Five Tweet-Worthy Observations About the New Twitter Interface

Not a Total Home Run, but It Keeps the Functionality Bar High

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Pete Blackshaw
Pete Blackshaw
So is the new Twitter interface a step forward, sideways or backward? Will the power users, purists and post-happy pontificators freak along the lines of the Digg revolt a year ago? Any good lessons a CMO might draw from this platform's attempted migration to increased consumer happiness?

Alas, I've been beta testing the new interface all week -- thanks to (full disclosure) an early account trial courtesy of a Twitter exec -- and I do have a few things to tweet.

Overall, while far from Nirvana, it's a real improvement. If you recall my own pontification about three things marketers need to sing in 2010 -- shrink, serve and simplify -- Twitter squarely hits the last two. I'm especially impressed at how well it works as a de facto "all in one" dashboard, ever sensitive to my distaste for endless Twitter-tool toggling. It also plays fairly well on mobile, which is quickly becoming my entry point of choice for all things social. Here's what really stands out:

Integration. The platform is exceptionally well integrated. It's not that all the functionality is new, but it does a nice job reminding you that it's there, almost begging for experimentation. Overall it's a bit of an explicit (yet not terribly intrusive) reminder of all the things that Twitter can do for you. There's no question the folks at Twitter have been paying attention not only to missed opportunities on their own platform but also to success factors and usage drivers from the hundreds of Twitter apps out there. On the flip side, what's most conspicuously missing is integration with Twitter support (even user-facilitated). What's up with that?

Search. Search is very well thought out in the new interface, both from a "where to find it" as well as "how to repeat it" perspective. And again, because search is so prominent, they are removing the incentive to skip all over the web to search in different ways. I especially like the option to store frequent searches. Admittedly, it makes me feel less guilty -- certainly less vain -- searching for references to my tweets (or name) via the new interface. Will this further cannibalize my Google activity? Hard to say, especially with Google Instant now in the picture.

Trending. As a guy who's been social-media (or what I used to more frequently call "consumer-generated media") monitoring for 10 years, I'm quite partial to trend charts, free or paid. Trends dimension the universe and can draw consumers into a new (sometimes mindless) conversation like a full-voltage magnet. The new interface does a nice job of not only putting "trends" front and center in the universe but also of allowing the user to do some creative segmentation by geography or region. For instance, I can segment the Twitter activity by, say, tweets from Mexico. In my own business, segmenting by source, segment, language or geography is becoming a very big deal. Marketers are parse-happy!

"Commercial" segmentation. While I'm generally a fan of all new ad models, I've always wondered about the risk of "promoted tweets" confusing a true read on organic buzz. I like the fact that the new tool makes it easier to segment in trend results the "promoted tweets" from all other trends. As both marketers and consumers, it always helps to know what's organic versus manipulated or provoked. Anything that drives transparency is a good thing.

Lists and reminders. Quite honestly, my general attentiveness to other Twitter perks and services has been fleeting at best. Indeed, my colleague Josh Hammond often reminds me of great features I didn't even know existed -- months after the fact. The new interface does a nice job of bubbling up (again, not intrusively) things like "lists" or "favorites" or even "whom to follow." I still haven't cracked the code on how to take full advantage of links, although it certainly feeds my ego to know I'm on 1,126 "lists" compiled by others. There's nothing particularly new or breakthrough here, just vastly better design principals at work. Key here is to avoid clutter-creep.

I'd stop well short of saying this is a total home run, and I'd be misleading my readers if I professed to even know what my true unmet needs are on this curious (yet arguably addictive) platform. At times, it does feel a bit more cluttered. Among improvement areas, a few of the tabs seem a wee bit redundant. I wish I could make my bio a bit more link-friendly. It's also wreaked havoc on my (and others') personal bios and graphics, but I suppose I needed a facelift anyway. I doubt all the ancillary Twitter widget and app makers will be excited that Twitter's removing incentives for their use.

For brand marketers, we should take away that Twitter -- and all the social-media platforms plus Apple -- continues to set a high bar for functionality, one-click integration and instant gratification. That's a bar we need to set up for our brand websites, Facebook pages, CRM systems and beyond. And along with Google Instant, Facebook status updates, Foursquare check-ins and the like, Twitter's latest move is yet another push toward a world of real-time everything.

Pete Blackshaw is exec VP of NM Incite, a joint venture of Nielsen & McKinsey, and author of "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000" (DoubleDay). He is also chair of the National Council of Better Business Bureaus and co-founder of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association. His column explores the convergence of marketing and service. Follow him on Twitter at @pblackshaw.
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