The Real Problem with Twitter

Twitter has a problem. It’s extremely well known, with politicians and celebrities tweeting all the time, and news organizations using their tweets as official comments. (It’s a lot cheaper than having “journalists” call people for comments…) But Twitter’s user base is stagnant; it’s hard to learn how to use the service effectively, and it’s easy to be overloaded.

I follow a number of friends, colleagues, and businesses. Some of the latter are publishers and record labels. And most of these companies do the very thing that scares users away. For example, one publisher that is heavily promoting a new non-fiction book has probably tweeted about it 100 times. They’ve retweeted reviews, reader comments, and every single event the author is attending. This is overkill; I’ve had to mute that author’s name, and the book’s hashtag. (You can do this with many third-party Twitter apps, but not with Twitter’s own app.) Because of this, I’ll avoid that author in the future: over-tweeting is counter-productive.

My mute list is very long. It includes musicians or authors that I have no interest in, every single #NationalWhateverDay that businesses think will help them sell products, and a ton of hashtags for Netflix shows. I do want to follow Netflix, for example, to learn what’s new, but there are shows I simply don’t care about. Seeing hundreds of tweets about something that doesn’t interest you will make you hate Twitter, very quickly.

I wrote an article in 2014, explaining what businesses get wrong on Twitter. Some of these mistakes also apply to individuals’ accounts; do you really need to tweet “Good morning” every day, or every few days? Do you need that much attention?

The problem with Twitter is that it’s easy to abuse. People who try out Twitter are likely to be overwhelmed if they don’t have strategies for filtering out the chaff. Twitter needs to add a feature that Facebook has: the ability to hide a post, and indicate that you want to see fewer posts like it.

Hide facebook postHere’s how it looks on Facebook. My friend John shared a post by Robert Reich. I can click the caret at the top right of the post and choose to hide the post, unfollow John (I’m not doing that; you’re just an example, John), or hide all posts by Robert Reich that John or others share. It’s an easy – though somewhat time-consuming – way to get rid of the stuff you’re not interested in.

Twitter needs to add a similar feature so users don’t get overwhelmed; at least if Twitter wants to grow its user base. Otherwise, new Twitter users quickly find a timeline of tweets they don’t care about, and they don’t come back.