How Design Catalysts Could Fuel Twitter User Growth And Engagement

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About: Twitter, Inc. (TWTR)
by: Adam B. Jones
Summary

Incentivize self verification and increase transparency to empower users to filter out the trolls, bots, and abuse.

Integrate Square's CashApp or the Bitcoin Lightning Network to enable micro transactions to unlock Twitter's potential as a recommendation engine and a marketplace as well.

Alleviate the filter bubble and echo chambers, make profiles actually interesting and useful, and truly start to incentivize healthy conversation.

Allow users to pay for an ad-free option, design and embrace robust new settings, features, and customizations.

Encourage and support third-party innovation, user feedback, and contributions.

Twitter (TWTR) has always been the platform to express thoughts and capture the zeitgeist of the moment. It was a genius idea, and what’s especially amazing is that even now 12 years-plus later, Twitter remains many different things to so many different people.

Still, Twitter could be so much more than it currently is. Below are some suggestions that would make Twitter better than ever and far more useful and engaging than it is now.

If Twitter does begin to innovate and give users what they need, user growth will start to reaccelerate and engagement will ramp up. Then and probably only then will Twitter's stock price start to reward its patient long-term shareholders.

Chart Data by YCharts

Design innovations will empower users, increase engagement and finally unlock the true value of Twitter's platform and network for both users and investors.

1. Incentivize self-verification and increase the platforms transparency so users themselves (not just algorithms) can finally filter out the trolls, bots, and bad actors.

The blue check mark has been suspended, but let’s face it, 99% of us were never going to get one anyway because we’re not a celebrity, a journalist, a big company, or otherwise noteworthy.

Absent Apple (AAPL) or Amazon (AMZN) acquiring Twitter and verifying millions through their Amazon Prime or iTunes accounts, and giving them the tools and resources to really unlock the value here, Twitter could still do plenty to make it far more difficult for the trolls and bot armies to create non-stop fake accounts.

The most obvious solution is to increase the friction of creating and maintaining fake accounts by asking users to link a phone number that's sent a verification code rather than just an email address that can be created in a few seconds.

Twitter also could empower users with new settings that would allow them to quickly filter on existing data that Twitter already has internally but could expose to the public. This data would help users interact with accounts that have some minimum level of verification or civility if they wish rather than get run off the platform by trolls and abusers.

Data like:

  • Has the account been verified with a phone number?
  • How many times or how many other accounts have reported them for harassment?
  • Have they been suspended in the last six months?
  • How many accounts are currently blocking them?

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” and Twitter could help shine some light on a few new metrics that users could see and filter on. Users could quickly have a better idea who the bad actors are and filter some out to minimize the attention and disruption they cause.

Most users and Twitter themselves prefer it to be as open and transparent as possible. But users also want and deserve to have the freedom to customize their own individual experience better.

Allowing users the ability to filter out some of the serial harassers and the abusers themselves (beyond the time consuming and tedious mute and block) would relieve much of the current burden that falls to Twitter’s algorithms and its Trust and Saftey team.

2. Integrate CashApp or the Bitcoin Lightning network and enable micro transactions.

Users all too often can’t access the content that others are rave tweeting about because it’s stuck behind a paywall requiring a longer-term subscription.

(Who among us hasn’t used up their free articles on Medium, WashPo, Seeking Alpha, the NYTimes (NYT) or elsewhere but really need to read that column that everyone’s tweeting about?)

But who can afford endless monthly subscriptions to websites they may not frequent? Most of us just want that occasional article that has piqued our interest.

Likewise, publishers and creators need alternate ways to get compensated (a-la-carte) beyond pateron or getting your credit card information (and a long-term commitment) so they can focus on what they are best at, making great content.

Twitter could help content creators get compensated so they can continue to amaze us.

(Other times you might just want to donate a few bucks to a good cause or send someone a few Satoshi’s.)

Either way, micro transactions on other platforms are imminent later this year. But Twitter has a huge opportunity here with Jack Dorsey’s role as dual CEO of both Twitter (TWTR) and Square (SQ) and his longtime interest in Bitcoin. Twitter could be the first out of the gate with this, take the lead and embrace the future now.

(Maybe they will, Jack did recently tweet a link to tippin.me, so hopefully, this is a preview of how Twitter might soon embrace micro-transactions.)

At scale, this would be a huge opportunity for Twitter to drive distribution, encourage engagement, and support journalism and content creators.

