Was Twitter’s Visual-Tool Debut at the VMAs a Glimpse of Things to Come?

Facebook’s leap into social photography via its purchase of Instagram three years ago has certainly served the platform well. And while the image-sharing platform is predicted to claim a big slice of the visual pie in terms of ad revenue, Twitter does not want to fall behind. The micro-blogging platform is rumored to be adding visual features too.

At MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs) on Sunday night, Twitter gave a select group of celebrities, including Taylor Swift and Pharrell Williams, access to the platform’s unreleased photo and video editing tools. Although Twitter hasn’t yet officially unveiled any visual capabilities, a source close to the company tells ClickZ that the platform wanted to try something new with its “closest partners.” Therefore Twitter provided some popstars with a few advanced photo capabilities for the evening of the VMAs to see how people would react. If the company’s visual tools were not well-received by the partners, the company would scrap them, says the source.

If Twitter does deem the visual tools a success it could integrate them as an extension of its mobile app. Or, according to some industry participants, the company could also try to rival Instagram by creating its own photo/video-sharing app.  

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a stand-alone app. Obviously Facebook has specific apps for celebrities so Twitter might be moving to that direction as well,” says Azher Ahmed, senior vice president and director of digital operations at DDB Chicago.

“Facebook is good at leaving its acquisitions like Instagram to work as a stand-alone brand, while simultaneously being very careful about how to bring traffic back to the platform. I don’t know if Twitter is taking a similar approach. It would be interesting to see,” he adds.

Others believe that the development of Instagram-like visual tools by Twitter is an inevitable development of an evolving social media landscape. 

“As the industry continues to see increasing amounts of competition and tension between platforms and companies, it is only natural to try to expand features and benefits. Only time can tell whether or not these are successful – it’s a very tough balance to strike,” says Michael Mulvey, creative director at ad platform RadiumOne, adding that Facebook’s attempted implementation of a Twitter-like short-post format in 2009 was very short-lived.

For a social media platform to be successful to marketers it needs to understand how they use and view it and how they interact with consumers through it.

“This is more important than just following suit,” says Mulvey. “If a platform deviates too much from its core use cases by adding irrelevant features, it will confuse and anger loyal users”, he adds.

For Twitter specifically, Mulvey believes that its current live streaming service Periscope is a better fit than Instagram-like visual tools.

“When Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, it equipped itself to compete with Twitter. Similarly, Twitter saw an opportunity to own live video streaming as well as make Meerkat redundant, when it launched Periscope in early 2015. This is a much more complementary feature than image editing, because it’s tied directly to Twitter as a platform of immediacy. I’d be willing to bet many hardcore Twitter users and marketers don’t even know of the app’s image-editing abilities,” Mulvey says.

But Tom Edwards, chief digital officer at marketing agency Epsilon, holds a different view. He thinks that visual tools can help Twitter grab the attention of millennial users who have grown accustomed to customizing their messages with ephemeral social platforms like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.

“The evolution from text-speak to visual language is key for Twitter to capitalize upon to remain relevant,” Edwards says.

As Twitter continues to take steps like adding custom emojis and hashtags as its way of amping up visually contextual content, only time will tell if incorporating additional Instagram-like capabilities will be a success or failure. One thing’s for sure, it will definitely provide marketers with an additional avenue to visually illustrate their brand messages and expand beyond the 140 character limit. Whether marketers will care or not is a different question! 

Homepage image via Shutterstock

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