Twitter's Experimenting with a Range of New Features Aimed at Improving Engagement
Last month, we reported that Twitter had been testing out a range of new options for tweet replies, including color-coded highlights for the original poster and threads based on each response.
The potential updates are aimed at both improving user understanding of how replies work and encouraging further interaction and conversation via tweet. And this week, Twitter has shared even more tests they're experimenting with on this front - and it is worth noting that none of these are tests are anywhere near final, nor are they near a live roll-out as yet. But they are in testing with Twitter employees.
Here's what could be coming to a tweet timeline near you.
Keen to prompt new conversations, Twitter's testing a new 'ice breakers' option, which would enable users to pose a specific question to their audience in order to prompt further engagement.
As reported by The Verge:
"The design would let you pin an “ice breaker” to the top of your profile to let people know you wanted to talk about something specific. The company’s design director, Mike Kruzeniski, told me it could help Twitter users channel their followers’ enthusiasm into discussions they wanted to have - whether it be about a new project, a current event, or some other item of interest."
Facebook's tried similar, with question posts, polls, and even 'Did you know' questionnaires for profiles which it launched late last year.
How much they actually prompt further interaction is hard to say, and Twitter's prototype seems a bit more topic focused, which would likely to facilitate better response, especially to questions around TV shows and the like.
Note, too, that in the experiment, Twitter's also trying out a specific reply field within every tweet, as opposed to just the speech bubble prompt - Twitter says that this is because many new users still don’t understand that they're able to reply by tapping the conversation bubble. By making the reply process more overt, Twitter may be able to further boost engagement activity.
The addition of an in-tweet reply prompt could clutter up your timeline a little, but it does make sense. A more up-front reply prompt would likely see more people sharing their thoughts and adding to the broader conversation.
Active Status Indicators on Profile Images
Twitter also shared this last month, but another feature they're working on is an active status 'green dot' on profiles, which would indicate when a user is logged in and active on the platform.
Facebook has a similar indicator for Messenger, and LinkedIn added its own variation last year too, and real-time indicators like this can definitely help to improve engagement. You're more likely to reach out if you think you can get an immediate response, and interact with that person or brand.
That actually may be even more relevant on Twitter, where immediacy is a key element.
Twitter's also experimenting with a new status indicator prompt, which would enable people to share where they are and what they're doing, at any given time, via a quick, one-line summary on their profile.
Twitter says this is in response to users changing their usernames to reflect when they're at an event - you would have seen how, utilizing the longer character limit for display names, some Twitter users are adding things like "John Smith is at #CMI2018" or similar, looking to both showcase their attendance a events and capitalize on searches for event-related hashtags.
This would cater to that, and lessen the need for users to change their main display name, which is their personal identifier on the platform.
There are certainly some interesting ideas here, and some interesting considerations for brand communications on the platform. All of these features could be fairly easily integrated into the Twitter experience - and while Twitter, as noted, hasn't made any commitment to any of these updates as yet, the fact that they're now showing them off, and seeking public feedback, would suggest that they're close, that they've moved through the initial phases of approval, and could be coming soon.
And while Twitter's user numbers haven't grown at the rate they would have liked in recent times (even posting a drop in active users last quarter), the platform's ongoing efforts to improve engagement are generating results, with its daily active user growth rates seeing seven consecutive quarters of double-digit growth up to Q2 '18.
Even if it can't grow users at the same rate as Facebook and Instagram, Twitter can still maximize its potential by generating more activity, which is a slower build (and a harder sell to the market), but may be a more sustainable business practice over time, enabling the platform to improve the focus of its ad products, and reach more highly engaged users as a result.
These new experiments reflect that effort - rather than looking to change how people use the platform wholesale (like 'Moments' did), these features look to enhance the Twitter experience, and build upon key areas of potential.
We'll keep you updated as to if/when Twitter decides to implement these new tools.
UPDATE (9/1): At CES 2019, Twitter announced that it would be launching a new beta program to test these features and others, with applications opening shortly.
Follow Andrew Hutchinson on Twitter