Twitter Continues to Struggle with Growth and Engagement

We need Twitter

I know. It sometimes feels like kicking someone when they are already down. But, we can’t stop talking about the troubles with Twitter. It’s because so many of us really like Twitter and want them to figure this all out. As much as Facebook continues to be an unstoppable juggernaut, it isn’t the answer to all of our social media needs. Facebook started out as a “Friends & Family” network, so it remains challenging to truly market a small business there. Each time you want to promote your business you have to carefully decide where to make a post, how to share it, how to ensure that the right people see it, and how to avoid annoying your friends and family with yet another business-related post.

Plus, we all should be very afraid of Facebook having no real competition in the space of social media. You really don’t want all of your social media marketing and advertising eggs in just one big blue basket. Facebook has already made it very difficult for Pages to have visibility in the stream. People who have actually made the effort to Like your Page still only see a fraction of your posts. But, of course, you can pay to boost your posts, right? You can pay to have your followers actually see what you post. Great. In response to that situation, many business owners turned to Groups. When someone joins your Group, they will see a lot more of the activity from that Group in their stream. But, now Facebook is starting to monitor Groups more closely as well. That’s the problem with being beholden to one platform. They say “Jump” and you say; “How high?”

Twitter’s Engagement Problem

Why is Facebook still seeing such amazing growth, while Twitter’s user growth and engagement are declining? No one likes an armchair quarterback, but I will offer my own observations from using both platforms from the earliest days.

It’s all about the conversation

At the heart of the issue is engagement with other people. Where do you receive the largest endorphin rush on a daily basis? You don’t get this “feel good” boost when you post that photo on Instagram, the funny joke on Facebook, the brilliant speech on Periscope, or the witty comment on Twitter. You get the boost when people respond. When they like your post, give you hearts, favorite it, follow you, and engage in comments with you. People will do insane things to get that engagement.  People are actually dying trying to capture the perfect selfie to share to get those likes.

And therein lies the problem with Twitter. If you drop a tweet and run, you don’t get that boost. You need the engagement and discussion, and engaging in a real discussion on Twitter isn’t as easy as other social media platforms. The very nature of the time-based stream and weakly-threaded discussions makes it really hard to keep a conversation going.

I don’t have this problem on Facebook. My posts are little microcosms of engagement. I can dive into one of my posts with the comments and easily respond directly to a person’s comment, make a response at the root level for everyone to see, and we all get an alert that the party is still going on in our top-level notifications. I’ve had posts that continue to be a source of lively discussion for days, sometimes weeks.

That never happens for me on Twitter. Ever. It is exceedingly difficult to dust off a tweet from weeks ago and refresh the discussion. It isn’t tightly self-contained. It doesn’t have an easy, default notification system that lets everyone who participated in that discussion know that it is heating up again (how do I even subscribe to notifications for a given tweet?). If someone doesn’t @ you, you’ll probably never notice.

What can Twitter do?

When I was responsible for Product at a big corporation, I didn’t enjoy it when people on the outside gave me advice about my struggling product. They didn’t have the full context of the situation to really understand what was going on and what we were trying to accomplish. I get that. So, I don’t want to play that game with Twitter. I know they are trying. They are making some smart acquisitions, like Periscope, to attack the real-time engagement issue and stay relevant.

So I will just leave it with this thought: Get back to the basics of the most base human needs and desires. The broadcast model is dying. We’ve seen it with newspapers and television. Yes, Twitter is all user-generated content from millions of individuals. But, with the “shout it and run” model that so many have turned to with their automated social media tools, Twitter has simply become a massive crowd-sourced broadcast experience and the real engagement that people crave isn’t there. The human interaction that generates that dopamine rush isn’t there. It’s time for Twitter to rethink and redesign the “social” of their social media system. The answer doesn’t lie in unlimited character lengths. It lies in tapping into the most basic need we have to feel good, feel like we matter, and feel like someone is listening and that we are actually being heard.

The Sad Chart

Infographic: Twitter Struggles to Reignite Its Growth Engine | Statista
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