The Problem With Twitter

Twitter is not growing. Is it dying a slow and painful death? I don’t think so. I still use Twitter (@pointsnfigures).  I can glean valuable information off of it.  Here is a recent chart with some data on Twitter.

Millennials used to use Twitter to engage with their friends. They have switched over to other platforms like Snapchat. Photos are more descriptive and more fun than typing out 140 characters. It’s also possible to do SnapStories.

There is a friction with Twitter when you think about it.  Sign up for Snapchat or Facebook, find your friends and start interacting.  On Twitter you can find your friends.  But, if you follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, or other platforms, Twitter is sort of moot.  It isn’t additive the way the other platforms are.

On the other platforms, it’s not about who you follow necessarily.  It’s about you, and who wants to interact with you-and if you want to interact with them.

The problem with Twitter goes back to the friction and uncertainty.  Who should I follow? (follow topics you are interested in)  Do I need to tweet? (No)  What about my followers? (Doesn’t matter)  Twitter isn’t a popularity contest.  It’s a medium to gain insight, find and exchange information and have rapid fire interactions that could lead to something more.

One thing I have noticed about Twitter is so many people that are on it use it only as a soapbox/megaphone.  They don’t actually interact.  Is there anything more boring than following a newspaper or a politician on Twitter.  A lot of financial services people and venture capitalists are exactly the same.  Total waste of time.  Occasionally a politician or newspaper will tweet something that is additive, but it’s rare when they use it well.

A New York Times writer tweets out articles that they wrote.  The writer doesn’t actually use Twitter as an original content creating mechanism.  It’s a traffic cop to direct you to their page-Me, me, me, me, me.  Click on my link and indirectly pay me.  To put out original content on Twitter is sometimes risky.  Better to hide behind the safety of your actual publication.

Twitter is a tremendous listening device if used correctly.  For example, during the Republican debate I watched Twitter pretty close.  From the looks of my stream, I could tell that Kasich was winning the debate, and what he was saying was resonating with Democrats and Republicans.  I could see Rubio was doing okay, and that Walker wasn’t hitting it out of the park-but wasn’t hurting himself either.  I could also see that leading right wing bloggers were tweeting out a lot of hate on Trump.

Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) is credited with inventing the Tweetstorm.  Some people deride the Tweetstorm, but when people I follow use them I watch them.  Sometimes they are highly informative. Sometimes not.  But, if I can listen and glean one nugget of information that I can use somewhere, I can get the upper hand over competitors.

How does Twitter grow again?

Very difficult question.  I think it has to eliminate friction.  But, it also has to eliminate the Twitter Mob and I don’t know how it does that.  They might take a cue from Disqus.  Disqus is the best blog commentating software on the web and is simple and easy to use.  It doesn’t have the constraint of 140 characters, and that’s what makes Twitter unique.  140 characters creates focus and makes it valuable.

Twitter has been used several times for public shaming.  People or causes call out one person and descend on them in an Alinsky like mob.  That increases risk and makes people scared to be on Twitter, let alone tweet.  Millennials I have spoken with say they used to talk to their friends on Twitter, make jokes, have some quick conversations.  It was easier than texting.  But, those are taking place on other platforms now because tweets on Twitter can be misconstrued and taken out of context.

Millennials are an interesting breed.  Some remember 9/11 very well.  They endured the financial crisis by watching their parents suffer.  They have watched and experienced the rise of social media.  Personally, I have hypothesized that because of these experiences they are more risk averse and fear public failure.

I encourage people to get on Twitter.  Don’t tweet unless you want to.  Choose topics you are interested in.  Then follow the people you think might be interesting to learn from.  If they don’t provide value to you, stop following them.  It isn’t offensive not to follow.  If you are going to use Twitter, you actually have to be on Twitter.  You can’t just open the app from time to time and get max value out of it.  It’s a constant ear to the ground so use it like that.

Other social media platforms are more private than Twitter, or they feel more private than Twitter.  You should assume that every email you send could go out to the public, and every thing you do on any social media platform.  Twitter is out in the public square.  It’s raw.  It’s immediate.  That’s a cool thing about Twitter, but it also increases the risk of using it for many many people.  Twitter needs to solve that problem.