Twitter's move to pluck American Express' top exec for digital partnerships as the social media network's first marketing chief was more than an executive reshuffle—it signals a new strategic direction for Twitter to double down on in-app e-commerce, some observers say.
A day after dismissing four top executives, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Jan. 26 stirred interest in payment circles by naming Leslie Berland, a 37-year-old American Express veteran, as Twitter's first-ever chief marketing officer. Berland previously was executive vice president in charge of global advertising, marketing and digital partnerships at American Express, and has a strong background in social media innovation.
Berland said in a prepared statement she's looking forward to broadening the social media service's reach and impact as Twitter enters "this incredibly exciting new chapter." Neither she nor Dorsey elaborated on what's next, but at least one payments industry expert predicts Twitter will significantly intensify its digital commerce focus through key partnerships with major consumer brands and financial services players.
"Twitter is looking for new business models, and capitalizing on the emerging area of 'social payments' could be what Twitter needs to regain momentum," said Richard Crone, a consultant with Crone Consulting LLC.
"The idea of consumers using social media to share purchases [and payments] is gaining steam," Crone said, referring to Venmo's success in using social media to get a foothold in person-to-person payments.
Through partnerships, Twitter could bring merchants and mobile wallet providers together in more creative ways than either side could do on their own, Crone said.
"On one side, merchants need the engine of social media to promote and share deals, while payment networks and banks with mobile wallets need the fabric of social media fabric to spread their influence," he said. "There's an opportunity here for Twitter to bring pieces of the puzzle together around the notion of social payments, and partnerships would be the key."
Leslie Berland has a track record of success both in leveraging social media to promote payments and forging partnerships with companies looking to engage companies through new channels.
Berland, who led American Express' social media strategy from 2009 to 2011, drove the company's media partnerships promoting its Small Business Saturday program. Berland also helped American Express forge e-commerce and social media partnerships with Apple Inc., McDonald's Corp. and Uber, among others, and led the team that launched Amex Express Checkout in July 2015.
Most recently, Berland spearheaded development of a partnership with Airbnb enabling American Express customers to use their existing credit card account login credentials to enroll for the online lodging service, with the option to use American Express loyalty points to pay for stays.
Twitter has been experimenting with ways to engage its users with e-commerce for quite some time, including with American Express. In 2013 Twitter partnered with American Express to enable customers to use hashtags to buy American Express gift cards and specially priced merchandise from Amazon and Sony, among others.
Twitter in the fall of 2014 began testing "Buy" buttons through partnerships with third-party platforms including Stripe, Musictoday and Fancy.
Twitter has been stuck in a rut for months, with slowing user growth and falling stock value. As the social media network turns 10 this year, analysts say it's clear the San Francisco company will need to work harder to hold the focus of its 330 million-plus users. Some on Wall Street have speculated that Twitter, which announces its fourth-quarter earnings on Feb. 10, could be ripe for takeover if its turnaround efforts don't get results.
But Crone says Twitter still has plenty of opportunities to exploit. "I think Twitter is going through the normal gyrations that come with developing technology, and we may see some more interesting things emerge as social payment develops."