leaky_bucket

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Social


Yes, Twitter has a growth problem. But more than that, the company has another headache: Getting people to stick around after signing up.

According to people close to the company, Twitter has seen more than one billion registrations to its service over the past seven and a half years. Stack up that figure against the most recent active user number — 241 million — and you’ve got a retention rate somewhere in the mid-20 percent range.

Caveat: This billion-plus stat is complicated by Twitter’s massive spam problem and the subsequent purge that occurred last year. But suffice to say, registrations are still high compared to the number of current active users.

It’s called the “leaky bucket” in product terms, and Twitter needs to figure out how to patch it.

Part of the problem is something Twitter has known all along. It’s a tough service for a newcomer to understand. Unlike Facebook, there’s a learning curve for Twitter vocabulary, for sending tweets, even for learning how to read the service. And not everyone wants to spend the time figuring it out.

The other headache is, even if folks do figure out how this Twitter thing works, they don’t have anyone to converse with on the service. If Twitter professes to be the best place for “real-time, in the moment conversation,” as CEO Dick Costolo so often says, newbies need to see that during their first days on the service. Right now, they’re being told to follow high-profile celebs at sign-up; that’s cool if you want to see what Kobe is tweeting lately, but don’t expect him to reply to your tweets.

In that vein, Costolo this week hinted at changes to come. “The native mobile sign-up that we are launching allows us to make on-boarding much more seamless for people and quickly connect you with the people you know who are already on Twitter,” Costolo said on a conference call with analysts on Wednesday.

Translation: Twitter will check out your phone book for other people you know who are already on Twitter, and let you follow them from day one. In theory, tweeting with your friends early on will make you come back to the service more often.

“Our user research tells us that this drives increased interaction from day one, and significantly higher growth over time,” Costolo said. The feature is now available in the U.S. for Android users and is rolling out soon on iOS.

The company is also experimenting with sending emails to inactive accounts, or vaguely worded emails that entice users to go directly to Twitter.com when they receive direct messages. I’ve received both of these, and they’re slightly annoying. But to be fair, I’m not the demographic Twitter is looking to lure back in — maybe it’ll work on others.

Whatever the case, the Street has spoken: If Twitter truly wants to “reach every person on the planet,” it needs to figure this retention thing out, fast.




14 comments
RobertS
RobertS

Isn't the whole problem with all of these social sites the fact that everyone is getting overloaded with (mostly useless) information?  Nobody can possibly carry on real-time, alway-on conversations with multiple close friends, much less a bunch of "interesting" strangers.  Just trying to keep up with family and friends on Facebook takes time, responding and posting your own updates takes more time.  All that engagement during the day interrupts work, school, face-to-face interactions, etc.  So people try it because it's interesting for a while, but it quickly becomes a distraction unless you have a short-term purpose, like a rebellion to coordinate.


It's fun to have an easy way to stay in touch with people around the world - that part is great.  But isn't it more fun to catch up on the week's news from friends over a beer on Friday night?


I don't mean to diminish the value of Twitter (or Facebook).  Both are incredible sources of news and information for my job.  I make time throughout the day to follow industry leaders, news outlets, manufacturers, and others, but that's part of my job and I get paid to stay on top of events in my industry.


The "urgent" need to monetize these services with ads and other content that we don't want seems like it will only lead to more people quitting faster.



Scobleizer
Scobleizer

Twitter has been abusing its best users for years (and developers too). This is that attitude coming home to roost. Maybe if Twitter actually cared about its users more of them would stick around. 

If I ran Twitter here's what I would do:

1. Get rid of the suggested user list. It tells people that Twitter isn't a meritocracy where you can get millions of users simply by being good. No, the way you get there is to get someone at Twitter's attention, and get them to put you on the suggested user list. Today that usually is celebrities. I can prove that list doesn't even have the best content-developing celebrities on it. 

2. Replace it with a REAL search engine that shows who is putting the best content into Twitter TODAY (not someone "picked" by a board inside Twitter). The tech list, for instance, hasn't changed in years. Really? No one new has come along in years and is producing interesting tech content? 

This one change would dramatically change Twitter into a meritocracy where the best content would get found and featured. 

But this never will happen because Twitter really doesn't care about its users, just about taking short cuts to building engagement. It worked, I get that, but it isn't anymore. New users (and old) are expecting better now. 

uninventive
uninventive

The same problem I've had with Twitter is the same problem I have with Facebook magnified by 20X.  