The same thing applies to live broadcasts and videos distributed or hosted on Twitter. Many of us don’t want to subscribe to NBA League Pass or NFL Season Ticket, or…. but we’d happily pay a small amount to stream a single meaningful game, TV show, seminar, concert, etc on Twitter.

3. Fix the filter bubble and the echo chambers.

A huge problem with an obvious but overlooked solution. Just allow users to import, subscribe to, or quickly view and scroll through another user’s timeline.

(Yes, there are curated lists you can sometimes find and subscribe too, but they’re SO difficult to find, often private/invite only, and then even if you do occasionally manage to find a good one, it’s impossible to tell if it’s being actively maintained.)

There have been some attempts at Chrome extensions and even websites like Twubbler that have attempted to help users break out of their filter bubbles and eliminate the friction of painstakingly building out a list or timeline, but Twitter should just build this essential feature in. Adding the ability to easily view or import someone else’s public timeline would not just be voyeuristic, it would drive engagement, discovery, and expose many casual users to insanely great contributors they are currently unaware of.

Also, it would massively help with onboarding where new users sign up and inevitably think. “OK, now what? And why do they keep asking me if I want to follow Katy Perry and all these celebrities when I’m mostly interested in non-fiction authors, science articles, and life hacks?

It also would show many occasional users how great Twitter can actually be when they finally experience what a well-curated timeline is like.

Mainly though this would be incredibly helpful to allow users to quickly break out of their filter bubbles and experience Twitter in a completely different way. Users would gain exposure to what other’s Twitter experience is like, especially those with different viewpoints and interests.

It would drive engagement, spark conversations, increase serendipity, and hopefully build some empathy as users are exposed to other viewpoints.

4. Make the profiles actually useful

The current profiles are so poor I hesitate to even refer to them as profiles. Users get a paltry 160 characters to tell the world about themselves, their interests or what they are likely to be tweeting about. True this isn’t Facebook (FB) or LinkedIn (MSFT), and nobody wants it to be, but even tweets were finally expanded to 280 characters.

There’s just no room to type anything meaningful there. Even if users are accessing Twitter 85%-plus of the time from a mobile device: 160 characters and a pinned tweet? That’s all we basically get?

This is a huge missed opportunity to let users express themselves a little beyond mainly ephemeral tweets. Also, it's a place Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) or Snapchat (NYSE:SNAP) would have long ago monetized.

Twitter could be a powerful recommendation engine for users to share their current favorite podcasts, musicians, the TV show they just binge watched, collections of inspirational tweets they have saved and curated, or events and important causes they want to draw attention too (and who knows what else?).

The user profiles are one place to do this, and it could be facilitated in a way that lets users publicly express themselves but also relieve some of the advertising that Twitter loads up in the timelines.

Allow users to link to their Spotify (SPOT) or Apple (AAPL) music so they can share a song or playlist they are enjoying. Give everyone a spot to recommend the last great app they got, or podcast or a Ted Talk they listened to, or even a YouTube video they love.

(Twitter was founded as a podcast company, so why not circle back there, because that space is exploding right now. Podcasts are inherently extremely uneven depending on the subject being discussed or the guest that episode. Twitter could leverage its network and crowdsource the best episodes. Maybe even spin that off into a separate app eventually. Or just give users a space to share the last book or article they enjoyed (possibly even making revenue through their Amazon (AMZN) associates link, what Twitter’s gotta make all the money?)

Many of us do tweet out various things we like but most tweets are so ephemeral that the recommendation is likely to never by many unless you have a zillion followers or it racks up a lot of engagement. (The half life of a tweet is apparently around 24 minutes and reaches 75 percent of its potential engagement in less than three hours.)

Or take, #FF Follow Friday’s. This is a great tradition recommending other Twitter users that are interesting to follow but why hasn’t Twitter conceptually embraced and evolve this?

Give users a dedicated place somewhere from the profile page where others can gather some insight into users actual favorite follows. Twitter has the ability to rank and display which accounts in a users timeline are driving actual engagement. Whose getting the most retweets, likes, replies, bookmarks based on the last ‘x” number of tweets? Those are accounts that others might want to follow. Showcase them.

And when someone does update their profile, draw subtle attention to it. A little icon, graphic, light, whatever, but something to tell us the user updated something. Maybe nobody cares, but maybe it’s interesting to their followers.

