Why Twitter needs a total rethink
A view from Tom Moran

Why Twitter needs a total rethink

Tom Moran of TH_NK explores the changes the platform needs to make if it's to survive.

Twitter is in crisis; It’s fighting the battle of its life and it’s losing. Celebrities and bloggers are ready to throw in the towel and it’s only a matter of time before the slow count begins. Is it all over for Twitter, should we delete the app and cancel our account or is there still some fight left in this once great heavyweight of social? To have even a fighting chance, Twitter needs to stop gradually iterating and instead drastically change its entire model. If this is the last round, it’s time for a serious pep talk.

Twitter may think it’s coming out swinging with its 1 March update aimed at cutting down the abuse its users get. But to announce that you can finally block anonymous "egg accounts" on the same day that prize-fighter Snapchat was valued at $19.7bn (£15.9bn) was foolhardy and begs comparison between the two. Twitter may have three-and-a-half times as many users as Snapchat, but isn’t valued as highly. And it’s clear to see why. Instead of the constant evolution users expect from social media platforms, anticipating their needs before they’re aware they exist, Twitter is stagnant.

Total Twitter user numbers may be up, but revenue and the long-term outlook is down for the count. More crucially, competing with the heavyweight daily active user figures of Facebook (1.23 billion) and Instagram (150 million), Twitter outright refuses to share their numbers. If you’re a brand marketer looking to reach consumers on social, it’s pretty clear where to stick your budget. No surprise then that since they floated in 2013, they’ve racked up losses of nearly $2.8bn and ad revenue has fallen.

For a platform that’s over a decade old, it remains a massive Wild West. Part echo chamber, part abuse-enabling troll paradise, it sees celebrities like Lena Dunham to Stephen Fry quitting in disgust at the vitriol that comes their way. 

Twitter needs to change its game, right now. User needs, behaviours and expectations have changed drastically since 2006 and it needs to not only catch up, but lead the way. Twitter can no longer think of itself as a platform that people come to use - instead, it needs to think of itself as a digital service, available on whatever device or platform the user is on.

It needs to seamlessly integrate itself across multiple chat platforms, the internet-of-things and an ever-increasing voice-first world. When Alexa hit the market, Twitter should have been there with the first ever voice-first social app. When Slack started making waves in business, Twitter should have been seamlessly integrated. It’s a service that should be ruled by automation and assistive intelligence, instead of feeling like a stadium of noise.

Secondly, Twitter needs to work on its reaction times. It waits too long to release these fantastically underwhelming features. Instead, it needs to start blocking and jabbing as trends and cultures shift. It should have had gifs working seven years ago, and right now it should be owning the emerging bot market. They need to be looking at the analytics, trends and customer behaviours and fixing them quickly and constantly. Now is the time for a rapid and agile approach, constantly researching, reacting and releasing to evolve the platform in real time. It’s a technique the other social giants have been on top of for years and it’s time Twitter caught up. 

Finally, Twitter needs to land the knock-out blow of truly understanding and protecting individual users. Twitter should be a service that fundamentally protects the user by automatically policing the difference between freedom of speech and hate-filled abuse. Reviewing abuser accounts on a case by case basis is impossible and was never going to work, but by utilising the emerging power of AI they could adapt to the changing nature of online harassment and be one step ahead of the game. AI is already able to recognise patterns in language, user names and behaviours and could start to flag and block users before they are able to do harm. If a celebrity will never even see the horrendous thing a troll has to say, they’ll be less inclined to say it.

Twitter has always acted like it’s too big to fail, but from its irritating/irrelevant promoted adverts to its what-even-is-this "explore" functionality, they’ve messed up every step of the way. Now with the advent of abandonment Twitter needs to try harder than ever to win back its audience. If it comes out fighting with a whole new strategy it stands a chance - if not, then we’ll be hearing that final bell ring sooner than we think.

Tom Moran is senior UX designer at TH_NK