Is curation the key to solving Twitter’s audience problem?
As part of his return to Twitter, Jack Dorsey has capital to spend fixing the platform’s problems, but it won’t last long. First, the good news. Twitter is making money and has surpassed expectations for earnings and revenue of late. However, Twitter’s stagnant audience growth is a problem and Wall Street is impatient for solutions.
The stock recently hit a new low, spawning takeover rumors — and several top execs are leaving.
How will Twitter address its growth problem? The answer will punctuate the story of Dorsey’s return.
Signal or noise?
Twitter’s problems are rooted in its success. As utilities go it’s extraordinary; Twitter connects millions of people around the world.
While it has unquestionably helped change the world, the content it helps produce hasn’t broken through to the mainstream at a scale that meets post-IPO expectations. The problem lies in the stream. Twitter’s content quality is too suspect, its velocity too high, its experience too ephemeral.
These issues culminate in a lethal mix for would-be consumers. Simply put, Twitter is too hard for the everyday user. But, it needn’t be.
Twitter knows it needs to broaden appeal. The introduction of the algorithmically-driven “While you were away” feature was intended to surface the best Tweets users missed, presumably targeted to those who don’t log in frequently.
Last April, the logged-out homepage was redesigned to show prospective users what they are missing. And, most recently, Twitter launched ‘Moments’, a feature intended to be “the best of what’s happening on Twitter in an instant.”
These solutions are either incremental or directed at optimizing the experience for current users. They do not sufficiently focus on attracting a new audience, missing the mark of the largest issue Twitter must solve.
Let’s focus on Moments — this feature is likely of use to current users who look to Twitter as a source of news; its challenge lies in breaking through to new customers in its current form. There are plenty of resources for news, from BuzzFeed to The Huffington Post. And that’s the crux — Twitter took the right solution (curation) and applied it to the wrong audience (people already using Twitter).
This thinking is confirmed by the Twitter users I contacted. Most were long-standing, on the platform for at least two years, and checking Twitter multiple times a day.
While many users laud Twitter for its speed and network effects, even the most ardent fans don’t rank Twitter highly for helping them find high-quality content of interest on a consistent basis. The most common theme to emerge from my contacts was “managing the noise.”
The good news is that Twitter is poised to address the issue of noise management. They sit on a treasure-trove of data.
Much of the content on the Internet flows through its system. With likes (formerly favorites in a recent pivot) and retweets they have strong indicators as to what content is of the highest quality.
Add in other parameters like location, velocity, and follower counts, and they have the makings of a fantastic algorithm to serve users the best content for their interests. As Daniel Rakhamimov pointed out in his prospective Twitter Rooms feature, Twitter is an interest-based network.
So why hasn’t Twitter made a better effort to connect its users with higher-quality content on a more consistent basis?
When asked how Twitter could be improved one of my contacts said: “I would make content more personal. I realize that would involve changing many things, but that would be my ultimate goal.”
Maybe Moments is only the start for Twitter.
It doesn’t take too much of a leap to see how Moments could be tweaked and put in the hands of Twitter users. Imagine a Twitter where *you* define which topics interest you and Twitter curates the best content for you upon each returning visit.
Would I ever look at my stream again? Such an offering could go a long way in harnessing the power of Twitter, without alienating the base, and broadening the appeal for a new audience.
It would be a good start, and a hallmark of Dorsey’s second act.
Alex Berg is the Director of Strategy & Analytics for Fell Swoop – a digital design firm in Seattle. Prior to Fell Swoop Alex held leadership roles with Ritani, Expedia, and Blue Nile. Follow him on Twitter @alexwberg.