(The profile also is where Twitter can further incentivize against bad behavior. Showing everyone how many users are currently blocking an account or how many times they have been suspended would act as a deterrent against harassment and abuse.)

5. Start incentivizing the right things.

Twitter is incentivizing the wrong things. They know it and they publicly talked about it. Kanye West has even tweeted about it.

Replies, Retweets, and Likes all get a number next to them and that's unlikely to change. All three are driven mostly by popularity or controversy and in many ways are responsible for the dopamine feedback loop that fuels much of Twitter’s popularity and makes it so fun and addictive.

One simple way to incentivize quality over quantity is right in front of them. Leverage the already existing bookmark button that Twitter finally added to mobile. Twitter should just expose that aggregate number as they already do with replies, retweets, and likes.

Bookmarking should remain anonymous but exposing the aggregate number would signal that the tweet (often a link to an article) has some longer-term value or might be worth checking out, filtering on, or circling back too later. Expose that number.

Really want to incentivize better conversational health? Just add an additional icon or two to the four pictured above.

As the most obvious example, add a little icon and a counter that users can click if someone’s tweet actually brought them, Joy. Does anyone remember that? #JOY? from Twitter? You mean snark right? But "joy" here does happen, and not just from cat and nature videos.

So just consider adding another little button. It could be a little icon of the sun, or rays of light, or even the twitter bird.. whatever (it doesn’t matter), but it could represent Joy and who wouldn’t want to promote and incentivize that?

6. Continue to support anonymity

Many anonymous, parody and bot accounts are not trolls but have tremendous value.

We also know that in some oppressive countries, you actually need to have an anonymous account depending on what you tweet. These accounts protect free speech and keep people and governments from retaliating for speaking out.

The best way to deal with anonymous accounts was hit on earlier, just expose some additional data point that users themselves could filter on.

For example, how many verified users are currently blocking an unverified account? How many times have they been reported by verified users for harassment, or suspended, etc? This would be very helpful for the rest of us to know. More than X number? (Maybe some of us want to avoid those accounts that have 36 followers 3178 accounts blocking them, joined Twitter two months ago and have already been suspended twice for abusive language.)

If Twitter would empower users and give them more information to work with, the users could filter them out ourselves and the burden would fall less on algorithms. The vast majority of abuse and harassment issues that make Twitter so toxic could be crowdsourced or filtered at an individual account level and Twitter could avoid some of the perceived shadow banning controversy.

Sure, some users will want to view everything, but many of us would choose to filter out accounts that are unverified, have a large ratio of blocks to follows, or other metrics that Twitter could expose so users could customize their own experience better.

Even the smartest algorithms can’t do it all let users customize their own experience and adjust it as they like because we’re all a little different.

7. Create a way to actually locate and surface the best live content.

The truth is, nobody I talk with can even find the best live content unless it's an NFL game or some huge event.

If you follow an account and they are broadcasting live and you happen to be using the mobile app, maybe you will see the broadcast at the top of the app now, if not, good luck, unless it’s something hugely popular.

There tons of amazing popular live streams ( #PeopleNow #TickTocNews #Bloomberg #CheddarLive #Enews #VanityFair #PGA #NBA, etc, etc.)

But also great niche ones, and it‘s difficult to find out what's playing right now, or when without a great deal of effort.

Twitter, please just create a live guide or a central place (like a web page) so that users can locate live content or find out what’s coming up because we really can’t ever find it.

8. Give users an ad-free option.

Plenty of users may not even be aware but if you are using Tweetdeck or most third-party clients your not seeing any advertising at all. None.

This is a huge incentive to use third-party clients. (However, this tradeoff is getting increasingly difficult because Twitter hasn’t been very supportive of them (search #BreakingMyTwitter for countless examples).

Give users the same option on Twitter.com or the default iOS and Android apps that will allow them to opt out of the advertising if they are willing to pay a small amount. Most people won’t do it but the model works for Spotify, Hulu, and countless other companies. Consumers love choice, so why not give users a few?

(For example, if someone is actually willing to engage and sit through a 20 or 30-second video ad on Twitter, give them an ad-free experience for the rest of the hour or maybe even a day, they earned it.)

Sure some will be outraged if Twitter even suggests it, but plenty of users would gladly pay a small monthly or annual amount to eliminate or at least minimize the ad load. They would pay extra for some additional features and settings as well. This business model works for many digital companies and might work well for this one.

