As a marketer and a keen Twitter user and fan, I feel compelled to chip in on the Twitter strategy debate. Heck, even Zuckerberg did! (here)
Twitter can be many things.
It’s the source of real time news, it provides direct access to influencers and celebs, it compliments, if not beats, Google Search results enabling to find interesting information, insights and alternative view points you would not find otherwise. It is great for content distribution due to its reach. Twitter is also a great customer service channel.
The Drum’s Jerry Daykin sums up Twitter’s USP this way – ‘it provides a live connection to culture, …being public by default it allows for the rapid sharing of information and inspires conversations and moments that could never happen just in your existing social circles’. ‘The Internet’s cocktail party’, calls it Gary Vaynerchuk.
It’s a solid and hard to beat proposition. So I do share Daykin’s and Vaynerchuk’s optimism – Twitter is far from dead. Proactive leadership, prompt strategic action and 2-5 big right decisions is all Twitter needs right now (Daykin is right reminding us about the anticipated ‘demise’ of Facebook and the consequent turnaround). Twitter can’t be doing things wrong if you look at how much Facebook has copied from the platform (news, live video, hashtags, etc). In fact, ‘when things happen ‘on social media’ they still happen on Twitter’ (Daykin). And Twitter is still a very strong platform for ‘The word of mouth. The public forum. The search features. The conversations.’ (Vaynerchuk)
Personally, I was not always comfortable using Twitter – initially it was very difficult to understand how to do it. I read how to guides. I got lost. I gave up. It’s only after a couple of influencers I followed shared their tips in a simple and straighforward way that I finally cracked it. Obviously once you do, Twitter is amazing. In those early days of struggle however Twitter seemed to be this inaccessible, geeky platform (140 characters! hashtags! @everyone) with high barriers to entry.
So the first thing to do, if Twitter wants to go mainstream, is to simplify. Bring in the mere mortals who are not using Twitter, ask them to try to use the platform, listen and watch. Nothing wrong with being geek friendly (most Google products are), however some key bits may be ‘de-geeked’ and streamlined so they could appeal to a mainstream user. Things like replies where you have to tag everyone as otherwise reply won’t register correctly. Various geeky shortcuts like .@ for example. Twitter needs to become more accessible.
Together with simplifying, educate. WordPress launched their Blogging 101 programme recently for the same purpose. Twitter needs to look into its on-boarding experience, which is non existent at the moment. How to fit your thoughts into 140 characters and use it as a creativity driver rather than annoying limitation? Who to follow and how to stay on top of the conversations? How to use hashtags correctly. How to find information? Does one follow back everyone who follows them? Many things are not obvious to the user just starting on the platform.
Twitter can seem a lonely place. Facebook is scarily intelligent about offering who to follow. As part of the onboarding experience, Twitter needs to figure this out and offer new users who to follow based on their interests.
Twitter is insanely real time. I think those with FOMO either get completely hooked or experience severe anxiety. People with even mild degree of OCD need not attempt to stay on top of things! So Twitter needs to help users cut through the noise by giving them tools to find content easier (better search? the way results are displayed?) and curate their news feed. My personal way to curate content and cut through the noise is by using lists, and their management got better recently (I remember having to use third party to do it) but improvements can still be made.
Finally there is trolling and abuse (Umair Haque has strong opinion on the subject). I still remember that time I got on white supremacists’ radar for advocating refugee help! It was amusing but also mildly horrifying. Twitter needs to help protect its users from abuse, make the platform less prone to trolling, educate users on the reporting/ blocking tools and give them confidence that their reports get acted on.
Overall, Twitter needs to become easier to figure out and safer to use if it wants to go mainstream.
The main dilemma however one can hypothesise is how to keep super users, early adopters and current users happy while attracting mainstream audience. Simplification may be viewed as dumbing down the platform. Facebook was mainstream by nature and this is its USP. Twitter’s inaccessibility to mainstream audience may be part of its attractiveness for its current users.
It can be done. 140 character limit is probably the best example. Twitter can expand or remove the limit altogether, however still keep the visible post field to 140 characters and maintain the character count. This way current users continue to enjoy the feature while mainstream audience can go on lengthy Facebook like rants. Retaining key original features that made Twitter what it is today while adding a layer of usability and reviewing some of the old features to make them more user friendly, is the way to go. Twitter needs to experiment a lot this year to get it right. If they move fast, they can come out as winners.
And yes, do introduce that Edit button already.