Why Twitter will die if we keep saying it

No engagement on Twitter

I’ve been thinking a lot about twitter lately based on the many articles written forecasting its demise. I really hope they’re wrong, but I think they might be right. The main reason I think it will die, is because so many people are saying it. The same people who espoused it’s virtues when it arrived in 2007, are now nostalgic about a time when twitter really, really mattered. The problem with this sentiment, is that it will probably come true even if it isn’t. It’s a bit like a run on the banks. Here’s a short Sammartino definition:

A bank run happens hen a large number of a bank’s customers withdraw their deposits simultaneously due to concerns about the bank’s solvency. As more people withdraw their funds, the probability of default increases, thereby prompting more people to withdraw their deposits. The end result is the bank’s reserves may not be sufficient to cover the withdrawals.  A bank run is typically the result of panic, rather than a true insolvency on the part of the bank; however, what began as panic or opinion can turn into a true situation.

If enough people think there is no engagement on twitter, then more and more people will stop making ‘engagement deposits’ on twitter. Those who are there will get less engagement as a result. Then they’ll leave, which makes it less useful for others and before we know it we have another MySpace on our hands. It’s classic behavioural economics.

For me twitter has been valuable the past 8 years or so – I joined in Jan 2008. While it sounds kinda weird, I met a lot of my current friends through twitter, I built my personal brand there, and it became a tool for discovery and learning. It really helped me find people who cared about what I care about. It was an incredible tool, and my favourite brand for many years.

But if I were to think of one reason why I believe twitter started to stumble it would be this:

Delayed Tweets. Yes buffer, I blame you and cohort.

It’s a bit like this. All of us were at this really great party. Some of your friends were there. You met some new and interesting people. Everyone was really interested in what you were doing, and you interested in what they were doing. We helped each other, built a great eco system and it was all very give and take. But the party was so valuable and fun that no one really wanted to leave. People didn’t want to miss out on sharing a cool idea. So people started to talk more and listen less. After a while it became hard to hear and be heard. People even started sending messages when they were’t really in the room. It was like everyone put up a cardboard cut out of themselves, with interchangeable speech bubbles attached to them. The conversation turned into a noisy nightclub where no one could hear anyone speak. You’d try and have conversations with people who weren’t really there. It lost its authenticity. Slowly but surely, the value declined, and less people turned up.

Honestly, I don’t know if this is the cause, but it’s how it feels for me. If someone shared a blog post of mine it used to mean they really liked what I wrote. Now it probably means they have an IFTTT recipe set up. I’ll probably still hangout at twitter for a while yet, I might be one of the last to leave. But if there is any lessons for business people it’s this:  Twitter is classic reminder that we can never be sure of a channels long term survival. We should all be trying to build things we own and control so we have independence. We need to be our own media channel and have a place to talk to people who want to hear from us. It’s probably a portable email list. If people don’t have a reason to follow us on our own channel, then maybe our we need to create something more compelling.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

The Uber attitude & surge pricing

Travis from Uber

Today the ride share service Uber, did more again of what it seems to be good at – acting like jerks. During the Sydney Siege they conducted a price surge and put prices up to reflect the demand for transport at a time of serious civil disturbance. But the most disturbing thing, isn’t the price, it’s really the attitude.

This is one time when industry disrupters can take an important lesson from their industrial era counterparts. Let’s take legacy airlines. Our national carrier Qantas has on many occasions diverted flights at no cost to pull people out of countries which present an immediate danger to Australian travellers.

While Uber later countered their original decision with a ‘Oh, and we’ll pay the fares’ tweet – below – it was clearly an afterthought when the rightfully astounded community reacted.

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It turns out our natural intentions are revealed by how we behave before we get feedback.

New book – The Great Fragmentation – out now!

How startups can benefit from the technology paradox

A lot of the new technology seems to do the opposite of what it ought to. A kind of paradox is emerging where the solution is so good in the short term, that it eventually eats itself. It solves the problem so well, at such a low price ,that the solution gets buried. Buried deep inside a pool of self perpetuating technology.

