What’s wrong with Twitter?

The news this week is bad numbers for Twitter. Really bad. The number of users has gone flat. Financials are trending steadily downward.

Norwegian blue
John Cleese attempts to revive the Norwegian Blue

I have now identified the Twitter icon as a Norwegian Blue and I suspect he’s not “just resting.”

I sure hope the financial analysts aren’t spending too much time with their spreadsheets and databases on this one. They’ll know immediately what’s wrong with Twitter if they just try to use it.

Its user interface is, and has always been, one huge hot mess.

While Facebook encourages you to friend just friends, Twitter culture encourages you to follow just about everyone, short of people engaged in human trafficking. Friends of friends of friends of celebrities. They all follow you back. But is anyone listening?

Once you’re in with this crowd, it’s chaos. Loud, ugly, nasty, and even, somehow, smelly. (Don’t ask me how an online experience can be smelly, but Twitter somehow manages to stink.)

In order to gain any control whatsoever over the chaos on your page, you have to assign your followers to lists and then view the smaller, supposedly more focused, lists. This makes perfect sense — right up until you try to do it. Then you encounter Twitter’s abysmally designed list-assignment process. It’s first obscure and then, once understood, it’s prohibitively cumbersome.

The simple fix of assigning the 80 or so people you actually want to hear from to a “hot list” turns out to be anything but simple. Twitter won’t let you alphabetize or otherwise sort your full list. (You’d have to use one of those third-party Twitter management apps from companies you’ve never heard of. Oh, yeah, let’s give one of them access to my Twitter account and reputation.) Even if you do fight your way, individual by individual, through the underbrush of their list-assignment process, you can’t set Twitter to open to your “hot list”— you still have start at your gigantic list of lists and select the list you want…bored yet?

I sure am.

Talk is cheap, and Twitter is the evidence of it.

Back in 2006 when Twitter emerged, I compared using it to the experience of walking past the watercooler in your office, hearing some interesting gossip, and throwing in your own clever comments.

Today the experience is more like shoving your way through a crowded subway station at rush hour, hearing snippets of small-group conversations about obscure topics, interspersed with blaring ads from vendors. As of a few weeks ago, we’ve got billboards (pictures) too.

How did it get this way? I can only conclude that none of the leaders at Twitter actually use their own service. (Their personal assistants probably email them a daily list of Tweets that mention their names.)

So, Twitter, let me know when you fix your lame UI. But don’t send me a Tweet. You’ll have to find me over at Facebook. Maybe LinkedIn. Perhaps Google+.

I’m not pining for the fjords.




Social Media for PR (2016 edition)

Social Media 2016It was my pleasure tonight to speak to Lee Schoentrup’s University of Washington PR Certificate class about social media. This is the sixth or seventh [correction: ninth] year I’ve given the social media briefing, and it’s a presentation that has to be rewritten top to bottom each time.

Last year I talked about interactive social media — “Dancing with Your Audience” was the title. This year I didn’t feel as optimistic about the field. I titled the latest version of the presentation “How to Stand Out in a Busy World.” My feeling is that social media has maxed out audience bandwidth; people are experiencing more than enough social media interaction. Now social media professionals face a battle for attention, a battle that will be won by people and organizations delivering the best (most valuable or most entertaining) content and the best user experiences.

Here, for Lee’s class and anyone else interested, is the presentation SME – UW – 2016 in PDF form.

I challenged the class to invest in training that will enable them to produce podcasts, webinars, and video content for social media. I realize that I need to take my own challenge, so I’m committing to learn how record that Keynote presentation with an audio voiceover!

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