Three Things Twitter Needs to Fix

For years Twitter seemed to have an unassailable position as the new CNN, the place everyone goes to spread and read news. Journalists rely on it for breaking stories much more than people realize, world leaders rely on Twitter to get their news out in real time and when disaster strikes following Twitter live has replaced CNN.

Now Twitter growth has stalled and investors are getting nervous. Partly this slowdown in user growth is caused by the emergence of new alternatives that didn't exist in 2006 -- people have more choices and the market is more fragmented. But this stalled growth is also at least partly because Twitter has slowly become much less appealing for users, to the point where some drastic action will be needed to restore confidence. I am sure that people at Twitter are already working on this problem, but here are some issues that they could and should be fixing right now.

PREEMPTIVELY ADDRESSING HOSTILE CONTENT. One of the problems that deters many would-be Twitter users is the volume of offensive, hostile and threatening Tweets from anonymous users. For anyone in the public eye this has become a serious problem and people who don't enjoy reading death threats tend to either avoid Twitter, avoid any controversial topic or simply pay someone else to take care of it. None of these solutions is in the interests of Twitter. What would work better is to create an environment where there is zero tolerance of threats and insults. One way to approach this is to adopt a real or near-real name policy. Another might be to pursue legally anyone who makes any kind of threat. I have long wondered why all the big social media companies don't just pool their resources and go after any trolls that cross the line of legality. They could even attempt to apply stricter rules of politeness, following the example of Quora, where rudeness is simply not tolerated. Even the site's Top Writers can be banned for life simply for being impolite to another user.

RESTRICT THE ABUSE OF AUTOMATED ACCOUNTS. Another problem that turns off Twitter users is the difficulty of finding human users to talk to. Five or six years ago human users were still very common and live interactions completely normal. Today there are too many people who rely on automation, who never ever respond to a Tweet. These accounts are both pointless for the owner and frustrating for everyone else. Many of these accounts are apparently completely abandoned by their owners and continue to auto-Tweet low value content with no human intervention. I often test this by sending a message to people who interact with my account. When no reply comes I assume that there is no human there at all. Some accounts simply tweet the same "my tweet stats this week" or the annoying Paperli spams. To address this problem Twitter should simply tighten up their API rules and restrict auto follow, auto direct message and other anti-Twitter practices. 

ACTIVELY ENCOURAGE CONTENT PROVIDERS. Finally, Twitter should be fostering partnerships with content providers, encouraging them to share their news on Twitter and also to collect inputs through Twitter. Give content sources good reason to choose Twitter as their primary channel and they are more likely to stay there, attracting other users. There's a reason people prefer to share through Facebook and Instagram. Just leaving the content to manage itself worked in 2006. Ten years later the spoilers are more sophisticated so the good content providers need more help.

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Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, coaching and writing about social media and other communication topics. For more information call on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or email conseil@andrewhennigan.com

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