Omni social connectedness  –> loneliness epidemic.

Mass amounts of data –> lack of useful insight.

Dropping prices of everything we buy –> increasing debt bondage.

Worlds knowledge mere clicks away –> decline in human wisdom.

Private transport for everyone –> longer travel times.

This list could go on, but you get the picture. It seems like we should revisit the tools every now and again to make sure they’re making life better. And it is from this that the new startup opportunities arise. For every tech rush, there’s a new opportunity in fixing the part of it which is no longer working.

False Positives

The promise of online advertising was the ability to find an audience based on interests more that just demographic profile. An audience based on interests. This advertisement below appeared in my twitter stream which not only gave me a little chuckle, but reminded me that the web is full of false positives.

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As a reminder a false positive is a a test result which wrongly indicates that a particular condition or attribute is present.  No I am not a One Direction fan. I have never mentioned them in a tweet. But I do very often tweet about music and music videos and use such hashtags. Clearly I’ve been incorrectly identified in one of the parameters for the advertising as being a potential teenie bopper.

It reminds us to think through what the web tells as and to use our own internal analytics to tester, our brain, to see if what it is telling us is valid.

A key word is used in social media might actually mean the person doesn’t like it and the keywords were among other derogatory sentiments. The number of followers and readers we have in a social forum doesn’t necessarily mean we have that many followers of readers. It just means people clicked a button once upon a time. I have over 5000 twitter followers, but I’m certain only a small percentage of that ever see my tweets. My weekly twitter report tells me this as do the number of clicks the links I post in my tweets get (which I track). Not to mention that anyones tweets can now be muted with no one knowing.

Numbers do not necessarily equal caring. It’s also true that media organisations through the ages have used these grey areas to create massive profitability. And even though the technology is getting better at giving us a more accurate measure, there is a still a long way to go. It’s worth remembering that the actions and interactions are what matters, not the numbers.

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When receiving is better than giving

I’ve had a few discussions with friends lately about their social feeds. A few of them have mentioned that they don’t even read their twitter feed. That they don’t read other peoples blog posts, or tweets and they only pay attention to the attention their own content is getting. The views, the shares, the open rates, the followers, that’s what they care about. And I understand why they might do this. It’s only natural to see if we are having an impact. It’s natural to focus on the work we are delivering to the market, even if this work is content creation and curation. We’ve all heard the argument that much of the content is created by the motivated few. But in a world where content is being replaced by digital conversations I wonder if everybody is so busy talking that no one is actually listening.

What if we all did that? What if every one of us was so introspective that the only work that mattered was our own work?

If everyone is posting and creating and not reading where does that leaves us?

It leaves us in a place where the internet becomes a noisy auditorium of nothingness. There’s a reason why we have two ears and one mouth. We should listen twice as often as we speak. If attention is the asset in the modern economy we need to ask ourselves the question of how much we are giving others. Are we being generous enough with our own attention for others content? Are we respecting the gift of knowledge dissemination provided by others? I feel like this is becoming an important question in these times of data deluge.

It comes down to a simple fact which is as old as human language. If we want to be heard, then we first need pay our respects and listen first. People in our specific communities are making an effort with their thoughts and we should support it. Because the things that don’t get attention and support eventually disappear. Content is no different. We need to look at our physical make up and read 2 for every 1 we create. Answer 2 tweets for every 1 we send. Comment twice for every blog post we create.

This is one of the few times in life where it is better to receive than give.

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Issues with Facebook

Every time I catch up with my young niece and nephews I ask them about their social media usage. Clearly not a robust analysis, but telling none the less. Given I see them most months it has become like a usage and attitude research program. I’m interested to understand their digital behaviour patterns, and see if they align with what the media is reporting. They are all between the age of 11 and 18 years. The question is simple: What social media are you using these days? No brands or tools are mentioned.

