Twitter is suffering. And it is not just the markets that think so. As an avid Twitter user (since 2009) I am beginning to feel that it’s value has been diminishing significantly in recent years and that fixing Twitter is something that needs to be done.
What are the Causes?
The following represent three major factors I believe are negatively impacting it’s utility:
1/ Lack of Engagement
2/ User Profiles
3/ Signal v Noise Ratio
In this article, I concentrate on the issue of engagement, describing what the engagement challenges are, before exploring what if anything Twitter can do to resolve them?
But first some context.
Like any platform, the user groups and use cases are wide and varied. As a source of breaking news, Twitter is unrivalled. As a way to track leading influencers, and to curate content its value is immense. However, the issue of engagement is a most pressing one for professional users looking to use Twitter within the context of their professional lives. And it is in this context that the lack of engagement becomes a major issue.
A primary goal for people tweeting is to gain attention, and a ‘response’ signifies engagement, and evidence that you have captured someone’s attention. In essence, engagement equates to a quasi dialogue, with other users reacting to what you’ve (tweeted) written.
But more often than not, the vast majority of Tweets are simply met with a wall of silence (save for a small minority). You are ‘speaking alone’ as the Greek’s defined such ‘monologues’. And that’s not much fun.
Most people who Tweet do so with the aim of getting noticed, or to stimulate engagement i.e. via a reply, a RT, a click-through or even to have some key followers see certain tweets. What they definitely don’t want is for no one to see the Tweet or to not engage.
Reasons for Low Engagement
The reasons for low engagement are varied, and include:
Content: The tweet is simply not interesting or relevant to your immediate followers
Followers: The low follower numbers of the person tweeting plays a significant role. On the flip side, those with large follower numbers struggle with other challenges
Structure: The tweet’s structure is sub optimal (including appealing images, hashtags or twitter handles for example improve engagement)
Noise ratio: The sheer volume of tweets drowns out your Tweet
Mobile: The growth in mobile. It is harder for users to engage via mobile devices which dominate usage (easier to ‘just consume’ on a mobile)
Asynchronous Nature: When you Tweet, there may be very few of your key targets/ key followers listening i.e. those who you really want to see the tweet.
Shelf Life: With an estimated shelf life for Tweet’s of a mere 18 minutes the likelihood of an engagement occurring is pretty slim (especially for those with low follower numbers)
However, many of these issues are very hard to fix.
Follower numbers is a key factor. Despite best efforts, the majority struggle to get above a few hundred ‘real followers’ i.e. discounting spam accounts, inactive accounts, and those who resort to buying followers. Most give up after initial efforts fail to offer any value in terms of engagement.
Others simply ‘free ride’ using Twitter as a source of news or enhanced RSS feed, choosing to consume rather than to produce. But like all platforms, the producers need to be incentivised, because without them the free riders have nothing of value to consume. And engagement is the key commodity that these same producers value.
The problem is that Twitter’s business model relies on providing advertisers with access to ‘prospects’, with whom one can look to engage. Professional users will also seek engagement, often as a means to further commercial ambitions.
But what if no one is engaging?
Is there any value to an advert appearing in a timeline someone is scrolling quickly through? I think not.
What is the value of engagement in the form of a ‘like’ from an anonymous account? None.
What incentive have you to Tweet if it is falling upon deaf ears? Not much.
This is why engagement is such a crux issue for Twitter and it’s users. So what can be done to increase it?
1. Build Follower Numbers
First and foremost, it is a case of building follower numbers, as engagement is naturally a function of audience.
But for most, this is a long play requiring an ongoing commitment, and is much easier said than done. Most new users to Twitter simply refuse to invest the time.
2. Create Compelling Tweets
Creating compelling Tweets, which in turn helps to boost follower numbers and to drive engagement.
But again for most, this is a long play, requiring an ongoing commitment, and is much easier said than done.
3. Add Twitter Handles in Tweets
Engaging directly by replying, retweeting and using others Twitter handles in Tweets will also help to engage.
However, adding @twitter handles to most tweets is simply not practical not least due to the character limits and again other factors are equally important.
4. Engage in Conversations
By participating in conversations yourself you stimulate dialogue and thus engage.
However, these are other peoples conversations, and a response will not always lead to subsequent engagement.
5. Tag Other Users
Twitter’s recent addition of tagging via the ‘Who’s in the photo?’ feature is an attempt to encourage engagement, as is their Retweet with Comment addition.
However, this approach too has limitations, as the recipient of the tag has no say in being tagged.
Engagement Remains Illusive
If the user can’t easily influence engagement, then the onus shifts very much back on the provider to build features that support this goal. And while Twitter are well aware of this issue, their attempts to rectify it to date have fallen well short of what is needed.
For example the recently released direct DM feature seems to simply facilitate more spam, and as mentioned above tagging is initiated by others without you having a say. Neither serve to facilitate engagement.
Broadcasting Still Dominates
The combinations of factors described above still lead to the vast majority of people ‘shouting without being heard’ as broadcasting dominates. And given that engagement is one of the key incentives for Twitter users to produce, it serves to reason that a lack of engagement diminishes the overall appeal of the platform.
Would fixing the timing issue help improve engagement a little?
Knowing when your audience is logged in and *potentially* listening offers a great means to align effort with an increased likelihood of engagement. Of course the need to build an initial audience still remains a challenge, and this approach can’t resolve coordination challenges.
Take Skype as an example.
When you log on you see a dashboard with green ticks telling you who is online. You can then have a conversation by calling someone – safe in the knowledge that they are probably available (thus increasing your odds of connecting).
Imagine if Twitter had the same dashboard flagging those who were ‘online’ (It would naturally need to be on an ‘opt in’ basis, and where the accounts both follow each other).
Surely that would increase engagement encouraging more serendipitous ‘conversations’ to occur? After-all dialogue trumps monologue every time.
Perhaps you could use certain Twitter lists to allow push notifications when a certain number of key Twitter accounts were online simultaneously?
Why is this of Interest?
For those using Twitter as a professional platform, anonymous accounts and celebrities add to the noise. They want to engage with real people who share their interests.
Professional users want to market to real people, engage with key influencers or read the latest blog posts from thought leaders.
Wouldn’t be great to know when a large percentage of those you want to influence were ‘logged in’ (via a green tick) enabling you to push relevant content which will show up in their Twitter feeds.
What about being able to set an alert to push a tweet targeting when one of your key target followers were online so you could schedule a tweet accordingly?
The Law of Unintended Consequences
Like all applications though, safe guards would be needed to prevent abuse, so that facilitating greater engagement does not equate to increased spam. And of course this is a key challenge for Twitter as features designed to achieve one thing can lead in a whole host of other directions.
Whatever the solution, the asynchronous nature of Twitter does not facilitate engagement in it’s current guise. And unless they tackle the issue urgently many of their active users are likely to join the growing band of ‘free riders’. Perhaps Twitter need to look more closely at the bigger picture. As Mary Meeker pointed out in her annual Internet Trends (2015) presentation, 6 of the Top 10 most use apps globally are messaging apps!
‘WhatsApp for Twitter’ anyone?
In the next article, I’ll take a look at issues associated with the disparate profiles represented on Twitter and how the current arrangement incentivises the wrong types of user.
Alan Gleeson is a B2B marketing consultant based in London.
Follow Alan Gleeson on Twitter (Please Engage)
This article originally appeared on Linkedin Pulse