Will putting people first keep Twitter in the spotlight?

Digital Humans, Social / March 2016

The Organic Team

The Organic Team

Updates from the Organic team about marketing, technology, and agency life.

Platforms can come and go, but how people engage with them is pretty consistent. That’s because users’ intangible core needs remain the same. It’s how well those platforms recognise and respond to user need that determines for how long they stay. Technology has a short lifecycle, and those that survive are the ones that adapt.

Twitter as a social network has been stagnating for some time. Its inability to attract new users is reflected in its share price, which is lower than ever. It’s not really a surprise, then, that the channel is striving to do something about it. We’ve already seen a lot of changes in the last year and we can expect to see yet more activity being implemented to revive the network. Last year, Twitter acquired the live-streaming platform, Periscope, which is now almost fully integrated into Twitter. It introduced Moments, a feature that showcases news and trending topics. It swapped stars (favourites) with hearts (likes) – and engagement increased by 6% as a result (read more here). It made some changes around direct messages, so users could receive direct communication even from those they didn’t know or follow. Furthermore, character limits have been lifted, opening the door for a better and private customer service. Users were invited to make use of a poll feature as well as to use GIFs in their tweets. Recently, the company has introduced an algorithm that allows users to see the most ‘relevant’ tweets at the top of their news feeds first.

Is the new algorithm a game changer?

The algorithm was created so users would not miss out on the best tweets and to increase the quality of tweets in the news feed. The algorithm shows users the most ‘relevant’ tweets since they last checked – which doesn’t necessary mean the ones with the best engagement. This is good news for all small users and doesn’t eliminate the chance of posts going viral. However, only part of the feed is affected by the algorithm and it is not even a default feature. Why? Well, the hashtag #RIPtwitter may have caused this decision as many core users did not approve the change. Arguably, what is not there by default is not there at all, as seen with Facebook privacy settings: given the choice most will share content with friends only. Therefore at this moment, the move is not a game changer as the effects on users are relatively modest.

Problems to face

Twitter is working to add features that will make the platform more desirable and encourage people to spend more time there. But the reality is changes need to be significant to turn its fortunes around. It’s doubtful that the above changes will convince new users to join. Plus Twitter will have to deal with the following challenges:

  • If you’re small (not a celebrity) it’s hard to get attention. Paid promotion is a possible solution, but people have to trust the platform before spending money on it
  • There are a great many inactive users and fake accounts
  • Finding quality content is a challenge
  • The platform needs to promote its purpose to the general public
  • Twitter has a difficult relationship with developers and ‘partners’: Instagram images are not visible in streams, and Meerkat was denied access after Periscope acquisition

Can Twitter continue to contend?

You have friends on Facebook. On Instagram you have visually appealing content. On LinkedIn you can make professional connections. What does Twitter offer up that the others can’t?

Twitter was built for tech conversations, not for the general public, and the transformation will undoubtedly alienate some of the core users, but change is absolutely necessary if the platform wants to grow. Twitter needs to be simple, uncluttered, and people need to take joy in using it. Twitter will never be Facebook and the comparison really hurts Twitter: the platform has not been able to forge its own identity clearly enough and distinguish itself.

The problem of quality

Where are the easy-to-navigate filters? That is, how can you search for what people are saying about David Cameron or The Oscars? How can you filter the content you want to engage with: the real-time news, sport, live events, politics, music, fashion, movies, or recipes? The Newsfeed is chaotic with political tweets mixed with music and tech. Even Moments, rather than simplifying the platform, serves to add another layer of complexity. Users want to personalise their accounts by selecting favourite topics, celebrities, TV shows, and so on. People want the right content at the right times.

Is the battle lost?

Thanks largely to mobile advertising, Twitter’s revenue is actually growing by 48%, which is much better than expected. There is also the will for undertaking the necessary changes inside Twitter, as well as externally to the platform. Twitter continues to possess a massive influence over the world concerning breaking news and trends (e.g. Arab Spring, Ice Bucket Challenge, #BlackLivesMatter, etc.). Stories are picked up by all major news outlets and even people that are not using the platform directly will get access to the information on it eventually from the news, on other social networks or from individuals. All that remains is for Twitter to find a way to encourage non-users to create their own accounts so they can access the information they want first hand.

Change is the only constant

The only constant is change. It’s not enough for platforms to introduce arbitrary features in the hopes of coaxing flagging or disengaged customers back into life. Twitter was compelled to introduce gifs because of their popularity with people, it was not something they bestowed upon customers from a top-down position. Platforms like Twitter need to recognise what they need to do to adjust by engaging with people first rather than throwing functionality at the problem.

At Organic, we recognise that change is driven from grass roots level, so it’s important we are attuned to how customer and user need informs technologies rather than imposing technologies on them. If platforms like Twitter adopt the same philosophy they can continue to remain in the spotlight and occupy centre stage.

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