Twitter: Getting its engagement (and groove) back

blur bird

The land I love most in social media is at risk. It’s not about to shutdown but the unstoppable momentum of its younger cousins (Snapchat, WhatsApp) and grandaddy (Facebook) overshadows all attempts Twitter makes to reinvent its experience.
And you can’t entirely blame Twitter – as their blog shows, they are constantly updating and improving the platform.


If you’re a heavy Twitter user, you’re probably in the same boat as I; it has been some years since I could convince anyone to sign up. If anything, people I know who tried it can occasionally be convinced to give it another go. Follower growth is no longer exponential. The platform is increasingly one-way with replies dropping off as the company pursues user safety and revenue as much as engagement.


As a huge fan of Twitter, I love some of the changes they’ve made, however other changes are turning the growing list of annoyances into a real daily decline in experience. If regular users loved enough of the changes, the leaps in usability that would offset the irritations. I don’t think this is happening.


Has Twitter begun a slippery slide into irrelevance? At worst, the blessed stream of useful info and irreverence faces a future as a glorified RSS of news and a stream of polarised views that few dare to engage in.


The little blue bird certainly needs to evolve to survive.


Here are a few reasons engagement has dropped but how it could rule once more…


The media look just like everyone else – more than any other network, Twitter has been a great showcase for watching media companies have to offer. It seems remarkable that they are still to find their real place in the twittersphere. They have no unique destination like Snapchat’s Discover page, nor can they feature embedded stories or interactive media as Facebook is trialing with Instant Articles (Though Products have some cool new features). TV Timelines hold some hope for television programs, but recently departed CEO Dick Costolo never conquered the challenge he set himself for live sport –  to create a timeline feature that would enable someone who missed the game live to play back tweets in synchronised, chronological order. (This would also help on-demand TV viewers avoid spoilers.)


Favs kill retweets – Favouriting tweets with a little star is taking the place of many other more involved engagements. In the past, many followers who liked your tweet would reward you by retweeting it. You got a bump in ego, they spread the love and the site thrived on these brief hits of serotonin flying across the network. Now, a good tweet will often get twice as any favs as retweets – people have become more precious with what they share. This change has made us all less social.



No curation means less discovery – Twitter is still resisting curating our feeds. And the Discovery page has gone.  The purity has been preserved but at the cost of being introduced to more and better people you could be following. Look at how Instagram popular page shows you new people without it feeling like an intrusion. For many of us who never visit Trending Topics, or who use 3rd party Twitter apps, there are zero chances to come across new people unless they are retweeted or they are promoting their tweets. Perhaps Project Lightning will be the change Obama promised us. (Check the WIRED link at bottom.)


New expanded design slows consumption – Ashton Kutcher was right back in 2009: filtering is what Twitter needs most. As proof, Tweetdeck works best when you have refined your lists and feeds into a tailored masterpiece of streaming data. The recent change to a more rich media experience was a backward step in terms of encouraging a more efficient twitter experience. At least provide an option for faster readers to switch it off.


Spambots are not your friend – I know I’m not alone on this one, but I currently get at least one new spambot follower for every follower I lose. While I cannot tell how many people and following me are generally people, I know that only half of those starting to follow me are actual people. This undermines my faith in the entire network and the company’s inability to stem the tide does not help the situation. (Note: Instagram has the same problem)


Other ideas that would help – in no particular order:
  • Group DMs – why can’t I create a list and start a convo with them publicly or privately?
  • Give me a personal page like flipboard does – all graphical and able to be sorted by topics I tweet about.
  • Why are there not trending topics based around topics I have told Twitter I am interested in? #QANDA and sport may interest many Australians but those trends wasted on many.

See also: Twitter Is Killing Twitter to Save Twitter via @WIRED

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