A quick fix for better engagement on Twitter

Last week I was at a conference and faced with a dilemma: to tweet or not to tweet? The day was full of interesting content, memorable and controversial quotes by the dozen, and some new product coolness showed off on stage. There were large screens throughout the venue showcasing Twitter action that carried the event’s hashtag, and I’m sure many folks who weren’t there in person would have gotten value out of following along via Twitter (not to mention the many journalists in need of exact quotes while they were busily tapping away on their keyboards and working on near real-time stories). So what was the problem? My tweets on any given day tend to cover a wide variety of topics and thanks to this my followers tend to have diverse backgrounds and interests. This conference was smack-dab in the core of adtech — and let’s face it, even advertising professionals tend to get tired of that one pretty quickly. How to engage yet avoid the trap of spewing a stream of content to your followers that they don’t have an interest in?
This was my compromise solution – giving followers a visual cue via hashtag at the start of the tweet

There’s a really easy fix to this with similar functionality already present in Twitter’s product: the much maligned ‘if you start your tweet with someone’s handle that will only be seen by that person and the followers you have in common’*. So we already have the concept of main timeline and direct tweets/replies timeline. Why not have one for hashtags? The principle would be the same: if a tweet starts with a hashtag it would only be visible to people following that hashtag directly. If a user wanted to promote a hashtagged tweet to their main timeline all she’d have to do would be to make sure the hashtag is not at the very beginning of the tweet.

Simple, right?

The main use case is improving the signal to noise ratio on the platform but would also make following topics on Twitter a lot more straightforward, too. Twitter started off as a social network so it would make sense that your friends would be interested in everything you post. As it grows into the world’s platform for real-time communication and engagement it really needs to break beyond the single timeline concept fast.

While Twitter continues to work on attracting new users, it shouldn’t forget features that make the overall experience better for those who’ve been on the platform for a while. We have every indication that the 1% rule will continue to stand so platforms like Twitter really need to make sure they’re catering to the group of users that generates the majority of their content.**

Are you listening, @jack?
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* In case you’re wondering why you see tweets that start with a . or some other character, this is why. This remains one of the less-intuitive Twitter features and often makes me wonder if it’s a bug in disguise or a stroke of genius. I prefer to think it’s the latter since it introduces the concept of multiple timelines. Raise your hand if that last sentence made you think of Primer (the movie)  and this visualization.
** This could, of course, be served by a strong developer ecosystem and third party apps that focus on the needs of the frequently tweeting group but we all know how that went down