9. Support customization

Simplicity’s great but so is a little customization. The last statistics I saw showed there were about 350,000 tweets being sent out per minute or around 500 million per day. You may only be following 50 people and not see what the big deal is but a lot of us need help to better filter this immense data firehouse. Here, Twitter fails users again and again. Below are a couple of examples where a few user settings, filters, and customizations would make a huge difference to plenty of users.

Take the polling feature. It currently looks like it was designed in a six-hour hackathon because it’s so terribly basic and limited (four options and 25 characters?) but if this were done right it could be absolutely incredible.

Users and Twitter itself could run huge polls that would lend real insight into issues that drive and help steer the public conversation. Cable and print media would cite them and likely partner with Twitter on these, driving even more engagement over time.

Events like the Oscars, Golden Globes, Grammys, People’s Choice Awards, even the ESPYs could run Twitter polls to see what the Twittersphere thinks.

When there are political debates and Drudge or MSNBC or Fox News asks “who won,” is there any poll that would generate anything close to the response rate that Twitter’s would?

Another example of something that's essential but could be done better. Mute. You can mute words, phrases, usernames, and hashtags but the choices are: Forever, for 24 hours, 7 days, or 30 days.

That’s great but most of us are just trying to mute that one super annoying user (often me) who is incessantly tweeting about a sporting event they are watching that you don’t care about. And you shouldn't have to drill down into the settings for a quick mute of someone. We need it quick and easy. This would have been a good "swipe left" on mobile for a quick mute (maybe 20 minutes), although I see swipe left will now open the new camera setting.

And the opposite also is true. Customize and innovate some useful features that allow users to follow topics (some have suggested "channels") and infrequent events beyond searching on a hashtag or depending on an algorithm to surface it.

For example, last year I was watching Billions and the cast of the show was live tweeting it.

I only knew because I was following the show's creator and Twitter sent me a notification that he’d tweeted and I saw that he was actually re-tweeting multiple tweets from the cast that night that were giving live and then post-show commentary and answering lots of fans that were tweeting questions at them.

This was fantastic and serendipitous for me as well as many other fans. It made the show even more enjoyable and is something that Twitter is just about perfectly suited for. So innovate more around that.

Things like this would be embraced by users and are a huge opportunity for Twitter, networks, shows (and yes even advertisers) to capitalize on.

But like many, I don’t want to follow all the actors on the show all the time (I mean on this show I probably actually do but you know what I’m saying).

The obvious solution isn’t Twitter’s algo just getting to know your interest better and surfacing content it hopes you would enjoy, it’s innovation that gives users some features and settings to customize their experience.

The official Twitter handle for a show or an event could create a list or for lack of a better word a "community" for the show/event. Then users could follow that list/community during the event, or a set period of time and then also unfollow it.

Or follow them forever. Again, you get the point. Innovate, make it easy and enjoyable, put some thought into it. One click, follow that list/community (i.e. "click" add list/community to the main timeline. "Click" remove list/community from the main timeline. Dock it somewhere or have it saved in your history perhaps etc but allow users to follow human curated event timelines, not just algorithmically generated hashtags.)

Or take actual lists. They are incredibly useful and fantastic when you subscribe to a great one but they are almost impossible to find and a huge pain to curate.

How there's no still Twitter list directory to find these? Lists are almost criminally underutilized compared to how useful they are. If users could actually find the great ones we could all benefit from the list curators hard work.

And, in a world where every digital company is trying to find new space to place ads, it seems mindboggling that Twitter hasn’t built out a few web pages with a List Directory and let advertiser’s curate or sponsor them?

Examples: Great Nonfiction Authors To Follow - sponsored by Amazon, or Fantasy Football News - sponsored by Draft Kings, or Funny Comedians - sponsored by Comedy Central. Stock Traders - sponsored by Bezinga You get the idea, there could be thousands of these worth following occasionally or swapping in and out of our main timelines depending on our mood or what event is on.

Many of us, for example, have our main timeline and then we have focused lists around specific interests. I like to follow NBA Twitter during games and FinTwit Twitter when the stock markets open but not all the time so I have lists for those. With Tweetdeck, I can pretty much view everything, but on mobile, it’s a binary choice. I just have my tiny iPhone screen. I'd like to see both but I have to choose some nights. NBA Twitter or my usual timeline. Well, why not both?