In Facebook, FOMO (fear of missing out, or seeing everyone else's "positive" news and competing to make your wall/feed look similar, no matter how shallow it is) makes people insist on making "Highlight Reels" of their life, so when someone has bad news, they're encouraged not to share it or talk about it ("causing drama").  Everything from my relatives reads like e-Mail did in the late 1990's: since none of my relatives have particularly noteworthy developments in their lives, they fall back on Image Macros, Chain Re-postings, and useless pseudo-surveys designed to self-propagate instead of promote discussion of any kind, such as "Click Like if Obama should be impeached, click Share if you are a Republican!"  


In Twitter, it's even worse: Celebrities have a perfect one-way wall: they can share with millions who for the most part cannot write back to them (mentions are easily filtered out and ignored compared to those you actually follow).  As for regular users, the FOMO effect is ridiculous.  Is it possible to use Twitter without following celebrities?  Yes.  But honestly, how many people have that many friends who are close enough to use it to it's fullest?  Isn't it easier to just barely reach out to those you know while following every actor you like to make the service more interesting?


The general message in Social Media is the same message with regular media: "Everyone on here is far more interesting that YOU will ever be.  Shut up and keep reading."  Solve that problem, and there might be a future for social media.  Otherwise, it's shaping up to become the same as Television and Newspapers: only the most notable and interesting need apply, everyone else can and should just watch/read and be happy they're even a part of it as an audience.

Bahmani
Bahmani

Twitter is for amateur news junkies and teenagers. Both groups seek personal validation gaming the twitter game that allows them to falsely stack the number of followers and retweets in their favor. As if that means power of influence or social acceptability. In high school we called this "look, the loser thinks he's a winner"

Then we would go over and give him a wedgie and order was restored to the universe.

Narendra
Narendra

Mike, if you don't know the bot number and you don't offer any comparables, how do you assert:

"But suffice to say, registrations are still high compared to the number of current active users."

JefinLondon
JefinLondon

There's no question that Twitter is an acquired taste whereas Facebook appears to be nearly universal in appeal. 


I spend about equal amounts of time on both. FB is friends and family and a few specialist groups, while Twitter is news and interesting strangers. Engagement is much higher on FB, but I would never use FB as a news feed. That would just clutter up the stream and I'd miss posts from my family.


Different use cases different tools. Pretty much like the rest of life really. 

mknopp
mknopp

I think it was a Joy of Tech cartoon that summed up Twitters problem the most. It compared today's social world with the world of yesteryear.


Facebook is like meeting your friends at a local bar. Mostly private and social.

Twitter is like standing in the middle of the town square and shouting. It wasn't private and the majority of the people who heard it didn't care.


Perhaps, I don't know the hows and whys of Twitter enough, but I rarely post anything to Twitter because I don't care to shout in the town square.

John Yarbrough
John Yarbrough

@Scobleizer  Seems like Twitter could easily use MagicRecs to improve suggestions for new users. 


For example, take MagicRec data for Verified Users to create dynamic lists for those just signing up for Twitter so they can immediately see how the platform adds context to conversations happening 'Now.

liordegani
liordegani

@Scobleizer  newbies aren't looking for great content necessarily, they're looking for a fun experience. That can be simple content, and it can be interesting conversations (where they can actually take part in).

apart from the US growth problem, it's hard getting entire communities into a  network. I guess that in Israel for example, the Twitter users / internet users ratio is relatively small comparing to other mega services, and IMO there's not enough "content" to push these potential users in - not enough friends are on Twitter, not enough content in Hebrew, etc.
That's a bigger problem. 
I'd have thought embedded Tweets exposure would help, but doesn't seem like it so far.

Scobleizer
Scobleizer

@liordegani @Scobleizer  At the end of the day, I disagree with you. If you can't see great content on these services you will leave. Even newbies. ESPECIALLY newbies. My dad isn't into Twitter. Why? Because he sees people he really doesn't care about talking about what they had for lunch. On Facebook he sees people HE CARES ABOUT talking about what they have for lunch. Big difference. 

He might stick with Twitter if he sees the power of its news engine, or tweets that bring him valuable data about something he DOES care about. But Twitter makes it VERY hard to find that, for a newbie. Heck, even for an old timer, like me, it's hard to find valuable stuff in the stream of noise.

Scobleizer
Scobleizer

@liordegani @Scobleizer  that's actually great for Twitter and gets people to be aware of the service and what it's for. I've "followed" hundreds of people and brands because their tweets were embedded in some place like here.

liordegani
liordegani

@Scobleizer great points. So why not using "find my friends" feature similar to what FB or LinkedIn offers (just to have a smooth kickoff).

funny part about Twitter is that many non-users are consuming its data indirectly (SFO crash exclusive photos, celebrities announcements) - isn't that unfair to measure Twitter metrics the same as Facebook's? (leaving Ads impressions aside for that matter) 

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