HOW TO FIX TWITTER: What Killed the Conversation on Twitter?

HOW TO FIX TWITTER: What Killed the Conversation on Twitter?

Any tool in your social media quiver will be used for it’s best and highest use. If a tool does not serve an immediate purpose, or if the tool fails to meet expectations for efficiency and effectiveness, it will be dropped. Twitter still has about an 80% drop rate after one month. Aside from Twitter being confusing, I have some ideas about what functions have been drained of all effectiveness, and what role Twitter has in the social marketing toolbox today.

It didn’t happen gradually. But with the renewed interest in social media marketing, Twitter has taken a nosedive into the noise of spam/scam/porn/teethwhitening/buy-followers hucksterism. (Many people NEVER got Twitter. With the current state of affairs, MOST will never get it.) Let’s look at how the CONVERSATION DIED on TWITTER.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: When Twitter came of age at the 2007 SXSW I was attending with several cutting-edge friends who prompted my addition of Twitter to my phone. Then throughout the conference we could fire off updates like, “We’re heading to EMO’s for the Dead Kennedy’s at midnight.” Those were quite useful if you were trying to track and meet up with people during the social media love fest. I wasn’t so interested in knowing where EVERYONE was at 2am. I was sleeping. So I quickly turned off my active alerts from Twitter and let my buddies tweet on into the evening. After a month on Twitter, I promptly forgot my login information and when I switched phones I never reconnected with Twitter. (I wish I could recall the name, so I could get that stat that says, Joined Twitter in 2007.)

TWITTER FOR BUSINESS: A year and a half later (2008) I was working inside Dell and I joined a team that was all about Twitter. (well, kinda) I joined Twitter again as @jmacofdell. At my first team meeting (it was one of Dell’s famous re-orgs) I learned that my Twitter ID now meant I tweeted “on behalf of” Dell. And of course, that wouldn’t work, so I changed my ID to @jmacofearth. And with that, I dug into Twitter in a big way.

Then as Twitter began to grow up, get major financial investment and new driving forces that demanded TWITTER TURN A PROFIT, things began to go south.

The systematic destruction of some of Twitter’s greatest features started with something as simple as the RETWEET.

ReTweet THEN: ReTweeting on Twitter was an art. You added or subtracted information to boost the context of the tweet to your followers. For example, this original tweet, “Free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at all stores, today” could become “RT @benandjerrys Free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at all stores, today < #TWEETUP ON B&J 6th Street, 2PM”

ReTweet NOW: With one dumbass move, Twitter proper ( added the ReTweet button that does not give any options for ADDING or BOOSTING the Tweet. So now, as with a LIKE on Facebook, we have these mindless ReTweets that are simply boosted marketing messages rather than communications with friends. They killed the #TWEETUP at the same time with this misguided “Enhancement.”

ReTweet FIX: You can still enhance your RTs by using a tool like Hootesuite or Tweetdeck, but it’s not as intuitive. And MOST people using Twitter, on will never try a TOOL. Why would they? You need to understand how valuable Twitter can be before you go off trying out tools to help you use it better. SO the RT was effectively killed by Twitter and Co. adding the RT button to Twitter. DUH. (To fix it, they could change the behavior of the RT button, make it work like it used to, and open the EDIT TWEET window so you can ADD your communication to the TWEET before merely re-broadcasting it again.


TWITTER LISTS was next to fall.

Twitter Lists THEN: When they were added to Twitter, it was an honor to be included in someone’s list. It seemed as if Twitter had found a way for individuals to give each other “authority” simply by including colleagues in lists with titles like “TRUST NETWORK.” Soon, however, uber-spam marketers began using lists as spam fodder. Building lists and lists and lists on all kinds of topics simply to fake “activity” and “authority.” But the real death knell for Twitter lists was a company called @formulists. While, I think their hearts were in the right place, their execution was PURE SPAM. [Here’s my Open Letter to Twitter to Kill Formulists] And while they did eventually shut down their access to the Twitter API the damage to LISTS was done. No one even looks at them any more.

Twitter Lists FIX: Bring Lists back into prominence.  Today the lists are buried on your own profile page. It takes work to find the “lists” of others, much less your own. Here’s how Twitter could make LISTS count again.

