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  • 12.13.11

Why The New Twitter Leaves Me Feeling Disconnected

Twitter recently announced a new user interface and a host of new features. The new Twitter seems to be trying to do two things at once: make it more compelling as a social networking platform, while making it easier for the uninitiated to grasp. I think Twitter will likely fail on both counts.

As you have probably heard already, Twitter recently announced a new user interface and a host of new features. By adding more features, the new Twitter seems
to be trying to do two things at once: make it more compelling as a social networking
platform, while at the same time making it easier for the uninitiated to grasp. I think Twitter will likely fail on both
counts.

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Consider the context for these changes. Despite the hype around the hundreds of
millions of Twitter users, a realistic assessment of its actual usage shows quite a few
less. In a post from April 2011, Business
Insider’s Nicholas Carlson
reported that there are “only” 56 million Twitter
users following 8 or more accounts, and just 21 million users following 30 or
more accounts. Another post
quoted Twitter’s CEO in June 2011 saying that “100 million people use Twitter
each day, even though 40% of Twitter account owners have not logged into their
accounts in the past 30 days.”

The remaining Twitter users may not be that active, either. A 2010 Nielsen study found
that 67% of U.K. Twitter users spent less than 5 minutes on Twitter per month,
accounting for just 4% of total traffic. On the other hand, 7% of heavy users
(over 60 minutes per month) accounted for 79% of Twitter traffic. In a similar vein, a December 2010 report from Sysomos found that 81% of Twitter users have made fewer than 500 tweets, and 22.5% of users are
responsible for 90% of all tweets.

I don’t mean to belittle Twitter or what they have accomplished.
Twitter is a powerful network used by millions of people and thousands of
brands. But what I read into these numbers is that Twitter has an influential following
among the early adopter/connector types. And while these people are extremely effective
in sharing information, creating trends, and selling products, Twitter seems to
be struggling to reach the mass market of social networkers. Why is that?

Twitter’s challenge is that it offers a revolutionary way to
communicate, requiring a radical change in user behavior. In the past, people
did not trumpet 140-character messages to the ether, not knowing where the
messages would fall. In fact, many heavy
users of Twitter still haven’t figured out how this is supposed to work, blasting out way too many “another-morning-with-cold-coffee” messages to
interest even the most ardent of followers.

Contrast this to Facebook in the consumer world, or LinkedIn
in the B2B world. Facebook and LinkedIn both use a connection-oriented approach
that creates a relationship between the two participants, and I think this
makes all the difference. Following someone who may not care you exist does not
create a meaningful bond; case in point, @SpongeBob has almost 310,000
followers. Twitter is more like subscribing to a news feed than actually
connecting to people, which is unnatural for a social connection. Social connections are mutual, so offering
mutual relationships online is a smoother transition than creating a new
pattern for communicating. In the
Twitter world, direct messages seem to be the most social part of Twitter, and
I suspect they represent only a tiny fraction of all tweets.

The revolutionary vs. evolutionary battle for social
networking is also playing out in the enterprise world as well, inside companies. Companies are looking to take advantage of what
social networking can bring to business, but getting workers to join the conversation
is really tough. Some companies are taking the Twitter approach, requiring
workers to adopt a new way of working, eschewing email and documents for wikis,
microblogging, ideation engines, and similar new social tools. Others are taking a more evolutionary approach,
using existing communication patterns to ease people into the adoption of social
tools.

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If the past is any indication, the evolutionary approach
will win hands down. And the stakes are
high–companies trying to become social businesses through digital transformation may represent
the biggest business mega-trend since Y2K.

[Image: Flickr user stevon]

About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission.

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