Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Future of Twitter

The news that Twitter has lost many of its senior executives has been cited as a sign of the company’s demise.  I have heard predictions that Twitter will either be bought out by the likes of Google, become a niche service, or be relegated to the annals of history.

Their problem is that they have tried to be many different things to many different kinds of people. It seems to me that Twitter has a very unique and valuable service to provide.  But it is not social networking among friends to have conversations. 

I see their primary value as a linear, 140-character per post feed where you can follow anyone without asking their permission and they don’t have to follow you back.  And a reasonable insertion of sponsored posts as their revenue source – the more customized and personalized the better for both the marketer and the user.

Here is what I mean:

  • I am a practitioner of content marketing strategy. There are a few experts in this area that read a lot about it from industry publications. They post links to the best of what they read on Twitter.  I can follow these experts, trust their judgment, and read the articles that they share. I save a ton of time having to search for good articles myself.
  • My career depends on knowing everything about user experience design. I can follow the hashtags #UX and #userexperience and get updates, recommended articles, and all kinds of content from every source in the domain. Since there are hundreds of experts posting their recommended articles on UX using these hashtags, it is likely that I won’t miss much and probably nothing that is important.
  • I am a fan of the Michigan Wolverines football team. I can follow the team’s feed and get real time updates about player status, game scores, and links to general news articles. This is more specific than what I can get at ESPN and has the unapologetic pro-Michigan bias that I prefer. 
  • I am a supporter of Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker. I can follow him and find out if he is going to be doing any radio or TV interviews, making public appearances, releasing policy statements, or asking for my support on something. I can be a better supporter in less time and stay informed, all in one place.

Notice that none of these involve shares, likes, retweets, replies, or conversations. They don’t require anyone to follow me. If I am considered worth following by others I can use the Like or Retweet functions to show my followers what I thought was the best out of the best that I follow. But my followers would be taking their chances because I could be Liking something from content marketing, UX, Michigan sports, or Charlie Baker. If one of my friends wants to follow me to show their friendship, it could be just to show their affinity and they might ignore anything I do.

None of the other social media services does this very well.  Not Facebook, not Instagram, not Linked In, not . . . .  But Twitter does it very well. If they focused on doing this extremely well, I think they have a strong future ahead of them.  If they keep trying to do it all, I vote for the “annals of history” option.