Why Twitter Needs “Domain Names”

Twitter has been having a rough time. It’s losing users, and its share price is dropping. I use Twitter a lot, but I understand why users find it confusing. It can be hard to get used to the way things flow in your timeline, and it can be hard to know who the people are behind their @handles. (Mine is @mcelhearn; you should follow me.)

@davemark over at The Loop posted an article today discussing Five Things Twitter Just Promised. Dave excerpted part of a Twitter shareholder letter, and highlighted promises such as:

First, Twitter is an iconic service and a globally recognized brand. We are going to fix the broken windows and confusing parts, like the .@name syntax and @reply rules, that we know inhibit usage and drive people away.

But the problems go beyond that. It can be hard to know who is tweeting something, or if they’re tweeting on their own or for a company or organization.

I’ve always wondered why Twitter doesn’t have domain names. I don’t mean twitter.com; they have that. But domains for Twitter users. For example, take a company like Apple. They have a number of Twitter accounts, such as @AppStore, @AppleMusicHelp, and some Apple executives have accounts, such as @tim_cook and @cue.

But Twitter could make it easier to know who works for a company, or at least who’s using a company account. They could create a domain name. It could be something like @Apple/TimCook, or @TimCook/Apple. They could find a special character to separate the domain name from the user, so a company could buy a domain, and then control all the accounts with that domain.

This would also help with news organizations, whose reporters generally have personal accounts yet tweet about their work. Instead of knowing who CNN’s leading tweeters are by their names, a @CNN/WolfBlitzer account would make it obvious who the person is affiliated with.

Twitter could both make some money (though they shouldn’t charge much for this) and simplify things for new users with domain names.

Stephen King Retweeted One of My Tweets and Here’s What Happened

Yesterday, I was hanging out in front of my computer in the afternoon, scrolling through my Twitter feed, and Stephen King made a bit of a joke about one of the characters in The Hunger Games. I replied with a jokier joke, and much to my surprise, Mr. King retweeted my reply.

Stephen king tweet

I’m a big fan of Mr. King’s works. I’ve been reading his books for more than 35 years, and I buy each of them when they are published. So I was chuffed, as they say on this island, when he retweeted my tweet. I noticed that it was the first tweet he ever retweeted, so I guess that, in spite of my joke being simple, I should be honored.

After Mr. King’s retweet, my iPhone started displaying scads of notifications: my Twitter client, Twitterrific, notifies me when someone retweets one of my tweets, mentions me, or follows me. The notifications were overloading my iPhone. (Not really; but their frequency was a bit annoying.)

It’s now about 24 hours later, and I was interested to see what effect Mr. King’s retweet had. You can access Twitter’s analytics feature by clicking the little bar-graph icon below any of your tweets. And I did. Here’s what it tells me:

Tweet analytics

The most interesting thing to note is that only about 132,000 people saw the tweet. Impressions includes any view of the tweet on the web, or in the official Twitter client. I don’t know what percentage of people use third-party clients, but they aren’t counted. However, I’d guess it’s a small number of Twitter users.

Next is the number of engagements. These are the people who clicked on the tweet, who retweeted it, who liked it, or who looked at my profile. Granted, the fact that Mr. King retweeted one of my tweets made a number or people – about 400 – wonder who I was. I got some new followers, but most unfollowed me pretty quickly. Not surprising; I’m not really in the same league as Mr. King.

There are some other numbers, which, in this case, aren’t really useful. I’m not very clear on what media engagements are; it seems to be clicks on media such as graphics or videos. Maybe those are clicks on other tweets, made my people inspection my profile.

The most interesting takeaway is the fact that even for a celebrity with more than 1 million followers, this person’s tweets are seen by about 1/8 of those followers. Sure, it’s only 24 hours after the tweet, and there will be a small number of views over time, but it shows that most people don’t check Twitter very often, if at all. When you see celebrities with millions of followers, you need to realize that only a fraction of them are active Twitter users, and not bots.

Keep this in mind the next time you see a very high follower count. It doesn’t mean what you think.

Oh, and, Mr. King; thanks!

Twitter Now Allows Users to Receive Direct Messages from Anyone

Twitter has announced that you can now received direct messages from anyone, if you wish. There’s a new option available to turn this on. Go to your Twitter profile, and then choose Settings. In the Security and privacy settings, scroll to the bottom, where you’ll see this option:

Twitter direct messages

If you check that box, anyone can send you direct messages. I’m sure there are already spambots trying to send direct messages to lots of Twitter accounts. You probably don’t want to turn this feature on, unless you’re a brand or business that wants to interact with clients more easily.

If you don’t turn this option on, you can only receive direct messages from people you follow.

