Twitter and its contradictory emotions

Despite posting a 48% year-on-year growth to $710 million revenue in Q4 (Oct-Dec’15) Twitter got a lot of flak in media recently. The reason: a flat MAU overall and a negative growth if one excludes SMS users.

Twitter

Many have written about Twitter’s core problem and offered suggestions in product improvement (good reads herehere and here). Most of them have identified these common issues:

– a confusing, intimidating product experience especially for newbies; that’s why one sees so many sign ups followed by long periods of inactivity
– lack of effective measures to tackle abuses and threats

Aside from the above, I feel Twitter does not compare favourably (relative to say, Facebook) as a platform of choice for a wide section of advertiser product categories. I would define the core benefit of Twitter as ‘real-time news & views’. The nature of the product suits certain product categories very well: news organisations, companies in the services sector, personal technology products to name a few. But for many others, the value of real-time is not paramount. A consumer goods company may choose to be on the platform to share brand news and communication material – say an ad, almost like a broadcast medium. But the value of real-time sharing is not so apparent on such occasions. It becomes so only when the brand shares news from a live event or ‘manufactures’ a live event – like a contest.

In my view Twitter’s real problem, however, is the inconsistent product experience each time one logs in. I have been an avid user since 2007 and am fairly addicted to the platform primarily as a source of useful, entertaining information and the occasional interesting discussion. All of use expect a fairly consistent experience when using a product or service. One wouldn’t patronise a classy, super-premium restaurant if it suddenly turned into a filthy, smelly hole-in-the-wall joint full of unpleasant characters for a few hours, only to be back to its original self again.

I would classify the emotions I feel when on Twitter into these categories:

– being informed: I share a lot of links pertaining to marketing, advertising, personal tech and entertainment (fun facts, trivia) and follow handles which share links too. I feel informed and aware when I discover news & articles I enjoy in this process.

– amused and entertained: there is a lot of punnery and humour around which brings a smile. The creativity of such tweets is a welcome break

– hopeful: This happens when I see tweets about good deeds, positive initiatives from government agencies and so on. When natural disaster strikes (Nepal earthquake, Chennai floods) there was a lot of good work from common folk & celebrities alike. Reading about such acts makes me hopeful, makes me feel good

– motivated: business gurus, celebrities across fields like cinema & sports, startup heroes are all great for inspiration. One feels motivated and inspired after reading their stories and perspectives

And then there are certain days when the timeline is full of negativity. Abuse, bigotry, downright stupidity, pettiness – you name it and it is on show. And how.



So the dominant feeling while using the product may change dramatically in the course of a single day. The trouble: when the feeling is dominantly repulsive one stays away from the brand. It’s happened to me a lot of times – one consciously avoids logging on to the platform for days on end. In this poll, the recent turmoil over JNU activities may have played a role in the high number of votes for ‘disgust, anger’.

As many have pointed out in the replies, the onus on keeping a timeline clean and positive lies squarely on the user- who then needs to be an ‘expert’ to figure out lists and be prudent about the ‘following’ list. That’s too much work for most users. Even one mutes a user, his or her tweets will be visible on the timeline if someone who you follow shares it. So the whole purpose of avoiding a topic or ‘negativity’ goes for a toss. The famous Mae West quote, “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad I’m better” is not applicable to Twitter unfortunately.

The argument that this coming together of various opinions, backgrounds, ideologies and views is a reflection of how real life is, doesn’t work. In real life, I just know that there are people of different views, orientations, preferences out there but I am not forced to interact with them, listen to their abuses or entertain their in-your-face comments. On Twitter that’s a daily affair. It has its positives – thanks to Twitter, we’ve all gained from interactions with people whom we don’t know by name or have never met in real life. But not many can take this stroll in a beautiful park turning into a a walk past mountains of garbage or being in the midst of a bunch of loud, abusive strangers.

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This schizoid experience of strong often visceral emotions can take a toll on most of us, even regular users. What chance will a newbie have if he or she is put off by the bile on the very first day using the platform? Twitter does not rely on paid advertising to convey what it stands for or create a persona. As with other social media platforms the timeline and users are the brand’s biggest advertisers. Platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook have their strengths and weaknesses too but split personality is not one of them.

Your views? Do comment in.

In part 2 of this post, my thoughts on Twitter as an advertising medium.

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