Five hundred million tweets a day is an enormous amount of information and data. How does Twitter manage all of this? What data do they have and how can they be used?
317 million active users around the world and 500 million daily tweets make Twitter one of the most important global media outlets of the 21st Century. But the company with a 10 year track record and nearly 4,000 employees isn’t generating enough income. Some analysts like Morgan Stanley’s Brian Nowak think that advertising turnover in the last quarter of 2016 could fall to 1% compared to the same period last year.
The good news for Twitter is that it could have a solution within its reach – data. Data represent an untapped gold mine. As Joe Rice, Twitter’s Director of Data Sales and Partnerships for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, recently explained at the Big Data conference, every 140 character tweet can contain up to 150 megadata: who sends it, from where, what operating system they use, their Klout score, etc. - not counting additional data like hashtags, interactions and photos.
Twitter is increasingly focusing on selling these data, which in the third quarter generated a $71 million income. It is also a business area that is growing faster than advertising.
But monetizing data poses some legal problems. For starters, there are the legal issues that affect all types of companies. But there are also additional problems due to the DNA of Twitter - a company that presents itself as a platform that draws attention to social and political demands.
Twitter is based on freedom of expression, but it’s selling data not only to marketing and advertising companies, but to governments and security agencies that do not allow dissidence. Ben Elgin, Journalist for Bloomberg Business Week, recently illustrated this in a televised interview: “Twitter sells data to countries that arrest people for what they write on Twitter.”
Front page of Bloomberg Business Week regarding Twitter’s data business
Rice tries to evade that tension between Twitter’s corporate culture and its data business. “We are a platform that shows what everyone says without taking sides. And we shouldn’t delude ourselves: in the end, we’re a company that lives off of its advertising business, like Facebook.” But that statement may no longer be valid in a few years because, as Rice wonders, “What can you do if you know what everyone in the world is saying about any issue at any time?”