With the limited test release of its new user interface, Twitter is revealing that it is craving to become much more than your 140 characters text app. The obvious reason ? Text lead to poor engagement, photos – and videos – are much, much more attractive. Facebook knows that ( a photo on Facebook attracts 53% more likes than plain text), as well as Pinterest, Instagram and G+. Attracting users with text and a link offer poor results. A photo changes everything.
Already Twitter recently made photos directly visible in feeds. Certainly based on analytics – tweets with images receive 150% more retweets- , as well as a strong demand by brands, it is increasing its visual footprint. The interface looks very much like a Facebook/ G + clone with its heavy use of photography and it’s probably not a coincidence. Wanting to avoid disrupting its current user base the least possible, they opted for a familiar interface that anyone can digest quickly and easily, making the transition as smooth as possible. Doing it any other way might trigger defection, something that no social media site wants to provoke.
With the limited test release, Twitter can do two things : test the reaction on a very limited scale to avoid any major catastrophic backlash while minimizing press coverage. Because it’s only a test, the story is not widely reported and when they do a general release, it will be an old story already, thus making many publications dismiss it for fear of looking outdated. Twitter can also minimize the backlash by having the most vocal critics be exhausted by the time it actually makes the release available to everyone. We have, and will see , this strategy play by other major social media sites in the future.
So why more pictures ? While Twitter’s management claims it is to satisfy user demand, which is certainly partly true, it is mostly to satisfy brands and advertisers. And brands and advertisers are their clients. To avoid seeing their advertising dollars going to the competition, they have no choice than to abide by the rules of any business and follow their wishes.
Will it work ? There are 3 main factors in play that could affect the success of the interface change:
Space: Because of the small screens, Twitter, with its minimalist approach, is the perfect fitting phone app. The new interface demands much wider screens to be effective and in a way, it looks more like a web app. Even if smart phone screens are getting bigger, and tablet usage is growing, it will certainly lose a lot of its core phone app simplicity.
Adoption: we touched on it earlier. Hardcore and legacy users are going to protest. To the point of leaving the service in droves ? No one knows. Will it attract new users ? Twitter’s position is that people not on Twitter today are avoiding it for its lack of visuals. However, that doesn’t mean being more photo friendly will work. There are other reasons why people do not join – 140 characters is too limiting, no adequate noise filtering, too open- and those are not yet addressed. Furthermore, the success of a social media platform is based on its buzz and overall adoption, not so much about its features. If people start leaving Twitter, there is not much that they can do to stop it ( see MySpace)
Usefulness : Do users really need another space to upload/share images ? Between Facebook, G+, Instagram, Snapchat, Flickr, and countless others, the competition to be the center of user’s photography world is fierce. The cool part of Twitter is that you didn’t have to use photo to express yourself. Just a few words and maybe a link. It will now look empty without a photograph. Will people follow. If not, if a massive part of the user base do not share their images, brands will not be able to slip theirs in the middle and the redesign will be a total failure.
So while Twitter’s strategy makes complete sense for Twitter, it might not make sense for its user base. There is however little other options for them to investigate if they want to increase their revenue substantially and remain competitive in the ad space. However, this could radically change who there are, not only in terms of service, but also as a player in the social media space. They are heading straight against Facebook and G+. No one at Twitter is probably expecting a painless process and we will probably see many iteration of the user interface before it is made available to everyone. One thing is for sure however, it will contain a lot more space for images.
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.