Deray thinks so. Fresh off his loss of the Baltimore Mayoral race he is opining about what he thinks makes Twitter valuable as a social network and platform. We couldn’t disagree more stringently:
While we’ve written about it on several occasions, and at length, always highlighting & focusing specifically on why it is important, necessary, and likely to survive. We aren’t however as cavalier as Mr. McKesson. Who is a favorite of Jack (perpetual CEO & Founder of Twitter) and one could say apparently the sort of accolades, encouragement the teams at Twitter would want. Not however what they need to hear.
However any UX/UI engineer/designer/professional would counsel that Deray being a power user, and the sort of celebrity that their teams want & seek out, bestow blue checks, and special features upon, is not exactly the best feedback to receive if they are to create a Twitter of the future, and for one that seems so uncertain right now.
There is no believing that his heart isn’t in the right place, but it seems the now famous Deray, could or would benefit from, as he’s just finished pressing-the-palms of so many constituents, that he’d listen to the people who make up Twitter’s users and not the hopes & wishes of its elite. That he’d listen (as he seems to intimate) to those that make up the following, not those that others follow. For therein lies any possibility of surviving.
This is a complex problem, one I’m sure he would even recognize, and his off the cuff remarks don’t surely reflect his full feelings. Yet as the person who started Campaign Zero, and strive to (with Samuel Sinyangwe) do just that. While ignoring many best practices, clearly thinking that all it needed was an out of the box template, no follow up, and then a form of transparency not even a geek or wonk could love.
They built the website (along with many others) to illuminate, educate, and provide a visual representation. It is probably the worst set of websites imaginable. That even during its launch & the month afterwards was able to garner much press attention, but very little traction if it only had 6,000 uses of the hashtag. Following it for month afterwards it got less movement than even the smallest of Deray’s famous spats. Be that with Shaun King or his use of Dove Soap & eating of Doritos. Yet he & his founders don’t measure it that way. Or seemingly grasp how social media works.
Apparently they use “impact” as the only measure based on “Impressions” as reported by Twitter, and call it a day. Now we’re not sure if that is all they do, but from the looks of the websites, iterations, transparency, we’d have to go with ‘if they are’ gleaning actionable intelligence and data, they are not putting it to use in a meaningful way for the public or their followers/supporters.
Having just run a campaign in our beloved Baltimore, it would hopefully have been a crash course in analytics, in what people say & do (in person or online) vs what actually happens at the ballot box. The real engagement or measure of your success is in the latter. Doing a thorough post-mortem is requisite both for electioneering & Twitter.
Wall Street is no different that way, and they aren’t solely focused on MAUs or revenues, but in the viability of a shrinking platform where everyone seems to want to say something. Those are the stories tech churnalism loves to tell. Yet also since those getting to say the most are also its power users & informed by their own personal influence or biases that message is skewered.
Being intimate with the press, as Deray and his compatriots are, and becoming their darling at one time or another, doesn’t always equal power. True impact and power is often wielded as he, himself, has noted in who gets to tell your story. That is both the blessing and the curse of Twitter. Take as an example Erykah Badu recently, or in the Old Navy ad yesterday that trended.
Neither of those two “conversations” allowed for a nuanced discourse, they were dominated as any typical user of Twitter will know by people with an unlimited resource: RAGE. That emotion as all others dominates our algorithmic sources, even in Twitter. Where even if you are seeing the latest, it can be comprised of an #ExposureTrolling Piers Morgan who is trying very hard to remain relevant by stooping to his News of the World editorial days by saying outrageous things for clicks. He gets hired & paid well, let’s assume, to deliver them.
Our initial thoughts are encapsulated in this thread which are inline with our previous writings on this matter here on the blog:
And in a follow up, Deray asks his many followers a user-research question via hashtag #BecauseOfTwitter:
A sampling of which we delved into, and also think he’ll never read all of the replies to. Which is again what we suggest doing, and as we’ve said all along about social media, activism, and Twitter. You can’t expect to properly measure it the way the media does, or with the metrics that advertisers use (Impressions, etc…) that these are false narratives. They serve those in power, not those struggling valiantly against systemic failures and marginalized communities. Yet we are ignored time and again.
What if everyone responded not in the affirmative, but with the trolling, the horror stories, or even in the silencing they received from Deray himself when he finds himself dismissive of honest critiques?
The story is always rewritten, included in their coverage of you by MSM forces or activists, snatching your tweet & embedding it in their story, or by the others who just screencap it & get to start their own conversation (game another algorithm on Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr) while you are blithely unaware. All the while these systems making money off of you, while you can do nothing:
That is where all this leads, if you can’t employ social listening, true sentiment analysis, or aren’t looking at what the curve ahead is or the real innovation coming to the web, then you might not know what Twitter will look like in the future. When a few hours later as it trends the “brands” try to sneak in as they aren’t going to let anything slide without finding a way to make money off of it, then you might see the conundrum. The real challenge is not in how do they grow their base, but in keeping those that are here, making them feel safe, and as we’ve said over & over it requires more than a Mute, Block, Report button. These are woefully inadequate and require real commitment to the UX/UI, and less to the lip service they pay to it, on repeated occasions.
Knowing what true analytics looks like, outside of the usual ‘predictive’ capabilities. Movements or change do not look like the same measurements Google touts to predict flu, or even in the coarse analysis given to hit shows or Nielsen ratings, in a dying paradigm of broadcast TV, Madison Avenue mathematics, or any of that. We are at the On-Demand stage now, cord-cutting. Architecting real change, and creating a powerful platform Deray hopes for, and we support, requires more than measuring by these limiting, non-factual, often specious bias-laden metrics. Remember, Big Data is not blameless nor is it harmless. It is as biased as the people wielding it. Hence it is often not the best indicator of a solution. That combined with real-user testing and a desire to become better (not just more profitable) to honestly add value.
Twitter as we’ve said lacks diversity, not just in its workforce, but in a school of thought that can or will look beyond trivial measurements. If they used different benchmarks (KPIs) they’d have learned a long time ago just how important big data would be, churn rates of users, and fixed this a while ago. By creating systems that allow for thoughts to be shared without the inevitable backlash. Creating genuine safety, and rising to the level of their most ardent trolls. Not just courting really crappy ads to be inserted in the most unwelcome of places. During the big mass shooting we had to scroll in real-time past so many invasive ads promising a better credit score, etc… which were blatantly offensive, patently obtuse, and a waste of money for any business unlucky enough to algorithmically be picked during that time to feature.
This is just an outline of what is wrong not only with Twitter, but its power users like Deray and others. That for them, it is a privilege, and for the rest a problem. This week we will focus on social media horror stories for real small businesses and activists, and people wanting to change the dialogue and disrupt. What happens when you are the one who gets disrupted, how do you then regain control over your narrative? Hint: It doesn’t happen on a social media platform.
So in closing, if Piers Morgan can troll his way into real-life effect (measured by our elevated blood pressure as he trolls everyone to remain relevant) then what does that say activists, or the average user has to do. Again, read about how from a design perspective, as Facebook has done, Twitter could innovate in how to create more meaningful conversations, not just let it all happen in a troll’s First Amendment type argument way. Yet find a way to ‘disrupt’ this as stealthly as we’ve seen so many deal with an endless harangue of vile and offensive abuse. That is the real question, can Twitter do this? Only time will tell.
* cover photo from NYT coverage of BLM & Deray McKesson