Can you Pivot at $24 billion? – A Communication Strategy for Twitter’s Turnaround

The big news yesterday was Twitter’s announcement that they are going to change CEOs. The company has been struggling with public market investors since its IPO, and this change has been speculated for a long time. There are many people that argue that Twitter needs to dramatically alter its strategy. Ben Thompson has one of the best-articulated alternatives here (and seriously, you need to subscribe to his site). And he is not alone. There are plenty of visions out there about what Twitter can and should be. But almost every one of these critiques laments that such change is impossible because Twitter is public. And apparently public market investors do not like change.

As I pointed out in my post earlier this week everyone wants to Blame Wall Street, but that is no excuse for avoiding hard decisions. If the new CEO of Twitter thinks a big change in strategy is needed, she now has a window to change that strategy. It will not be easy, but it can be done. To argue that Street investors will oppose the change is the worst kind of defeatism.

Let me first disclose that I own shares in Twitter, which I bough shortly after the IPO. I am big fan of Twitter the product, so I think there should be tremendous value in Twitter the stock. And I am as frustrated as everyone else that has not materialized. I should also note that I have no idea what the right strategy for the company is. Thompson makes some very good points, but there are counter arguments as well. I also know that Twitter has been having this fight internally for years. My biggest concern with the company is not that they are embarked on the wrong strategy but that they often seem to not know what they want to be when they grow up. So I am not advocating one path or another, my point here is just to say that the options are all open.

So for the new CEO, whoever he or she may be, here is my ‘simple’ plan for changing strategy, and then selling that plan to the Street. The goal is not to save the stock price today, but to regain the premium in a year.

1 – Pick a new strategy quickly. Getting the Street to buy in will depend heavily on your personal credibility. Take too long to decide and they will assume that you are endorsing the status quo, making it much harder to change direction in nine months. Better yet, set a date for when you will announce the new strategy.

2 – Get internal buy-in quickly. You do not need to iron out all the details and personnel for your new strategy right away, but you will need to know who is with you and who is not. For those executives who do not agree, give them generous severance packages and onerous non-disclosure agreements. When you present your strategy to the Street, you do not want internal voices to cause dis-harmony which investors will interpret as your lack of resolve.

3- Find some Metrics (in capitals) that you can predict fairly well and tell the Street those are the ones that matter. Ideally, these Metrics  would actually be closely correlated to the results you want to achieve. Then determine what is a very realistic estimate for those Metrics one year from now. Make sure that you can actually motivate the company to achieve the one year numbers.

4 – Hold an Investor Day in conjunction with your developer conference or some other company event. Announce your strategy there. Build a narrative around the Metrics you chose, and set a goal for those metrics one year out. Do not give them the one year number you know you can achieve, give them the number minus 20%. Under promise, over deliver.

5 – Unleash your marketing department to come up with a big-picture narrative of what the company will someday achieve. Dilute it down a bit and sprinkle some of the pixie dust on your presentation to the Street. Do not promise them anything, but give them something to dream big about.

6 – Know that when you give a one year target for your Metrics, every investor will draw a straight line from today to one year, and divide it into four. As you progress through each quarter, get as close as you can to hitting those milestones.

7 – Meet your annual Metrics.

8 – In the course of doing this, do not do anything to disrupt your actual business.

9 – In the course of doing this, do not violate any laws, accounting practices or general moral standards.

This may all sound a bit cynical, but I wanted to make sure to drive the point home. It is absolutely possible for a big public company like Twitter to make a dramatic change of strategic course. It is much easier for a new CEO to implement it, but anyone who tries will have to suffer near term choppiness in the stock. The key is not the big picture, or some wild growth number. The key is credibility which CEOs can only build through consistency. Tell everyone what you want to achieve and then do better.

I plan to have more to say on this with my IPO series starting next week, so stay tuned for more.

And if anyone on the Twitter Board wants to see my full-blown, detailed communications plan for a turn around, drop me a line. My consulting rates are very reasonable. 

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