What I would do to fix Twitter

Twitter has had a spate of very bad press recently, mostly for good reasons that I don’t need to rehash here. Lots of ink has been spilled about what ails the company, but suffice to say, Twitter’s lack of high-quality, professional, and most importantly, full-time management is obviously its biggest single issue. Until that is fixed, nothing else probably matters.

Nevertheless, Twitter’s much-beleaguered product team has had a lot of turnover, and it shows in their paucity of product evolution. Twitter has crowed loudly about such new enhancements as 280 characters, Moments and “Twitter Lite,” among other things you probably don’t care about, as if small-ball like this actually matters, while ignoring the burning, revenue-stagnant ship they’re on.

So, as a product manager who works on products designed to make money, I have some suggestions. I’m not talking to Twitter’s product team here – they’re smart people, and I no doubt have had blueprints for many of these ideas ready for some time. Twitter’s executive management and board, on the other hand, need to listen, or get out of the way. Twitter’s window of opportunity for becoming a first-tier social platform has likely already closed – that race with Facebook was lost long ago.

Twitter can be something else entirely, though, which is still both valuable and inimitable, while its core network of high-value users contributing real-time content still exists. That network is undeniably slipping away, though. Battered by abuse, choked with spam and drowned out by bots, what makes Twitter great is dying. Here are some ways to save it.

  1. Kick the Nazis off. And the explicit hate speech accounts. Seriously, juicing the MAUs are not worth the damage to the wider Twitter network these people cause – not to mention that it’s just the right thing to do.
  2. Kick the bot nets off. Twitter can programmatically detect when new accounts are likely to be a part of a bot network and auto-screen them. It’s really, really not rocket science. These aren’t real users, they have zero value to advertisers, and only serve to manipulate trending algorithms.
  3. Take abuse seriously. Twitter’s system for handling reported abuse is totally broken. Threats of violence, hate speech and the like should result in an automatic suspension, followed by a ban, at a minimum.
  4. Offer better power user options. There are multiple levels of “power users” on Twitter. Accounts with 1M+ followers have different product needs for engaging productively with their audience than those with 100k, 10k or even folks like me. But remember – anyone with more than 1,000 followers is already in the 96th percentile of Twitter users. The number of Twitter users with significant follower counts is tiny, but as they contribute the majority of content on the platform, they have outsized importance.
  5. Offer a basic paid tier with expanded features. For some nominal monthly price – $2? $5? I don’t know – here’s what you would get:
    • Ad-free feed
    • Advanced audience insights. Power users want to grow their audience, so offer them tools to do so. Analytic options to show how many of your followers were active in different topical areas; how many followers they tend to have; who they tend to follow; times when they are active; and on and on. There are literally dozens of companies that make money providing this information with Twitter’s own API right now! The existing Audience Insights tab is basically just a demographic report that isn’t very interesting or useful.
    • More flexible and easier scheduled tweets from the app
  6. Make the Twitter app not suck. Hire the folks who created the Starbucks app, if you have to. The Twitter app is slow, buggy and churns through data and battery life like it’s all you can eat popcorn shrimp. It’s not very good for consuming content – mostly just sending tweets.
  7. Make a better desktop client. Does Twitter realize that Tweetdeck doesn’t even show ads? 95% of my Twitter consumption (and that of many other power users) doesn’t bring the company a dime.
  8. Force all tweets to display country of origin. I bet many of us would be in for a surprise.
  9. Label all bot accounts as such, and provide the ability to auto-filter them out. Bot accounts have utility – I myself have run some! But the amount of bot spam is just incredible and getting worse, and many users (myself included) might just prefer not to see them at all.
  10. Seriously rethink the value of anonymous accounts. I am personally torn on this subject, but others have made persuasive arguments that new anonymous accounts don’t add value to Twitter.

The last point is probably the most important of all: Cut the cute crap. Stop being precious. Twitter is not still some startup-cum-debating club. It’s a for-profit corporation with a $13 billion market cap that (still! Despite everything!) has the potential to be a major force in not just the tech world, but global society as a whole.

But that potential is fading. Twitter is not trending in the right direction. After more than a decade, the general public still doesn’t “get it,” and probably isn’t going to. If it continues along the current path, Twitter will die with a whimper, with an egg and a MAGA hat hurling invective at whatever public figure they’ve been told to hate next.

Leaders of Twitter, please – shit or get off the pot. I need to know whether I’ll have to revive my Facebook account or not. Please don’t make me.

 

 


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One Reply

  • Lemme be Devil’s advocate:

    * Kick the Nazis off / Take abuse seriously – Probably harder than we think. 1. It’s like whack a mole. 2. there’s a fine line between hate speech and the 1st Amendment. Also Is Jimmy Kimmel’s Mean Tweet segment hate speech/bullying or hilarious entertainment. Where’s that line?
    * Kick the bot nets off – I personally think Twitter is scared to death to do that as it will expose some ugly user numbers. More than a small amount of accounts and activity is bot driven.
    * Offer a basic paid tier with expanded features. – My experience is that once you offer something for free it become almost impossible to start charging for it (at least not without offering something significantly better than the status quo. I think corporations would find budget for it but if the bait is “ad-free” than that flies in the face of what they are there for.

    The other suggestions I can get with.

    IMHO, Twitter is starting to feel like public utility to me. Too entrenched/ubiquitous to go away yet unable to generate enough revenue. Would it be ridiculous for it to somehow become like water, sewage, police, PBS, and become a publicly funded supported service? I just don’t see a revenue friendly solution. Everyone says I’m crazy about this btw 😉

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