Embrace Twitter’s changes before flying off the handle

Martin Waxman explains why he's suffering from the Twitter blues

I was a semi early adopter of Twitter. The platform launched in March 2006 and I set up my account about a year later. But my first tweet wasn’t until August 31, 2008 (and it wasn’t exactly Shakespeare). You see, I lived a quiet life on Twitter for nearly 18 months.

And I know why.

Twitter seemed foreign to me. I was petrified of the platform because I didn’t understand how it worked. So I came to the conclusion that it was both dumb and a mess. I got hung up on the literal idea of followers. Why would anyone want to follow me when I hadn’t said anything? What were they expecting? The pressure was just too great.

Clearly, I overanalyzed the situation. I was coming to it from the perspective of a writer and PR pro who believed media was the be-all/end-all intermediary. I didn’t realize Twitter’s purpose was quick conversation, not prose.

But, while I had a curious fascination with Twitter and social media, I wasn’t prepared to adjust my outlook on communication. I knew how the world was supposed to work. And frankly, I didn’t want that to change.

It took me another six months to begin to grasp Twitter. Today I’m a recovering Twitterholic. Many people still don’t see the point and I get that. Even though it has 320 million users, some estimates say 500 million people view tweets without being signed in.

And now Twitter is ch-ch-changing in a significant way. The loudest griping comes from people who prefer Twitter the way it is. That sounds a lot like the reaction social media got from people in its early days.

Okay, Twitter has gone through a mini-makeover lately. Some recent upgrades include the human-curated Moments, a summary of the big stories of the day. (Note: Moments are still not available in Canada.) Soon Twitter will show more feed to non-signed in users and increase the character limit from 140 to 10,000, though you won’t notice that when you scan the stream.

This week Twitter introduced First View, a video ad unit that gives marketers “valuable advertising real estate for a 24-hour period.”

And, of course, there’s the cataclysmic or is it algorithmic shift to its news stream that breaks up the reverse chronological flow. Now that caused the biggest furor of all. You can follow the angst under the hashtag #RIPTwitter that, of course, trended on Twitter. Even Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey chimed in on the hashtag to say things will be okay.

Then yesterday, the company announced what the updated news feed would look like. It hasn’t gone full-Facebook yet, but instead is building on the “while you were away” feature and offering an opt-in catch-up timeline when you first log in on mobile and desktop. You can scroll past it to get to the original timeline.

Now I haven’t seen it, but it doesn’t sound so bad to me.

And don’t we owe it a shot before making our judgment and sentencing the platform to the social trash bin?  I get that we want to hang on to what we know. But we forget that digital is a disruptive technology not only to legacy media, but also to itself.

So how can we get a little perspective before flying off the Twitter nostalgia handle?

Accept the inevitability of change. There was a time when issuing a press release was the answer to virtually any PR question. Not anymore. Change happens. It’s not going to stop. So, follow a rule of improv by going with the flow and enjoying the ride.

Learn and apply. That means getting into a perpetual student mindset, hopefully without all the loans. Be curious. Test things. Stumble. Having to find a new way to work may feel frustrating, but it can lead to wonderful aha moments and we’ll never be bored.

Know your head is in a permanent spin. That means you wake up every day with the realization that there is no, ‘I’ve got things under control’ anymore. We’re always going to be one step behind. That’s okay. Just go back to number two and learn a few new tricks.

Is all change good? Of course not. But, instead of being dismissive, let’s embrace fresh thinking in the hope that it makes us smarter, sharper and less smug.

#RIPTwitter? #NotYetIDon’tThink. #CommentsThoughts??

Martin Waxman is president of Martin Waxman Communications and teaches digital strategy at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. You can find him on Twitter @martinwaxman

See all comments Recent Comments

I think the biggest news about Twitter is their new “Trust and Safety Council”. I can totally understand the need to protect kids from cyberbullying, but is this a play to get into China? And will this council go farther and prevent events like the Arab Spring? I can understand the need for Twitter to make some dramatic changes because of their falling stock price, but I hope it doesn’t come at the cost of freedom that Twitter user have enjoyed up until now.

Friday, February 12 @ 9:20 am |

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