What does Twitter’s IPO mean for communicators?

Changes are already happening as the 140-character powerhouse goes public Thursday. But how far will Twitter take things, and how will faithful tweeters respond?

It’s a platform that has every communicator, politician, and celebrity daydreaming.

Tweet the right photo or barge in on the right Super Bowl moment, and reap a massive return out of a mere 140 characters.

Whether you use Twitter to report the news during a hurricane or shoot yourself in the foot with Kenneth Cole-style gaffes, questions hang over the social media mammoth’s initial public offering Thursday.

Will increased financial demands force Twitter (like Facebook) to evolve in ways that alter the strategies of organizations that tweet? Or would it be nuts to tamper with success?

Twitter, which boasts 230 million active monthly users worldwide, is already changing in advance of the IPO, says Paul Rand, chief digital officer of Ketchum and president and CEO of Zócalo Group. Last week Twitter rejiggered its map design to make photos and videos more prominent in its users’ feeds without expanding the content.

“They’re already doing the things that marketers are asking for and looking for,” Rand says.

No reckless changes

Astonishingly, as its IPO headed out the door Wednesday, Twitter didn’t respond to our emails about its plans. But that didn’t deter us from hitting up Rand and other industry seers for their insights.

Bestselling marketing strategist David Meerman Scott confesses to being bullish on Twitter’s IPO (so much so, he discloses, that he has an order in to buy shares). In an email to Ragan.com, Scott dismisses speculation by some that Twitter will change radically once shareholders grab a piece of the company.

“Twitter is an important tool for PR people and reporters to connect,” he says, “and it is a valuable way for both companies and the media to reach consumers.

“The company (Twitter, that is) would be reckless if they changed their business model in such a way that they jeopardize the way we use the service.”

In a post published Tuesday on Social Media Today, Scott adds that Twitter is growing rapidly abroad, as he recently observed in Cairo and in Doha, Qatar. “The global aspect of Twitter should fuel growth for years to come, even if the domestic market slows,” Scott writes.

Clarifying its purpose?

Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of the international communications agency Ruder Finn, suggests that as Twitter goes public, some soul-searching is in order.

“Twitter needs to clarify its purpose,” Bloomgarden told Ragan.com. “Is it an important political channel? Is it an important marketing tool? Or is it one of a thousand channels for social dialogue.”

PR and communications pros must watch closely “to see if Twitter will continue to adapt quickly in a marketplace that is constantly evolving with new offerings and achieve the same level of emotional engagement that some other social platforms achieve,” she says.

Who’s manning the messaging at Twitter? Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications + Technology, while en route to a Ragan Conference in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, had time only to reflect on how Twitter was presenting its game face in advance of the high-profile offering.

“From my perspective, the most interesting thing communications-wise about the Twitter IPO is that Twitter has kept its communication efforts in-house,” Holtz says. Many companies, Facebook among them, work with agencies in their IPOs.

BuzzFeed staff writer John Herrman predicted in September that if the post-IPO ad model works, “the Twitter experience will stay largely the same as what we have now.”

Then again, he also says Twitter “will introduce more things into users’ feeds without their permission. Some of these things will be ads.”

The ads will become more like tweets from the people you follow, Herrman says, and will more closely reflect the subjects people are tweeting about.

‘Just stay weird’

In a column titled “Please Twitter, Just Stay Weird,” The Wall Street Journal‘s Farhad Manjoo said Twitter will be forced to run a lot more ads. This won’t be ruinous, he says; Twitter’s tweet-like ads are some of the least annoying online.

“But Twitter will also face intense pressure to alter its service in order to make the service more widely appealing,” he writes.

As Twitter goes public, the need to please advertisers will become a bigger deal, says Ketchum’s Rand. Marketers see that they are getting a return on investment in Facebook and LinkedIn, he says. But with Twitter, it’s a mixed bag, though he adds that Twitter is getting increasing attention and dollars from Ketchum and Zócalo.

Twitter aims to reverse the “mixed bag” impression. Next week, the newly public company will court communicators, marketers, and advertisers in its first conference for agencies, Rand says.

The greatest advantage the platform has going for it is its mobility, which is greater than that of Facebook and other social media, Rand says.

He adds, “What you’ll see them doing is trying to figure is how do they continue to monetize that [mobility]. How do they make it more friendly and usable for marketers and advertisers?”

@r_working

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