Q&A

Charlie Rose Talks to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo


“Advertisers will need to adapt the way they communicate. ... It can’t be a one-size-fits-all”

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“Advertisers will need to adapt the way they communicate. ... It can’t be a one-size-fits-all”

Tell me about what you’ve done with the iPad.
We heard from our users over and over that they wanted to bring more of their personality to the profile pages. We took that feedback and [are] allowing users to bring more photos and rich media: larger background images, more photos toward the top of the page, easier-to-flip-through photos, etc. So we’re trying to balance the 140-character constraint with the fact that people are tweeting videos and photos, and how we allow them to consume both those things at the same time.
 
What’s the key to unlocking mobile for advertisers?
The key for us has certainly been that the canvas is the conversation itself. Traditional marketing has been about the megaphone: “Here’s our message. We’re going to shout it through this megaphone. You listen to it.” The screen is simply too small for people to be paying attention to being shouted at. You have to be delivering content to them that they want to see. What we’re observing is a migration of marketers to mobile that’s in concert with an understanding that the message needs to be content, not just some ad now.
 
But Facebook (FB) hasn’t been able to succeed at that.
Our experience has been, when you design an ad platform that goes everywhere the tweets go, we don’t have to worry about which platform is more successful: mobile, a tablet, per se, a new form factor that hasn’t come out yet. …
 
How much has the advertising market for mobile been tapped?
Oh, it’s absolutely in its infancy. I don’t think that the model is necessarily there yet. Advertisers will need to adapt the way they communicate with customers. It can’t be a one-size-fits-all, “Here’s a message we’re going to blast out to 5 million people.”
 
How do you measure the impact Twitter had on the Arab Spring?
In Arab Spring, I think it was a mechanism, a part of many other mechanisms, by which people were able to organize protests. I think that we as technologists can impart too much impact on our own technologies.
 
Someone said, “Technology does not deliver as much as you expect in the beginning, and in the end delivers more than you expect.”
It’s become trite to say that technology has reduced the distance between people—it’s eliminated the barriers of time and geography, for example. But I think that on Twitter that distance has been so collapsed that all these other artificial barriers to communication are eroded, like the barriers of socioeconomic status, or celebrity. So you’ll see these conversations emerge on Twitter like the Canadian hip-hop artist Drake tweeting something like “The first million is the hardest,” and T. Boone Pickens replying, “Drake, the first billion is a hell of a lot harder.” You would never see that kind of conversation in any public forum before.
 
It’s amazing the number of people that publicly have adapted to the idea of tweeting, whether it’s Rupert Murdoch …
Over the last few years all those barriers have been knocked down. You would first hear, “Well, I can’t tweet as an executive at a public company.” Then along comes Rupert Murdoch, who is a fantastic user for the platform, and you start to see other executives. We’ve seen the same thing with politicians.
 
How is it being used in this election?
Both sides of the aisle recognize that the campaign is happening in real time. It’s no longer the case that the campaign can analyze tonight’s debates, go out and poll, and then issue a press release tomorrow. They have to do that right away because people are on Twitter reacting to it as it happens.
 
What are the implications of that over the long run?
Well, I think there can be a tendency to miscategorize that as, “Well, people aren’t paying deeply thoughtful attention to things anymore, and they’re just reacting off the cuff.” I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that the two go hand in hand. For example, you can follow Salman Rushdie on Twitter. You can have a conversation with Salman Rushdie, and he can be talking to Margaret Atwood.
 
Is 140 characters here to stay?
It’s sacrosanct. Yeah. There’s something about it that works. It’s magic. We’ll leave it at that.

Watch Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV weeknights at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET.

Emmy Award-winning journalist Charlie Rose is the host of Charlie Rose, the nightly PBS program.

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