Rory Capern talks growth, 140 characters and #RIPTwitter

The new head of Twitter Canada talks about the challenges facing the social network

After nearly a year without a country head, Twitter Canada announced Rory Capern as its new managing director late last month.

The former Googler’s appointment came at a complicated time for the company. His hire was announced just before four executives exited Twitter in the U.S. and followed concerns about global user growth, falling stock and a round of layoffs (Capern said the Toronto office was not impacted).

Given all the chatter about the web’s most chatter-y platform, Marketing sat down with Capern to talk about the challenges facing the company, the platform changes its mulling and his plans as the new country head.

Your position as country head for Canada has been open for just over a year. Why did it take so long for Twitter to replace Kirstine Stewart?

Yes there has been a gap between Kirstine, who was an incredible leader who left a very significant footprint for Twitter Canada in the market [and me]. The leaders in Toronto office carried the ball extremely well for that 12-to-18 month period.

It was really clear, really quickly as I was brought in that culture fit was huge. The key was to find someone that fit well, culturally, strategically and personally with a very solid bench of leaders. It took a little bit of time. I’m very excited for the opportunity. It was pretty much an instant fit.

What made the role attractive for you?

This is a very small office. I’m the thirty-seventh person through the door. At Google, I joined around the same time and at the same size. This time in a business – we’re 10 years old next month and it’s a very small team of very talented people – culturally, it’s a really exciting place to be. It’s this intimate, small culture that’s been built.

I’m honoured to be given the opportunity to lead here.

You’re coming on during a heated debate about Twitter’s future. What did you make of the #RIPTwitter hashtag?

Despite the fact there’s a tough side to that dynamic, I’m not sure I could point to very many other companies who have this much passion from their users. That dynamic, while tough to deal with as a management team, is a blessing in a lot of ways. People care a lot about Twitter and how we operate.

We’re always listening and we have to react to what’s happening in the market. #RIPTwitter is about users talking about Twitter and that’s a very important message.

Some of Twitter’s recent changes resurface older tweets. How does that fit in with Twitter’s positioning as the go-to platform for live content?

We’re riding a balance there. The concern for us is that people aren’t always able to be in Twitter when things are happening. We’re trying to get really smart about key things that you might have missed while you were away get surfaced. That helps drive relevance and connection.

Does that cut against the chronological feed? Sure, it does. We’re trying to balance that in a way that provides an optimal user experience.

User growth has slowed globally. What can you tell me about Twitter’s growth in Canada?

Growth is healthy. Today Twitter Canada speaks to about 40% of online Canadians. That number has been growing healthily for some time and it continues to.

We have a growth team. We brought Ray Philipose in, who’s work is now starting to get significant traction. The best is yet to come in terms of where we can grow. When we benchmark ourselves against other countries, we know there’s a lot of opportunities to continue to expand.

Twitter has been making changes with an eye to bringing in new users. Can you talk about doing that without alienating your core devoted user base? 

That’s the core marketing challenge. We’re at a size and scale now where we’re going to have to face the issue and I think we’re doing it in an integrated way. There’s a part of the population that will always kick back.

Take the example of changing hearts to stars. That seems like a trivial change and it clearly wasn’t to a number of people. At the same time, the behaviour we’ve seen post-change has been very positive.

There has been talk of extending tweets past 140 characters. What’s your opinion on character limit?

On one hand, brevity is important to Twitter. It’s at the core of what we do. I wonder about how important the specifics of 140 characters are to the future of the platform.

There’s been a lot of feedback on this topic. There’s a lot of different ways we can execute this product feature that allow us to maintain the core of brevity and the rapid, live, fast communication that’s not going to degrade the value of the platform.

We found this phenomenon of people getting around the 140 character limit by posting pictures. There’s already some user behaviour that would denote there’s a need there. How we respond to that need is an open question we’re still dealing with.


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