Simplicity is supposed to be one of Twitter’s virtues. A hundred forty characters and a handful of buttons — what’s so hard to understand about that?
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Plenty, apparently. On the company’s first earnings call since it went public in November, CEO Dick Costolo fielded question after question about results that showed anemic user growth (at least by the standards of quarters past) that overshadowed strong revenue trends.
Pressed to explain the slowdown, Costolo maintained, essentially, that the experience Twitter offers new users is confusing and offputting for many people. For a neophyte, a Twitter stream can look like a military code, a welter of RT’s, @’s and #’s. That causes some potential users to stay away altogether and others to sign up but never sign in.
The solution, Costolo said, involves “bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding or the language of Twitter to the background.” That means doing four things specifically:
First, said, Twitter needs to improve its “onboarding” for new users in ways that bring them up to speed faster. This isn’t a new priority; Costolo was already talking about it at the time of the IPO.
Second, he said, photos, videos and other rich media elements need to be a bigger part of the user experience. Again, Twitter took a big step in this direction in the fourth quarter, adding big photos and Vine videos directly to Timeline, rather than requiring a click to view them.
Third, Twitter needs to find more ways to encourage conversations among users, whether publicly in their timelines or privately in the form of direct messages. Costolo cited the August 2013 introduction of threaded conversations as a measure that helps new users get involved in crosstalk by making it easier to follow what others are saying to each other.
Finally, he repeatedly mentioned the need to improve topic-based discovery. Giving users an easier way to follow topics rather than people, lists or hashtags will connect them more efficiently to the content they’re interested in, promoting higher engagement.
“We know from our research that these are the kinds of things that cause users to become more engaged and to stick with the product,” Costolo said. “We don’t need to change anything about the characteristics of our platform. We just need to make Twitter a better Twitter.”