Owen Williams wrote an insightful post called “Signing up for a new Twitter account shows why the company is struggling to grow” that’s a must-read whether you’re a social media enthusiast, a digital marketer, or a tech startup investor. He breaks down the process of signing up for a new Twitter account on desktop and mobile in explicit detail, and in effect shows how ineffective or even somewhat bizarre some of the on-boarding choices are.
I won’t recap the process because Owen did such an awesome job — just read his article and check out the screenshots. But it’s clear that whatever all the employees of Twitter are doing, very few are thinking about the first experience a new user has with their brand.
Like Owen, I’ve been using Twitter since 2008. I have tweeted more than 50,000 times (!), gained over 30,000 followers, and overall I have gotten tremendous personal value from it in the form of new connections, readers, feedback, offers, new friends, and more. Twitter is unquestionably valuable if you go through the journey of reading about it, experimenting with it, optimizing it, and using it constantly. The people who gain the most from it are continuous learners with a lifehacking mentality.
Unfortunately for Twitter, it’s not just a cool “community service” for super-enthusiasts like Owen and I who want to find out where Gary Vaynerchuk is hanging out at SXSW anymore. It could have been. It could have become an open source resource. It could have become a non-profit to help the world communicate. It could have been any number of things.
But. Twitter’s leaders and investors made the decision to be a “real” company, to sell ads to major corporations and do major collaborations with entities like the World Cup and the White House, and to become a publicly-traded corporation that needs to grow and add value for shareholders. With those choices come new responsibilities, among them getting more people to join and use their platform and like it. But user growth isn’t nearly what it could be. And its greatest “innovations” like @ replies and #hashtags were invented by users, not Twitter employees.
The irony is that new accounts can actually have huge value to users very quickly if done right. For all my tweets and followers and consistency over six years, I am getting way, way less engagement on my @cheeky_geeky account than I used to in 2008 or 2009. (Around the end of 2008, I was one of the top 100 most-followed people on Twitter, and one of the top 50 most retweeted users.) Right now, I’m probably at an all time low. The community and its users have changed. The rules have changed. Now, I’m not running a business through my personal account and I’m happy with what it is. But people are finding things less, clicking through less, retweeting less.
But. But. I have another account. A semi-secret account. It’s only about one topic, a very niche topic, something I want to do more about with in the future. And what’s amazing about that account is that I follow and am followed by only people who are super-enthusiasts about this little topic and there’s a ton of engagement. I can leave and come back two weeks later with one tweet and I’ll see, say, 6 high-quality re-tweets and comments (I only have about 200 followers). These are the kind of people who would click through and read something at high rates, or participate in a Kickstarter on my niche topic, or buy something about the topic from me.
Because I’ve been using Twitter so long and work in tech and media and know a bunch about the space, I have some natural advantages when it comes up to launching a social media play on a niche topic. What Twitter needs to figure out is how to on-board a tech-naive high school kid, or a retiree, or a newly unemployed person to do the same thing.
As a person whose background is in the behavioral sciences, one thing that’s always surprised me is the lack of behaviorists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and the like at tech companies and consulting firms who claim to care about influence, user engagement, social interaction and so on. What do you think influence and social interaction and stuff is? It’s just people interacting with each other. It turns out there are lots of scientists who know a lot about that.
Sure, code is important. Designers are important. MBA’s are important. But it seems like if companies like Twitter that depend on positive user experiences, habitual use of product, and user interactions which add value want to grow and thrive, they might consider devoting more resources to actually studying the “human terrain” of people and how and why they behave the way they do.
Tangentially related: ‘A Dark Room’, the incredibly engaging, best-selling iPhone game that no one can entirely explain.