Twitter kicked off as the SMS of the internet—a text-based social media hub with global users dispensing punchy quips, crumbs of information, news headlines, hashtags and status updates in 140 characters or less.
These days, we know it as one of the world’s most prolific sources of breaking news—and an open channel for mic drops and missteps from world leaders (Trump), big thinkers (Elon Musk) and outspoken celebrities (Kanye).
For Lottie Laws, Twitter’s Head of Video, the platform has become a wide window into the real world around you. She’s been leading the charge on Twitter’s video experience, evolving the platform to meet a global audience that doesn’t sit still: think Periscope, live streaming and video everywhere.
We caught up with Laws after her recent presentation at the World Forum Disrupt Women of the Web conference to talk about the shifting world of digital media, working for a company with a higher purpose and the future of video content.
Before Twitter, you worked at Apple as Digital Marketing Lead for iTunes. How did your career in digital begin?
I studied graphic design—and I thought I was going to be a photographer. I did an internship at Vogue in London, but then I sort of realised that people were getting paid in shoes, and I wasn’t sure it was for me. I was interested in marketing, and—I can’t believe I listened to my mum’s advice—but she suggested I go into advertising. That’s when I looked into the agency world and when I very first started in digital. And as I progressed in my career it all become more tech focussed as I went along. So it evolved a bit, and it wasn’t completely intentional to start with.
Can you describe a regular day for you at Twitter?
The cool thing about my job is that it’s very varied. As the Head of Video, what that role looks like varies quite a lot in different markets depending on market priorities and what market behaviours are. For me, it’s a lot to do with content and publisher sales, working with publishers, finding better ways to deliver advertising solutions to our clients and make what we’re doing for publishers equally as valuable.
How has Twitter shifted from a text-based social media site to the multifaceted, all-encompassing visual platform it is today?
As time has gone on the way we tell stories has evolved and become much richer, and we have gradually added more and more capability to Twitter. Now it’s a very, very visual platform – every other tweet in my feed is a video tweet.
[Twitter] has evolved with how people want and expect to consume video—people can’t always expect to be stationary in front of a computer or a screen, people want to watch video where ever they are—and that means that the way we work with our [advertising] partners has also evolved. And our partners also recognise that, and they want to connect with their audience where ever they are. And this has led to some really exciting partnerships and innovations on the platform.
What are some of the partnerships you've most enjoyed working on?
We have close relationships with all of the TV networks in Australia, and a lot of them understand that their audience isn’t always in front of the TV, they’re everywhere and they have a total video mindset. These partners want to speak to their audience on all platforms, and those projects are exciting.
We also do a lot of non-revenue related executions. We have people doing Periscope for us from the Great Barrier Reef, which is live streamed on the platform. Live streaming has come a really long way on the platform, now you can go to Twitter and see at the top of your screen what is being live streamed around Australia and relevant things from around the world too. Access to information is changing, and it’s amazing to see Twitter work harder, especially in that live space, to develop a product to cater to connecting people to what’s happening.
In your career, what's the best advice you've ever received?
My current boss, who I also consider as a mentor, he has been working with me over the past couple of years just on recognising what is and isn't in my control. I think doing that has helped me get the best out of my work.
It’s really hard to want to go in one certain direction, or maybe you’re going after a certain job, or you want to influence a certain project—but maybe it's not in your remit or in your job to drive. He’s helped me funnel the areas that really are in my control to get the best outcomes possible, it’s made me more positive and helped me to have a different outlook at work.
How important are mentors?
They’re very important; that's something I’ve only really realised since moving to Australia and learning a few things about my career journey. I’ve built this support network that I have professionally, and I’ve pulled in my boss, I’ve got another mentor who gives me real-time feedback. Sometimes you do feel a bit out of control, and you can’t really control what your business is doing unless you’re the CEO. So it’s nice to have a network of people who have your back and support you. I think of them as my leadership panel.
What do you love most about your role at Twitter?
Twitter is mission-driven, and they have a goal to serve the public conversation, connect with people and give users a voice. I like having that purpose. It feels important. Information, freedom of speech appeal to me personally.
Lastly, what does the future of video look like?
Live streaming and access to live broadcast has been a contentious issue, but it’s something we can’t ignore. I think it’s something that will have to be controlled, but it’s not going away any time soon as people want to access news and breaking news more and more. Then more broadly, I think publishers are still getting used to the fact that audiences don’t want to sit in one place to consume information. It will be interesting to see how video transforms across every platform and device, and how all those platforms can work together and complement one another and how publishers will use that.
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Image credit: Alejandro Ortiz.