Thursday, August 20, 2015

Six things Twitter can do to bring in new users

I was pretty disappointed today to read that Twitter's stock price has fallen below the 2013 IPO price, for the first time. I admit that I am once of those who don't really get Twitter, but the site has a robust base of users who engage regularly and seem to enjoy doing it. What will be crucial for Twitter, going ahead, is to build up a user base in the emerging smartphone/internet markets of SEA, South Asia and Africa. And here, the focus has to be on youth, who still remain the most active social media users.

Here are 5 things that I would do if I were Twitter, to open the doors to new users.

1) Drop the 140 character limit
Last week, Twitter formally dropped the 140 character limit for Direct Messages, acknowledging that people trying to connect through the social media service might want to have a slightly lengthier conversation. I would look at relaxing the character limit on Tweets as well. Would that put off existing users? Maybe, maybe not, and the site can still continue to display only the first 140 characters and cut-off the rest below the break. More importantly, this move would not only bring in new users, but allow existing users to create and consume more content.

I recently read that Facebook is trying to revive Facebook Notes (remember circulating notes on your 10 favorite authors or movies, a few years ago?). LinkedIn is evolving from a recruitment platform to a content publishing platform, with the launch of Pulse and long-form posts. The message is clear - content creation and sharing will will be the core of social media. Twitter needs to see, how they can facilitate that.

2) Be more friendly to other companies
Experience shows that web companies grow and benefit from a collaborative approach. Twitter has bucked the trend by taking a confrontational stance towards external services like Instagram, Meerkat and even to third party developers that served its own user base. I would rather look to greater collaboration to develop ideas and tools that make it easier to post on Twitter. For example, a third party photo sizing app like Canva, which can automatically re-size images and creatives for Twitter. A tweet generator that can create funny or interesting tweets for me. The list can go on.

3) Re-design the mobile experience
Facebook and even LinkedIn, have taken efforts to evolve a differentiated mobile experience - some of their experiments like Facebook Home may not have worked but hey, at least they keep trying. Twitter's mobile interface remains behind the curve (and it does not help that a few years ago, they virtually shut down third party sites and apps who did a better job than they did). Do they need to spin off different sections like direct chats, lists and newsfeeds etc? I think they need to introspect on this. The mobile redesign is crucial  because a lot of Twitter users are silent consumers of content and maybe the company needs to look at a new way of presenting the content to them. People who are there to tweet, chat and interact may find a cleaner, simpler view to be more engaging.

4) Greater integration with media
For whatever reason it may be, Twitter shines when used in conjunction with traditional media - whether it is news, serials, music or movies. There is a fantastic ecosystem of journalists, actors and musicians, their fans and their shows or events, that is waiting to be tapped better. Twitter needs to liase more closely with the media entities/individuals, both on and off-site. For example, can comments on news sites be twitter-powered? Twitter has also undertaken some fabulous experiments with TV producers in the US including Tweet to turn on your television, and live tweets displayed during shows.

5) Using Real Time location to advantage
Twitter shares with Instagram and Four Square, a sense of immediacy and urgency. We associate real time updates, breaking news, and building of conversation trends, with Twitter. This is, in fact, its most powerful and real use. In Mexico, people use Twitter to communicate about shoot-outs and commute safely. In many cities including Mumbai, crowd sourced traffic updates on twitter can help decide routes. In Major disasters, political coups and more, information is unfolded piece by piece, user by user, on Twitter. I always think that Twitter should encourage us to share location data, for our own advantage. It can then help us to buy/order/ ask for quotes from local businesses, including plumbers, gyms, grocers etc. Twitter experimented with a buy button, and I think they should go all out with that. Additionally, Starbucks has partnered with Twitter in the past to do some interesting stuff, including Tweet a Coffee (a gifting program through Twitter) and ordering through a Tweet while standing in line. 

6) Creating Groups or Hangouts
The power of Twitter is to reach out to new people, who are not your friends, or professional circle, unlike Facebook and LinkedIn. You do not have to know them, follow or friend them to interact with them. I think Groups would be a great way for Twitter to bring together enthusiasts with shared interests (lists does not do the same job).