Twitter, please just build in a feature that lets users toggle lists in and out of their main timelines when they like and as they need so we’re not constantly switching back and forth all the time.

Or take timeline filtering. Twitter finally gave users the option of toggling between their reverse chronological timeline (no filtering) or its own, ranked, “Top Tweets” timeline. This small change was huge for many of us and made Twitter much more enjoyable.

(Look, sometimes you have time to view everything. Other times you haven’t looked at Twitter all day or all week and you just have a few minutes to kill between commercials or while you’re in the check out line. Then, "Top Tweets" is pretty great at catching you up. But how about some additional options?)

At the very least let mobile users have options similar to Tweetdeck where they can choose to filter out tweets that weren’t bookmarked or from verified users, or that generated fewer than "x" number of comments or retweets or any number of things.

Anything that did that would be a welcome feature that would help users separate the signal from the noise and customize their experience beyond Twitter’s mystery algorithm that will seemingly forever be accused of shadow banning or suppressing something.

Which brings me to the option Twitter should give us. A real “Discovery” option where instead of showing users the "top tweets" or the "latest tweets" how about an “elsewhere" type option that exposes users to tweets that might interest them but that they would not see with twitter’s two default options.

This setting would surface only tweets that Twitter’s machine learning thinks you might be interested from people who you are not currently following. In other words, tweets that you would not be exposed to in your own timeline. The interesting tweets you might like but are missing out on.

Now, this is going to be much harder for the machine learning to do outside of your timeline so I suggest Twitter allows users to help it build this third Discovery or Elsewhere timeline.

To do this Twitter would have to give users a mechanism to occasionally react to each user or tweet. How the hell are they doing to do that?

The same way that Pandora or Spotify over time figures out what kind of music you like. Over time you help the algorithm figure out your interests. Thumbs up, thumbs down. Eventually, because you help it, the machine learning figures out that you like nature and science article and NBA games and you don’t like gifs or cat video’s or politics. Or vice versa.

These obviously wouldn’t have counters, Twitter could only add them to tweets that are generated by users you don’t follow if they desired, and they could let users clear all likes/dislikes they have submitted whenever want if their interests change.

Sure plenty of users aren’t interested in advanced settings or cool new features and think Twitter’s already complicated enough as it is. Cool. So just don’t enable them. Twitter’s default settings could always be a relatively basic interface. But some of us need additional features and settings to get more out of it. Twitter, help us.

Too complicated? The app might get bloated or confusing if we did all this?

Is it too complicated to give users a little more help to separate the signal from the noise or ramp up engagement and discovery?

If it’s too complicated for Twitter or they are worried about the default app getting bloated then they should encourage or at least welcome a third-party of talented programmers to take a stab at it and build a pro version for those users that need it and would pay for it.

If Twitter would just innovate a little more, and ask users what they need, it would become even more essential than ever and Twitter would start to finally grow again.

10. Lastly, encourage innovation, user feedback, and contributions

Twitter should do much more to actively encourage user feedback and suggestions to improve its utility and usefulness.

There are lots of different ways that people use Twitter beyond the way it’s currently optimized for. One solution doesn’t fit all. (That’s why the power users gravitate to Tweetdeck or Hootsuite or…).

Power users, in particular, know the pain points far better than many people working at Twitter who seemingly barely use it. They know the third-party chrome extensions and little known tools and hacks that can make Twitter much more useful. And they also have way more varied suggestions than the often repeated ones that Twitter has heard about a million times a day (edit, shadowbanning, nazis, bad algo, etc).

Third-party Twitter clients have built cool, innovative features that Twitter’s native apps have never attempted to do. Take for example Tweetcaster’s “nearby map” below that lets users geotag their tweets so you can see what people nearby are tweeting about. Don’t want anyone to know your location? Plenty of people don’t so they didn’t enable it, but it’s cool that some do.

What’s Voodoo Donuts? (click…Instagram picture of a cool donut). I'll have to check that place out sometime! )

This was great for discovery and finding out “what’s happening now” in your local area or somewhere your traveling too. This could be a HUGE win for locals and local businesses and also for Square (SQ), Jack's other company. Why isn't Twitter doing more things like this on their native apps? Nobody knows.

If Twitter would just empower third-party developers and Twitter users themselves, growth and engagement would take off rapidly. And if this happens the stock price finally starts to perform as well.

Disclosure: I am/we are long TWTR. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.