Twitter Lists

Immediately the List would again be a form of validation. And an ADD would be a form of follow that meant something. Sure, it would ignite the Twitter numbers race again [we’ll add you to 10,000 lists for $10] but legitimate Lists could again gain some traction as honest forms of discovery.


TWITTER DM was the final #fail. But perhaps the most important at killing Twitter as a conversation tool.

DM Then: Back in the day, before Auto-Responders and Auto-DM tools, the Twitter DM was like Instant Messaging for Twitter. Sure, you’ve already got a lot of IM technologies, and TXTing has become the king of  the CONTACT THEM NOW tools, but Twitter DMs used to be pretty cool.

PROBLEM: You have people you follow on Twitter that you don’t have connections to in any other network. Same for Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +. So, if you want to contact someone you only know through Twitter, you’d normally use the DM. Not any longer. Because the Auto-Bots and TrueTwits of the twitterverse have killed the value of the DM.

DM Now: IF I ever check my DM Inbox on Twitter today, it is simply to remove the little “alert” number Twitter has happily added, showing me how many USELESS DM’s I have. [Here’s my little DM DEATH Rant.] The basic problem is all of the messages in your Twitter Inbox are SPAM. All of them. Either they are folks Auto-Responding to your Follow with a “Hey thanks for following me… Now follow my Facebook page…” OR, and these may be worse, “DONTGETIT uses TrueTwit, please click on this SPAMMY LINK…”


The real problem is, I still have people who’s primary connection to me is Twitter. And occasionally they contact, or try to, me through Twitter. I always provide them with my email and my cell phone if I want to chat with them. [Horrors, I’d prefer FACEBOOK to Twitter’s DM.] But mostly I just MISS THE MESSAGE because I don’t open Twitter’s INBOX.


1. Kill TrueTwit validations. Just like you did Formulists.

2. Kill Auto-Responders and Auto-Followback options in Twitter.

3. Kill the AUTOBOTS. Companies that provide Auto-ADD, Auto-FOLLOW, Auto-RESPOND, Auto-anything should be severely limited in their access to the Twitter API. And MAKE THEM allow OPT-OUT from all future follows, DMs, or responses.

This post was inspired by a Facebook question about Twitter. [Ironic?]

Why people no longer respond on Twitter

The post started a very heated thread about the pros and cons of Twitter. And thus I complete the infinite loop by providing this blog circular reference back to David’s Twitter account and his Facebook account, so you can see the conversation for yourself. Of course the clearest answer to David’s question, is the fact that he ONLY ASKED IT ON FACEBOOK. (Oops, and that I don’t follow him on Twitter. FIXED)


It’s NOT ALL GOOD in the world of social media, Facebook and Twitter. And while Twitter has come a long way, they continue to stumble forward like a giant in-search-of its next meal. We could hope that next acquisition and destruction would be beneficial to us or to the Twitter functionality. For the most part, it’s merely a financial play: either Twitter is trying to KILL something from becoming a threat, or MERGE something into Twitter in attempts to find the PROFIT CENTER.

Don’t think that Twitter is too big to fail. Remember Digg? There is nothing left of Digg. And while My _____ is trying to rebrand itself, something has been lost on that service forever. So Twitter could be sliding down the FOR MARKETING ONLY hole never to return. And as we look for better platforms to carry on conversations, maybe we will get better tools. I don’t see the Twitter-Killer out there yet, but I like some of what Google+ has fixed. And I like the conversive quality of Instagram these days as well.

A BONUS FIX FOR TWITTER (that won’t ever happen): Twitter loves spammers and here’s why. Fake Twitter accounts generate hundreds of thousands of new Twitter accounts every day. And while Twitter Co. could take some dramatic actions to shut the Twitter farms down, they do not. Can you guess why? If Twitter can say they have 200 million users it looks better their shareholders, more promising to advertisers, and more popular to you and me. The number of followers who’s Twitter profiles look like this: “Get more Twitter followers easily. I’ll show you how” goes up every day. I REPORT and BLOCK them. But two more show up tomorrow. Could Twitter kill or limit this type of activity? YES. Will they? NO. Another 100,000 users looks good on the balance sheet.


Final note: I’m betting that any conversation about this post will take place on the Facebook thread referenced above, or in some of the LinkedIn Groups I have submitted this thread to, but not here or on Twitter.

John McElhenney

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