Can Twitter Stop the New User Bleeding?

with 13 Comments

Twitter New User Bloodbath

Nielsen reported last week that the retention rate of new Twitter users was pretty bloody, with only 30-40% of new users returning a month after joining.

More than 60% of US Twitter users fail to return the following month. Twitter’s retention rate is about 40%. For most of the past year, pre-Oprah, Twitter has languished below 30% retention.

Many have pointed out these numbers do not take into account third party clients like Tweetdeck. For the sake of this post I am assuming that no matter the percentages, Twitter needs to improve the experience for new users and retain more of them. The fact that so many new users do not “get it” right away is not surprising (@’s and #’s be damned).

Twitter is not doing much to improve that intake process.

Weak Suggested Users

Twitter’s only big push to improve these numbers has been the suggested users list they started 2 months ago. The suggested users, in its current state, provide little value to a new user. Twitter defines these suggested users as:

a bit like your local book store’s staff picks. (We) developed a program that scans active Twitter accounts for a bunch of key ingredients such as how much of the profile is filled out

Where is the relevance to me personally?

Much of the value of Twitter comes from the personalization, shaping the information to be as relevant to our personal needs as possible. Random popular users are more novelty.

Below are some of my suggestions for Twitter.

Higher Relevance

  • Location – Suggest users within a certain distance and create better location search options
  • Industry – Allow users to define their industry with keywords,  suggest users accordingly
  • Interests – Mine a new user’s bio and ongoing tweets,  suggest users accordingly

Show me people connected to me in these ways and I have something to talk about with them right away. I also have an immediate group of highly relevant tour guides and ambassadors to teach me how the game is played.

Ongoing Suggested Users

Keep these suggestions coming. List them in the sidebar or send an email or anything that gives suggested users a higher profile and does not depend upon new users discovering it on their own. I may miss it at signup. I may give you more information that improves the process.

A Real User’s Guide

I remember being pretty confused by Twitter when I first signed up. The basics are simple: type message and send. The breadth of the service, however, is quite complex. A couple short and simple video demos would do wonders for explaining to new users the potential the service holds.

If I see Twitter me this and Twitter me that on CNN and my local radio station, I might go sign up, but the people are what makes me stay. Finding people that provide me with information, entertainment, and relationships creates user investment. Once Twitter learns how to quickly provide that value to new users, their retention rate will rise accordingly.

None of It Really Matters

I would like to see Twitter make their intake process a little more user friendly, but at the end of the day, they don’t need to. I am sure their investors are eager to see retention rates rise, but Twitter already has insiders from tech, media, and Hollywood signed up and passionate about their product.

Twitter is a different type of service and can easily fail to appeal to the masses in the same way as Facebook, Myspace, or even LinkedIn. The important fact remains that Twitter has a rabid and influential customer base in their corner, and that is very valuable.

13 Responses

  1. Jeremy Taylor

    Location based suggested users = Yes
    Better location search = Yes
    Video help = Yes

  2. Sam

    I understand why Twitter, in theory, would want to appear to be retaining new users, but with the number of "loyal" users who hang on every one of their contacts' tweets, and that figure only rising (even according to the flawed Nielsen poll), is there really anything to worry about? Any of us who have been around on Twitter for a while know that nothing's really changed in the past year or so (as far as goes), but that many people have come around and signed up out of curiosity, not genuine interest in the community, which differs significantly in the way you engage, from Facebook and MySpace. Of course, using Twitter requires more dedication to DO IT RIGHT, than, say, creating your profile, picking which emo song autoplays upon loading, and leaving the page to rot away another URL. It's about engaging people with new, varied, interesting content, not just your current mood.

    Besides, do we really want the community to expand so far that Ev has to sit down to create video tutorials to help the newest, most luddite Twitterer SMS their commute updates from their StarTac?

  3. Shawn Hickman

    Good write up! I like your idea for suggesting user by location. That would be amazing, and to keep the suggestions coming, not just when you sign up. I think the biggest problem is that Twitter puts zero effort into educating the new users about how to use the service. People who have been using Twitter for a while now may forget how confusing it was to get started.

  4. Robert Enriquez

    I like Ongoing Suggested Users. A lot of ppl leave because nobody follows them or they dont know who to follow.

  5. Scott Hepburn

    HaHa! Love the pic…

    These are some good suggestions for improving Twitter, particularly the ones about improving relevance. Twitter used to have some of that built into its user search, but did away with it. A shame, too…it was one of the most useful functions, IMO.

    I like the "Suggested Users" idea, too, although I'm not too interested in Twitter's "User Guide". Like anything in social media, the best ideas for how to get more out of Twitter come from the user community. Any how-to or best practices tutorial Twitter creates will be woefully outdated by tomorrow. The users are the innovators, not the company, and Twitter will never be able to keep up with the cool ideas we come up with.

