It takes a thousand tweets to learn Twitter 

My Twitter journey and why the product is struggling to go mainstream. 

Twitter released it’s quarterly financial performance yesterday. Despite more than doubling its revenues (beating expectations), Wall Street is punishing $TWTR in the pre-markets (now down over 12%), due to collapsing user growth.

This tweet tells the story:

Even if the product is widely adopted and celebrated amongst key groups of people (techies, celebrities, politicians, activists, ect.), investors want to be confident that Twitter can go mainstream and attract upwards of 500 million users worldwide.

So why is growth slowing?

Why isn’t my mom or my ‘non-techie’ friends using the product?

Why isn’t Twitter being adopted faster by the masses?

Because it takes a thousand tweets to learn Twitter.

Teaching people how to use the product and what its value is has always been a challenge for Twitter. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, ‘I just don’t get Twitter — why should I use it?’.

Facebook is easy to understand and you get into the swing pretty fast. Friend you friends, post a few pictures/status updates, like some stuff, get likes backs (read: positive feedback–you’ve learnt how to use the product, yay!), post again — the cycle continues.

On Twitter it’s a different story. Where are my friends? Why don’t people favourite my tweets? What am I supposed to tweet about? I’m out!

The thing is Twitter has a completely different use case from Facebook, but it takes time to learn just what that use case is.

Here’s the story of my first thousand tweets:

Tweet 1 — 333

  • Joined May 2009
  • Hmm what do I do here?
  • Tweet some random stuff
  • @guykawasaki says I should auto-follow everyone who follows me — I’ll do that
  • Getting followers, but who are these people?
  • Tweet some random stuff
  • @message one of my few friends who is also using twitter, get a reply — cool! But couldn’t we have just done that on Facebook?
  • Tweet some random stuff
  • More random followers

Tweet 333 — 666

  • Ok I’m now following a bunch of random people, tweeting about stuff I don’t care about — maybe a shouldn’t have listened to @guykawasaki
  • Cancel auto-follow! Unfollow everyone! Start from scratch.
  • Follow a bunch people who tweet about stuff I care about.
  • Tweet about stuff I’m interested in — adding hashtags seems to get me favourites and relevant followers (positive feedback!)
  • Ok, now my feed is starting to get interesting — this is becoming my go to news feed.
  • I need a great speaker for a Startup Weekend event I’m organizing — maybe I can get someone via Twitter.
  • This guy @ml looks pretty sweet — he hangs with Branson. Tweet at him. Boom instant reply! That never happens via email.
  • @ml wants an iPad to come to speak at my event. Shit — no budget for that. Let’s try @brokep — he founded The Pirate Bay …
  • Boom instant reply again! @brokep is in!
  • Meet @brokep in person, he speaks at my event. That was pretty cool — let’s keep tweeting!

Tweet 666 — 999

  • My Twitter use case becomes more clear …
  • Consume tweets (links) about my industry (tech and startups) distributed by folks globally who know what they’re talking about
  • Contribute to the stream by tweeting my thoughts, and links relevant my industry with a dose of personality to keep it human (you are what you tweet!)
  • Engage with people I follow and folks that follow me with @messages — the most rewarding part of Twitter
  • Note to self: DMs (direct messages) are a great substitute for email, especially for hyper-busy people
  • Tweet, tweet, tweet
  • Remember to engage with people — still kind of intimidating
  • Don’t spend too much watching the stream — can be a time suck, but definitely more informative than my Facebook stream
  • Tweet, tweet, tweet

Tweet 1000

May 2009 to July 2013 — just over 2 years. That’s how long it took me to learn Twitter, and I’m in tech. Will the masses have the endurance to get a thousand tweets?

The growth numbers don’t lie.

Twitter needs to play with the product to help people through the adoption curve. If it continues to take a thousands tweet to realize the value of Twitter it will never be widely adopted.

The latest design change makes your Twitter profile look a lot like your Facebook profile — something most people are familiar with. Definitely a step in the right direction.

My Twitter profile

My Facebook profile

I think Twitter will get there. Leading up to the IPO the team was largely focused on proving to the market they could monetize the platform. The quarterly revenue numbers show they can.

For a deeper looking into how Twitter’s monetization strategy is just getting started read this.

But now, I presume, the key focus of the company will return to growth, and tweaking the product to be something than can go mainstream.

There’s a lot of smart people working at Twitter and I’m still long.

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