In the past few months Facebook has pretty much fallen off their radar. Not even used to socialise. They all told me Facebook is just good for invites and parties. But they prefer Snapchat and Instagram. In fact, over Christmas all they did all day was ‘snap’ with their friends. Ok, so this is no surprise, but what is interesting is the why. When I asked them why they care less about Facebook now the answers are quite predictable:

  • It’s too busy, with too many messages. The page on FB is all messy now.
  • It’s not as good on your mobile as ‘Insta’ and ‘Snapchat’ are. They suit it better.
  • It’s just my mates, not relatives and parents and all that.
  • It’s not cool any more.

There were more responses but you get the picture. Interestingly privacy issues have never been mentioned.

What’s clear again and again with the on-line world, is that it replicates the real world. There is no delineation. It IS the real world. But it seems that every on-line brand and social channel at some point start to forget this. Usually post market success.

I really feel that Facebook cooked their golden goose when they started to manage people’s feed and decide for them what was most relevant.  This had a really big effect on brands and organisations who had invested a significant amount in the FB platform, where overnight, their investment in connecting with those who care about their stuff was diluted. Reports say that most people see about 17% of what they actually sign up to see. But I believe it had a bigger and wider effect on individual users. It reduced the need for their members to be careful with who they said ‘yes’ to and what they ‘liked’. All of a sudden they removed the need for their users to be diligent, to manage their digital investment, to ensure their feed is up to date with who they want to hear from. And when there is no consequence, there is no investment. What Facebook tried to do with people’s feeds (keep it relevant and digestible) had the opposite effect in the long run. People lost control, didn’t manage their digital home and it turned Facebook into a crowded shopping mall. People selling stuff, lots of noise, too many options, full of strangers – people you met once at a party….  In any case cool kids don’t hang out in shopping malls, they prefer alley ways, and exclusive clubs.

In my view Facebook has become the White Pages of the web – boring and busy, but most names are there…. with a few unlisted persons. Ironically unlisted for the same privacy concerns people had with phones and addresses being public –

‘Are you Sarah Connor?’

I’m certain it will continue to be used to reach out and find people, but I feel it’s days of deep connection are over. I feel as FB will morph into an older demographic as most cool young brands do when they graduate into serious commercial entities. They always lose their cache.

FB wont disappear any time soon, but the kids on it will (have). Unlike older people using social networks, kids don’t have a commercial imperative to keep them there. They aren’t at a life stage where they are managing a personal brand, or are too scared to exit for industry knowledge reasons. They simply don’t have the exit costs many of us do with social media. I personally find LinkedIn totally annoying, spam filled and interruptive  but am yet to turn it off by not wanting to offend people or miss a random opportunity. Though I’m getting closer as each day passes.  Twitter has a broadcasting and personal quality to it given it has a one-way follow mechanism, it’s also more flexible and succinct. I truly believe it will be more highly valued company than Facebook in the long run because it more easily feeds into other media, TV, events and has a zytgeist of the times quality due to it’s immediacy.  

For me all of this is more proof that power in a digital economy is far more ephemeral than the industrial era. The barriers to entry for new competitors are low, as are the exit costs for users. It’s the mere nature of a democratised economic structure.

While this is good news for all startups, it’s also worth paying close attention to the forums we choose to build our brands in.

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Digital Intention

In our omni connected era, people seem to have no qualms in telling us what they are doing and where they are. But what I’m starting to see in digital forums is people starting to tell us where they’ll be, what they are going to do, and what they intend to buy. Event organising forums, pinterest pages, wish lists, I’ll be here this Friday style tweets…. But the one that really sticks out as a massive opportunity for me is an on-line an open diary. Yes, it would require radical transparency. Yes it sounds kinda crazy and risky, but maybe fully public diaries can give back some control to the user by being removing the middle man social media marketer. A kind of open source arbitrage to fight back against the data industrial complex. Such a radical flip could give people back their power and allow self monetization.  Most users of social media are currently being sold by stealth, and sold with a large amount of guess work. Why not take it to the next level and go open source on our future locations. With an open source diary we could sell the benefits of sharing our intended activities and let traders compete for our patronage and attention.

This is a startup idea I’ve got on my radar. Would you sign up to it?

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