    Of course, all of this is an aside. You know my theory: Beware any changes aimed at retaining the newest 15 million customers at the risk of alienating your first 15 million. Drive away your rabid fans and you'll have bigger problems.

  6. MarketingVeep

    I shudder at such talk of commercialization, but I know better than to think Twitter can stay the cottage industry it's been. Twitter's beauty lies in its communal nature — and that includes the way users share their knowledge and point the way to other valuable content. Yes, yes, I get it — this was a question about how Twitter can sustain new users. If they haven't already done so, my buddies at Wiley Publishing should do an online (living) Twitter For Dummies book, so we can be done with this. I'll agree that Location, Industry, and Interest are three logical categories for suggesting tweeps to follow, but I'm highly skeptical about replacing the organic beauty of Twitter with a sterile, auto-generated list of friends. Spoken like a true user who doesn't stand to earn billions from Twitter's commercialization, eh?

  7. jakrose

    I did not mention an auto-generated list of friends. I recommended suggested list of relevant connections. You still choose who you connect with. It encourages the \”communal nature\” of Twitter and makes it easier for newbies to learn about that community. I think making it a little easier for new users to find their way around is a sound goal for Twitter as a business and as a community. I do not see any of the suggestions above affecting existing users negatively.

    I am not talking about \”commercialization\” in my suggestions. I am talking about retaining customers. If when you say commercialization you mean Twitter treating users like customers, I think this type of thinking would only improve the service. Twitter is a business with millions of dollars invested. When is it smart for a business not to try to retain new customers?

  8. Summer

    #1. I'd agree (sorta) with Scott. I think the issue about retention of current users is important. They shouldn't make any changes which upset the majority base – like Facebook did. I never really got Facebook before the change, still don't really like it.

    #2. I think the issue should be less about retaining Everyone, but retaining the appropriate audience. Your ideas are good and valuable. However, if they're used for everyone…

    Think of it like this: Cell phones, heck, especially car phones, weren't for everyone. They marketed them to the audience that would use them first – people who traveled a lot, who needed to keep in touch with the office while away from the office. Then eventually, the usefulness became obvious to the larger market. Oh, I can call my husband at the store and call jimmy to tell him I'm late picking him up from soccer. Now ever mom, dad, business person, college kid and a crazy number of children under the age of 10 all have cell phones. But 20 years ago, people were all like, "why would I need a cell phone? I've got a home phone." Email had the same pattern of user growth, I imagine.

    #3. One might argue it's not Twitter responsibility alone to improve retention. Now, in CLT we have a very open, active and welcoming community that connects via twitter. We have events nearly every week, in one part of the city or another, and there are constant plans to do new things together. Do other communities offer this kinda of value to their users? How can twitter facilitate such activities?

    #4. I agree that making twitter easy to use and easier to understand offers Twitter a higher likelihood of retention, but I'd argue that while it's their responsibility there may be thousands of users who don't want more users who are just "telling us what they had for breakfast" but should Twitter retain more users, they should add value and interest to the community, offer something in return. Twitter may need more then a change to the ease of entry, but a public opinion make-over because of the clear misunderstanding a number of people in the media have of it's services. If I hear one more person tell me "whats the point of twitter, I don't care that you're having a hamburger?" I may never again mention that I use Twitter. (Okay, that's not true, but I'll be less eager to mention it.)

  9. jakrose

    What is the risk of alienating existing users? If any of the suggestions above diminished the experience for existing users, I would agree with you, Twitter should stay away. But I do not see that. New users and the growth Twitter as a whole brings with it certain things that veteran Twitter users do not like. That is inevitable. But how would improving the initial experience for new users negatively impact the experience of existing users? I ask this in regard to the above suggestions only mind you.

  10. Denis

    Twitter is a tool to share information. What information? There is a principal difference between sites like Digg or Delicious and Twitter. Here user supposed to create consistent presence and personal message. And listen to very fragmented stream of twitts from his tweeps. Twitter is very different. It is what draws attention but also makes hard to participate.

  11. Scott Hepburn

    I don't think improving the user experience for new users would, by necessity, negatively impact existing users. I just think Twitter needs to proceed strategically. Engage your most passionate consumers — isn't that one of the mantras of the social media cognoscenti?

    The risk is that Twitter would look at the 5.985 billion people NOT using Twitter as a potential gold mine and overlook the smaller but more loyal existing base. If they make decisions aimed at retaining the NEW users, those changes may not appeal to the old, LOYAL users.

    All of that being said, I like your suggestions. I think they'll help everyone…

  12. […] improve their retention of new users?” He followed with a killer post on Twitter’s user retention problem. My response to his question (”Stop attracting new users…”) prompted a discussion […]

  13. Chris

    Everybody likes twitting, those 40% users are either new to twitter and fail to understand what it is about..