30 April, 2009

Welcome to Twitter...Hey! Come back!

by M.M. McDermott

Twitter skeptics have a fresh round of ammo to snap into the chamber. Recent news says Twitter's retention rates are in the toilet. If you go weak in the knees for stats and visual aids, here's the Nielson article. Or just look at the sweet chart we liberated from them:

Raw data suggests that 60% of new Twitter users never come back after their first month. Now before you commit Twari Kari (See what I did there? I'm adorable.) consider that there's a pretty good chance those percentages are off. Many Twitter users utilize third party apps like Tweetdeck and Twhirl to carry on their Twitter conversations; Nielson's data doesn't factor in third party app usage. It can only measure those using Twitter's homepage to post. Just taking a look at my twitterstream, I can see that up to 50% of the people I follow tweet using something other than "web". That's a big frickin' blip in the data.

Regardless, I can see why turnover would be high. The Twitter experience depends on relationships and conversations to survive. Otherwise, you're just screaming announcements into the ether like the crack-addled homeless guy in front of the discount store near our house.

One thing social nets like Facebook do well is allow you to quickly build a circle of friends on their site through friend suggestions, contact searches, group and interest queries, etc. With Twitter, it's not that easy. Twitter's people-search function isn't that intuitive. And more refined search functions are only available on third party sites and online directories, not Twitter's homepage.

Everything's fragmented. And fragmentation can be scary for people. Especially when they're new, all alone, staring down at a profile screen with zero followers. You start to feel a bit pathetic. As a rule of thumb, sites that make people feel like losers generally don't track well in the return visit department.

But I've put together a quick Honey-Do list of suggestions for Twitter to boost retention. They're no doubt already considering stuff like this, but I'll throw it out there anyway. After all, it's not brain surgery. Brain surgery's way grosser.

  • Boost people-search functionality on Twitter's main page. Include query elements you'd find on sites like Twellow. If that's too much back-end work, at least pick a few trusted third party Twitter search and directory sites and include links to them on Twitter's people-search page. That way, no one has to go off the reservation looking for friends.
  • Create a regional welcome wagon. Kind of like the neighbors who show up at your front door with pie when you move into the neighborhood. Appoint local Twitterers to reach out to new members, engage them in conversation, suggest friends in the region, etc. If Twitter ever launches a paid Twitter-Pro style account, give the welcome wagon group free accounts. It could be all the incentive they need to help in new user retention efforts.
  • Provide a more detailed How-To list for new users to follow when they sign up. This will help take the guess work out of establishing the account and building a network. I think LinkedIn does a pretty good job turning their How-To list into a challenge of sorts - a Percentage of Completion bar like you see at a fund raising event. The more you do on LinkedIn (add connections, make recommendations, fill out profile info) the closer you get to that goal. At the end of the day, everyone likes to feel they've accomplished something.
  • And to piggyback off the previous point, try what 12seconds.tv does. The mini-vlog site awards "badges" to folks who hit milestones: join the site, you get a badge; post a certain number of videos, you get a badge; participate in one of their promotions, you get a badge. Why not give Twitter badges to users for display in profiles. Give badges to those who reach a certain number of posts, followers, and retweets. If you don't think badges work, then perhaps you've never heard of The Boy Scouts of America.
Even if Twitter never enacts any of these, take heart lonely tweeples. You'll always have me.

Unless you're lame. I don't follow lame-oes.

Other tales of Twitter worship here.

Welcome to Twitter...Hey! Come back!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

2 others 'fessed up:

golublog May 5, 2009 at 6:29 PM  

I think its because there isn't that much to get attached to. Twitter is so transient in format.

M.M. McDermott May 7, 2009 at 1:01 PM  

You'd think that would play well in a society where the average adult's attention span is around 17 minutes.

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