Twitter: How Small Interface Changes Are A Big Win For Everyone

by , Mar 24, 2009, 7:00 AM
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At first glance, Twitter's recent interface changes seem to be relatively minor -- a "Featured Users" option within "Find People," a "Search Now" box, and a new "Trends" section. Yet, after a more in-depth examination, it can be discerned that these are highly important feature-sets that create value for each of Twitter's constituents. These additions also provide an intriguing glimpse into Twitter's monetization strategy.

When looking at these new feature-sets from a brand perspective, Zappos (@Zappos) is a good example. Zappos has, in a way, become the default Twitter brand case study, as the company was one of the first brands to truly harness the power of Twitter. Additionally, Zappos not only uses Twitter, but has demonstrated that it understands how to best communicate and engage around its brand utilizing this new medium.

Zappos has been able to effectively build brand awareness through Twitter, while also positioning itself as an innovator -- one of the benefits of being an early adopter of a growing platform or web service.

Here's a quick walk through each new feature-set and exploration of the potential effects and ramifications.

Suggested Users The "Suggested Users" tab is basically a "Featured Users" page -- Twitter highlights users and provides the opportunity to directly opt-in and, thus, "follow" any of those users. This is proving to be valuable, highly influential real estate.

While Zappos has established a steady and impressive following over the past year, it is as a "Suggested User," that it has truly been able to realize its full growth potential.

As the graph below illustrates, once Zappos and other brands are anointed with this designation, the number of followers increase dramatically. It is important to note that, while these companies have realized a great increase in followers after being named "Suggested Users," it is likely that they had already established enough value on Twitter to be considered for this section in the first place.

 

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Trends

Like "Featured Users," the "Trends" tab is a place where content is surfaced. "Trends" exposes the terms that are most discussed at any given time. Unlike "Featured Users," "Trends" is based solely on traffic and not editorially selected. Regardless, the end result is the same -- increased exposure for the designated brand and users.

This will act as a 140 character consciousness booster, by highlighting the most discussed terms, "Trends" will only make these terms even more discussed and popular.

 

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Search Now

As the below graphic denotes, Twitter has placed a "Search now" box at the top right of its home page.

This change is the most significant and smoothest one of all. From a user's perspective, this is where "Search" has always belonged. It was never a proper fit in the footer and turned "Search" into a /destroy/ experience. By integrating the "Search now" box into the top-level navigation, users can easily search for semantically generated conversation, driving new experiences and connectivity with previously unknown users. Everyone one wins with this addition.

"Search now" also provides new and aesthetically acceptable advertising real estate, such as the "Matching Users" and "Featured Users" modules on the right side of the search result pages. This is important because the inventory is endless. Each word is a page and each page is a destination, enabling marketers to own and purchase real estate on these result pages. Owning the word that best represents your brand is highly valuable.

Additionally, by forming a conversation and engaging users around these terms, far more value is created as compared to current targeting efforts, which provides dead web reference links versus live web conversation. Ultimately, it's a combination of existing reference links and live web conversation that will provide the best user experience and the most ROI to brands.

Yes, Google should value Twitter and the live web conversation and search that takes place within it and yes, it would be good to have those search results alongside existing Google and video (YouTube) search results. The key takeaway is that users don't have to wait for an acquisition or deal for this newly evolved functionality to take place -- they can simply install a plug-in and enjoy it today.

The Math

All three of these new features will ultimately provide new surfaces for exposing users - driving followers for those brought to the top. By looking at this behavior from a customer acquisition (follower) point of view, the math behind the situation underlines its importance.

To date, it appears that each "Featured User" ends up with around 200,000 followers. Over the course of a year, if 20% of these followers tweet about this user or brand, then 40,000 mentions transpire. When considering that the average Twitter user has 100 followers, these 40,000 mentions turn into 4,000,000 impressions.

That's 4,000,000 qualified, contextual leads for a brand or user to convert. Additionally, there is an added benefit, in that the person mentioning the user or brand is already in a position of influence (being followed), thus increasing the importance of this mention.

While Zappos is best known for shipping shoes though the mail, sexy stuff indeed, they have and continued to participate on Twitter in a manner which creates value for all involved. This activity has provided tangible outcomes - customer acquisition and relationship management for starters.

Zappos, Mashable (@Mashable), and Jet Blue (@JetBlue), among others, have proven that users and brands can pick up 200,000 followers, solely by being designated a "Featured User." These brands and users are then involved in a live conversation and engagement around their brand. This demonstrates Twitter's ability to be a driver and conduit to the consumer. It is even more impressive when you consider how far off the main page these opt-ins live.

So in very few production and technical moves, Twitter has created a better user experience and demonstrated clearer brand value. Most importantly, these features show Twitter can monetize the site in ways that improve the customer experience (as opposed to detracting from it).

Twitter is boldly moving ahead with new features and providing compelling experiences, rather than first waiting for business models or measurement tools to align. This strategy is directly aligned with the ongoing news that Twitter's executives and investors are not sweating its monetization. Twitter's financial model will ultimately evolve out of the user-driven features -- and as long as those are continuing to take shape and develop, it appears that great value will be there.

Making money from an evolving audience is the easy part; the hard part is doing it without disenfranchising your user base, something Twitter seems to understand. It looks as though.

Twitter will let its user base do most of the driving and that's ultimately good for brands, users, investors and Twitter alike.

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