Solving Twitter’s On-Boarding Problem

Ben Bajarin / November 29th, 2013

Whenever I speak with people on the subject of Twitter I always pick up interesting perspectives. It seems there several groups of people in respect to Twitter. There are those who are on it, have figured out how to use it, and love it. There are those who are on it, but don’t totally get it, but want to be on it anyway to make sure they don’t miss something. And those who just don’t get it and aren’t on the service. For Twitter addressing these later groups who are on it but not fully engaged or don’t get it is a key strategic initiative.

For the group who is on it but not fully engaged, Twitter must advance what is called the on-boarding process. That is moving someone from signup to engagement as quickly as possible. In a short amount of time if people sign up and find no value they may likely not return or engage with the service. Twitter, in essence, has an on boarding process today that is loaded with friction.

Twitter is like Facebook in some ways and not like it in others. It is like Facebook in that the more people you connect with the more interesting and dynamic your stream becomes. But Twitter is unlike Facebook, in that you can’t have too many friends. Facebook becomes less interesting the larger your social network where Twitter becomes more interesting the larger your network.

I’ve been on Twitter since 2008 and the first few years I didn’t get it. I Didn’t use the service much and didn’t invest much time in it. But over time as I followed more sources I trusted, the more engaged I became. Once I learned that the key to Twitter engagement was to follow as many smart people, or trusted sources, or sources of interest possible, the more engaged I became. I found around that once I started following around 500 sources of interest things got interesting. The challenge for Twitter is that this process takes time. I had to manually follow each source. I discovered most the sources from people I followed re-tweeting smart things from other people who I then decided to follow. So it seems to me, the best way for Twitter to get more engaged customers quickly is to speed up the way in which they can follow large sums of people of interest. Here is what I propose.

Twitter should curate a large number of sources related to topics. For example, they could create a tech news category, finance category, or a cooking category, or a cars category, or a celebrity category, etc. Then curate that list with a large number of sources. This way when I sign up, I choose the categories I am interested in and I am instantly following large groups of people curated to make that category interesting. This way, within a few minutes, I could easily have a list of several hundred people or more that I follow. Which would instantly make my stream more interesting.

This process would at least get the ball rolling and then allow consumers to discover new sources of interest from there. Discovery is a key part of the stickiness of any solution and should not get lost in the on-boarding process. This solution allows the customer to sign up and start following large groups of people without having to follow each by hand. Some people just need help getting a head start and this would do the trick.

Given the broadcast medium Twitter has become and how mainstream media and entertainment are using it there will continue to be interest for new customers. The trick is to make on-boarding as easy as possible and I think this might do the trick.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • klahanas

    Now if it could only not be so eye-gougingly painful to read…

  • Glaurung-Quena

    Unfortunately I don’t think your suggestion will work. Any curated list produced by Twitter itself is going to be too generic, too lowest common denominator, to be useful. Twitter isn’t going to publish thousands of niche-specialized feed lists, and for most people who aren’t on twitter, the desire for generic sources of information like “the latest celebrity gossip” or “the latest tech news” is more than adequately addressed by traditional web sites. Besides, starting from a generic curated list and then pruning away all the people who you aren’t interested in/find obnoxious/find boring sounds too much like work (boring and obnoxious in particular are subjective and individual).

    What might work instead is if Twitter allows people to publish their own curated lists of recommended people to follow. That way someone can find canned lists that are specifically tailored to their specialized interests, whether it’s model trains, knitting, or “Xena, Warrior Princess.”

    • qka

      Agreed. I am in the “have an account but don’t much use it” faction. Periodically, Twitter sends me e-mail with suggestions of who to follow. Suggestions which I haven’t the faintest interest in.

      The Twitter equivalent of “word of mouth advertising” is, and probably always will be, the best way to develop a list of those to follow. Twitter might try suggestions of those who are followed by those you follow, but I suspect that would quickly degenerate. For example, someone you follow professionally, do you want to follow their hobby and other interests? Too much culling to be done.

  • Alex Gollner

    They could explain Twitter lists – they help people see tweets from many trusted sources without missing as much. Users could be encouraged to switch lists based on their mood. I might want to see tweets from famous people or tech journalists or museum curators. That means they wouldn’t miss tweets from an hour earlier despite being able to see tweets from hundreds of people.

    Useful to know: You don’t have to follow people in the lists you subscribe to. You can get the benefits of different flavours of Twitter drinks without having to put your mouth over the basic water pipe..

    On-boarding would also work well if current users could invite new people to twitter with one or more curated lists to get them going. Some friends would have better insights into good lists to start people off. Each list could also have a ‘follow all the people in this list’ button.

  • Pablo González Day

    “Facebook becomes less interesting the larger your social network where Twitter becomes more interesting the larger your network.” Personally, there’s a limit of people I can follow. If my feed gets too crowded I start losing interest because I can’t see all the updates that interest me.

    • benbajarin

      I started that same way but then kept finding more interesting people saying interesting things to follow. 🙂

      • Pablo González Day

        And, honestly, can you keep up with all of them? Isn’t it better to filter and get to read what the, say 200, people you really care about say?

  • LW

    With only some 30 followers (

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