Twitter Mistakes that Companies Make or How to Lose Twitter Followers

Twitter_logo_blue.pngI use Twitter regularly, for a number of reasons. It keeps me in touch with friends and colleagues; this is especially useful for me as a freelancer, since I don’t have a water-cooler (or, if I did, I’d have a lot of one-sided conversations with my cat). But I also use Twitter to share my work: I tweet new articles on my blog, articles I’ve written for Macworld and other publications, and new podcast episodes I’ve recorded.

Another reason to use Twitter is to follow the news, personalities, and companies. It pays to be judicious when choosing who to follow, because your Twitter stream can quickly become overwhelmed by serial tweeters.

I’ve been tempted to stop following a lot of companies lately because they have no idea how annoying their Twitter streams are. If you’re only following one company, then 50 tweets a day might not bother you, but when you have a broad range of interests as I do – from software to music, from theater to books – you’ll end up with way too many tweets to wade through.

What’s important about Twitter is that people read your tweets and, hopefully, “engage” with them, by visiting a website, watching a video, or buying your product. But if the signal to noise ratio is too high, people will ignore you, and unfollow you.

Here’s a list of things that many companies do wrong on Twitter. It’s not exhaustive, and I’ll certainly add more in the future. If you manage a Twitter account for a company, you should think carefully about these points.

If you do this, you’re doing it wrong:

  • Retweeting every mention: Too many companies retweet, perhaps not every mention, but dozens of them, where people say how great their product/CD/book/performance is. If someone is following your company, they probably already use your product, and these retweets will just be annoying. However, if someone shares a tip on using a product, that’s worth sharing.
  • Retweeting the same thing a dozen times a day: Some Twitter accounts seem to schedule the same tweets to be broadcast every couple of hours. I’m slightly guilty of this, as I often tweet new articles twice: once for European readers, and again, later in the day, for US readers. (I’m in the UK, so if I post an article in the morning, US readers will be asleep.) People probably don’t pay much attention to all the tweets in their timelines when they get up in the morning, so making a “time-zone retweet” is all right; but tweet too many times about the same thing and people will ignore you.
  • Constantly tweeting about a book or CD saying “new album” when it’s a year old: There’s one classical record label that tweets, once a week or so, about a certain artists’ “new album,” which was released in March, 2013. Seriously; we’re not stupid.
  • Constantly tweeting about the same “hot new artist”: Yea, you’ve got some new author or musician, and they’re selling units for you, so you want to milk them for all they’re worth. But for people who aren’t interested in that artist, it’s just an annoyance. Tone it down, unless you have something new to say about that person.
  • Tweeting 20 times about tonight’s performance: It’s nice to know some of the trivia about tonight’s performance, but 20 or 30 tweets during the day? That’s way too much information.
  • Doing Twitter interviews and not retweeting questions: Twitter interviews can be interesting. A performer or artist answers questions sent to a record label’s or publisher’s account. But too many of these accounts forget to retweet the questions, making it a surreal one-sided conversation.
  • Doing Twitter interviews without hashtags, so those not interested can ignore them: If I don’t care about the person being interviewed, I’d like to shut it off. My Twitter client lets me muffle hashtags. If you don’t use hashtags, I may see 100 tweets that I don’t care about. Unfollow.
  • Tweeting “I just posted this to Facebook” with nothing more than a Facebook URL: I see this a lot. I think it’s a problem with people who don’t understand how to work the apps they use to auto-tweet things. It looks stupid.
  • Tweeting things like “My best followers this week are…” Or “My week on Twitter,” and other app auto-tweets: Just like the above point, this stuff is stupid and a waste of time.
  • Not responding to questions, or answering a week later: The best companies know that answering customer queries, or complaints, on Twitter is essential. If your company plans to do this, you should make sure you offer timely responses. I’ve had very good customer service experiences through Twitter; and some very bad ones.
  • Tweeting contests that require users to like a Facebook page, retweet, turn around three times and spit: Companies like to have contests on Twitter, and on Facebook. But if you tweet a contest that requires me to like a Facebook page, accept a Facebook app, then retweet something, I’ll ignore you. It’s insulting that your contest is nothing more than a way to get people to spread your marketing in such a complicated way. Sure, the point of the contest is marketing, but don’t make it so difficult for people to play.
  • Tweeting things like, “Good morning, how is everyone today?”: I see this a lot too. You need to get a new intern.

Here’s what companies should do:

Announce new releases, new software versions, performances, signings, sales, promotions, contests, etc. Interact with customers by answering their questions. Highlight tips and trivia about your products. But don’t think you need to crush your followers. If they’re following you, there’s a reason; you’ve earned their trust. You’ll lose it if you act like idiots.