The One Thing That Could Save Twitter

I joined Twitter in 2007 and spent the next two years explaining to friends and colleagues why they HAD to be on it, as well as discussing why it was going to be a critical content platform for marketers. Not only would it be the top way to engage with customers and influencers online, but it  would also be key to finding them in the first place.

That was then. Now, there’s speculation on the death of Twitter, which usually centers on Wall Street sentiment like earnings (Twitter’s stock has been downgraded) and standard platform health metrics like new user growth rate, log-in frequency, and content engagement.

But there’s a more important metric that is quietly on the decline. While it’s true that marketers are finding increasing ways to leverage Twitter to share branded content and get customer and product insights, that increase in use is a false proxy for real value. Twitter’s capacity to make money for its investors ultimately lies in its ability to do something very basic: have a critical mass of people listening and engaging with each other on its app. And there is really only one reason people will do that: because it’s fun.

Five reasons Twitter is no longer fun:

1.     Nobody talks back:  a conversation is only fun if there are others participating.  A close look at most people’s Twitter feed (including influencers) shows lots of original posts, links, and retweets. But how many people are really answering? As Twitter’s new analytics dashboard reveals, perhaps this is because only 1% of my tweets are actually getting seen by my followers. Talking to a wall is no fun.

2.     Content gets lost: One of the reasons Pinterest has exploded is its unique ability to enable content to be “rediscovered.” I have pins from four years ago that still get re-pinned, as new users follow boards that include my content. The very act of scanning Pinterest content is fun, whether I find what I’m looking for or not. According to Moz, the lifespan of a tweet is about 18 minutes. And if a tweet doesn’t get picked up and shared immediately, it is virtually impossible to find it later, even if I look for it.

3.     No one collects tweets: On the ladder of social engagement, the lowest segment (and the largest) includes the voyeurs: those who like to watch and listen but don’t interact. Most Twitter users fall into this category, among which also fall the Collector. These are people who use bookmarks, likes, favorites, and tags to either save content for consumption later, or simply to use that curated content as a form of expression. Even with the use of hastags and favorites, Twitter’s microscopic half-life means content is not worth collecting and rapidly loses its fun factor.

4.     More is not better: With most platforms, the more people who are using it, the more valuable it is to those participating. Not so for most Twitter users. Unless you are savvy with filters, it is really hard to find meaningful content among the noise. I rely heavily on lists and third-party apps to distinguish the voices of friends, co-workers, industry pundits, pubs, and research. Just clicking the “follow’ button doesn’t guarantee that I will see that person’s tweets. I then have to manually add them to the right list to ensure they get visibility, which is a lot of work. Work is the opposite of fun.

5.     Twitter doesn’t know me: Whether we like it or not, Facebook is dedicated to the science of using data from our profiles and speculating on what kinds of things we like and don’t like. Just because the network uses this info for evil doesn’t take away from the fact that Zuckerberg and his ilk are good at it.  Twitter has made zero progress in proving that it knows me at all. It doesn’t know that the tweets I care the most about might come from people without broader influence: my brother, my son, or a dear friend.  They haven’t figured out that the criteria for how relevant a tweet is to me could have nothing to do with how many followers that person has, or that this factor changes whether I am acting as marketer or friend. It might take some time and effort to learn about me as a person, but that goes both ways. Isn’t it more fun spending time with people who know you?

In a world where consumers have short attention spans and zero brand (or app) loyalty, behavior is often driven by what they want, not what they need.  And what people want more than anything today is fun.  If Twitter can figure out how to be fun again, even for 18 seconds, it might have a chance at survival.

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5 comments about "The One Thing That Could Save Twitter".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 18, 2014 at 3:45 p.m.
    So if you need to learn something, go read a book. There are a lot of people throughout history with a lot to say and there is a lot to learn.
  2. Gisela Beckermann from The Arte Group, Inc. , July 18, 2014 at 3:57 p.m.
    This is so absolutely true. I am with you. I was all excited about Twitter in the beginning, now I am most annoyed by it and ignore it. I wonder what will happen with them next? Slow death? And all of that while our Mayor here in San Francisco gave them all these tax advantages to stay in the city. Would be a shame to see them go away and fade into the sunset.
  3. Scott Fasser from Hacker Agency , July 18, 2014 at 6:43 p.m.
    I like this post/analysis a lot. It sums up feelings I've been having about Twitter, but didn't know quite how to articulate. Thank you.
  4. Kathryn Gorges from Marketing Possibility , July 19, 2014 at 6 p.m.
    Thank you for this post Holly. I loved Twitter 5 years ago... and now there is so much 'noise' having conversations is very difficult. Here's what could save twitter: Tweetchats. Hashtag based chat sessions are where the conversation is at -- people are brought together by common interest and a need and want to talk about topics related to that interest -- topics that really matter in that subject area. I participate in several Tweetchats and find them to be what Twitter used to be: a place I can meet interesting people anywhere in the world, that have something to say, and new ideas I can learn about, or old issues we can all share about. I'm surprised more people haven't taken to using Twitter ONLY in this way -- the tweets are searchable, they're segmented by interest area, they don't have bots creating them -- but REAL people, even behind logos :). NO other platform has this capability... the true positive difference Twitter creates...connecting with anyone anywhere to discuss something you both care about
  5. Amanda Changuris from Highmark , July 21, 2014 at 1:59 p.m.
    I'm completely perplexed by this post. I truly enjoy Twitter! Sure, there were more people and fewer businesses a few years ago, but I think it's all about who you're following. I gather all kinds of great links and information from people I follow -- and even some businesses. I use it to keep in touch with friends and the goings-on in my hometown. I follow along while watching hockey and football, and the people I follow add to the experience. I could be an exception, and I'll admit my satisfaction with Twitter may be a minority view, but I'm still getting a great deal out of it.