Commentary

Twitter Debuts Digital Spot To Define Platform

Twitter has been trying to explain its purpose to regular folks for a while.

In early 2016, it launched a campaign that tried to answer the question: “What is Twitter?” Earlier this year, another effort endeavored to illustrate why Twitter is different than other social platforms. 

Now, Twitter is unveiling some new work to show people how to use its platform.

In the debut spot -- which should begin appearing on Amazon, Pandora and other digital properties, this week -- British comedian Romesh Ranganathan plays a crisis negotiator who is trying to talk an agitated sap named Kenny through the Twitter registration process.

“How do I even get started?!” Kenny cries out from his house, which is surrounded by Romesh’s character, half a police force, and dozens of onlookers.

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“Press the button, and pick a name,” Romesh instructs through his megaphone. “Come on, Kenny,” he says encouragingly. “Let’s go Twitter.” 

Romesh then walks Kenny through the rest of the registration process, including picking his Twitter handle, sharing his content preferences, and picking some accounts to follow.

Finally, Kenny relents. As he steps outside of his house, the crowd of spectators erupts into cheers. This crowd -- clearly supposed to represent Twitter’s community -- is warm, welcoming and ready to support Kenny’s various interests from puppeteering to geodes to pro basketball.

Ah, if only reality were so sweet. 

Without trashing the entire Twitter community, I think it’s fair to say that the support Kenny receives is the exception rather than the rule. 

Indeed, for every user who shares an opinion or fondness for, say, geodes, Twitter has 10 who are ready to bash you and your rock collection.

Selling itself as a friendlier environment than it really is — disingenuous. But no more so than Arby’s selling itself as “food,” or Target presenting itself as more than a seller of cheap home goods.

That’s advertising. To Twitter’s credit, it has come a long way in terms of user friendliness.

Over the past year, that effort included giving everyone an Explore tab, which -- like the “Moments” tab it replaced -- highlights collections of notable tweets curated by Twitter editors.

More recently, Twitter attempted to simplify its flagship app with a new side navigation menu, as well as fewer tabs at the bottom of the app. Twitter also recently “refined” and standardized its typography and added bolder headlines, according to Grace Kim, vice president of user research and design at the company.

The idea was to “make it easier to focus on what’s happening,” Kim said at the time. “Rounded profile photos make it clearer to see what’s being said, and who’s saying it.”

For the sake of first-time users, Kim and her team also developed more “intuitive icons” to make it easier to engage with tweets.

“For example, people thought the reply icon, an arrow, meant delete or go back to a previous page,” Kim admitted. “We switched to a speech bubble, a symbol most know and love.”

And the efforts appear to be paying off.

Showing new signs of life, Twitter recently reported another healthy bump in monthly users and better-than-expect sales for the third quarter. From the second quarter of the year to the third, average monthly active users (MAUs) were up 4% to 330 million, while daily active users (DAUs) were up 14%, year-over-year.

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