There’s been a lot written and tweeted about the new direction that Twitter is taking in terms of introducing a more algorithm based timeline rather than its current chronological feed.
Twitter purists aren’t happy about this change and there are those who think it takes the social network down a similar route to Facebook, which as we know picks and chooses which posts you see (or don’t see) and in which order.
Twitter was, or is, my favourite social network. I spent a lot of time chatting on Twitter to other mums around 2009-2012 during the time I had my two youngest daughters.
These days I use it more professionally. I think it’s a fabulous source of information, news, tips and advice from other professionals. For breaking news, or for seeing what others think of the TV programme you’re watching? It can’t be beaten. It’s also a great customer service tool allowing customers to interact with brands, get real time information, provide feedback and get answers to questions (when done properly).
But Twitter does have a problem. It isn’t making enough money and it isn’t attracting enough new users to the site. There tends to be a lot more pushing out of content and a lot less conversation than there used to be. And they’ve even lost Stephen Fry, thanks in part to the rising army of twitter trolls who aren’t using the network for good.
In my job I spend a lot of time advising others on how to most effectively use social media to communicate. When people approach me about using social media, they usually just mean Facebook. I always used to encourage people to think about Twitter too (as well as other social networks), because I loved it and found it so useful. But the other day when somebody asked me about using Twitter and whether it was worthwhile, I found myself hesitating.
For all that I love Twitter, there’s no denying that in my experience it’s nowhere near as effective as Facebook when it comes to the number of interactions you get with posts. The number of hits to our website that comes from Facebook far outweighs those coming from Twitter, and this always disappoints me. Especially when you have to spend a fair bit of time crafting several tweets on one topic to schedule at different times of the day over several days, compared to maybe just one or two on Facebook (if you get the post right).
In that respect, an algorithmic timeline on Twitter might be no bad thing. Craft a really good tweet with some great media and maybe it’ll have that bit more shelf-life, showing up in follower’s timelines for longer than before. If the algorithm got really smart it might even ensure those followers who were particularly relevant for that piece of information still got to see it, even if they didn’t visit Twitter for hours or days after it was posted.
I can also accept that Twitter can be difficult to get into, especially if you’re not sure of the ‘house rules’ and don’t know who to follow. Suggestions like making it easier to mention and reply and to take usernames, links and photos out of the 140 character limit that I read recently make a lot of sense and personally I’d like to see Twitter exploring this before opening up to longer posts. For me, the brevity and the challenge of crafting something meaningful within those 140 characters is part of the appeal of Twitter.
The problem Twitter has is that is knows a lot less about us than Facebook does. It hasn’t spent years gathering as much intelligence on our every move – what we like, where we go, our friends, family, favourite brands, personal interests and relationships – like Facebook has. With much less time than I used to have to spend scrolling through my timeline, as a user I’m open to the idea of something that curates those tweets which I’m most interested in so I don’t miss anything. I’m a fan of Nuzzel, which does exactly that. But I’m not sure Twitter knows me well enough to know which content I’ll value most.
One thing is certain, Twitter has to move with the times and it has to make improvements both to attract new users and to retain the interest of the ones it has. So unlike the purists who want to see Twitter stay the way it was I’m interested to see how it develops and what those changes will mean for me, as a user, and also as a communicator.
As communicators, we shouldn’t be too afraid of an algorithmic approach. What we’ve learnt from Facebook is that we just have to get better at what we do, challenging ourselves to produce higher quality content that people find useful and entertaining – and that’s no bad thing. Maybe a bit of ‘competition’ for timeline space will raise the quality of what we see on Twitter too.
Anyway, I’m up for the challenge and hoping that the changes will help reinvigorate Twitter so that I never have to hesitate when discussing its value again.