
Meanwhile, Twitter has also throughout 2012 taken criticism from some of its early adopters and developers, especially during the summer when it changed the terms on its application programming interface (API) to make them stricter, cutting off some Twitter apps on other websites such as LinkedIn, for example. One former fan, entrepreneur Dalton Caldwell, was so miffed about Twitter’s new direction that he launched a competing, subscriber-based short messaging service called App.Net.
Even the introduction of new features for users this year, such as photo filters, has come at a cost.
Another, lesser-known former ally that Twitter severed ties with during 2012 was the photo-hosting website Photobucket. Twitter first began working with Photobucket in 2011, using the service to host the photos that Twitter users posted to their accounts.
But Twitter in early December revealed on its Engineering Blog that it had developed its own in-house photo storage system, called “Blobstore,” which the company said it had been using since September. The blog post said that Twitter had switched to Blobstore in part to support the new influx of photos it expected thanks to its introduction of multicolored filters.
“We only use Blobstore for photo storage,” a Twitter spokesperson confirmed to TPM about the change.
“Photobucket is no longer hosting photos for Twitter, this service came to an end roughly three months ago,” a Photobucket spokesperson added when asked by TPM. “Photobucket does however still allow linking functions to Twitter and other social media sites. When sharing your photos with Twitter I believe Twitter shows a compressed version of the photo but guests can follow the link back to Photobucket to view they original version.”
There is nothing to prevent Twitter from offering Blobstore as its own separate service as an alternative to Photobucket or other photo sharing services as well. A Twitter spokesperson declined to specify, but notably stated: “Currently, we use Blobstore for photos.”
So as 2012 comes to a close, the company founded in 2006 as a tiny San Francisco startup seems to have truly come of age, acting more like the large, 900-plus person corporation it has become, marketing its products and leaving allies in the dust when it makes sense for it to do so.
Late update: On a semi-related note, Twitter also just shuffled some of its top executives, moving its chief financial officer Ali Rowghani into the spot of chief operating officer and Mike Gupta, formerly of social games company Zynga, into Gupta’s old spot, All Things D reported.