Yesterday, my article about the measurable benefits of Twitter’s suggested user list (SUL) attracted quite a lot of attention, both within this blog and around the internet. This was furthered by some interesting comments from those I mentioned in my piece.
The thing is – it’s very easy to rag all over something as obviously bunk as Twitter’s SUL, without actually suggesting an alternative. Hence, and in the interests of balance, here are three ways I think that the suggested user list could be significantly improved.
Twitter could radically improve the value of the SUL by personalising it to the new user. This would be best accomplished by asking questions about interests, hobbies, sport and club affiliations, employment, etc, during set-up, to build a richer profile in order to best match recommendations. The very basic 160-character ‘bio’ that we have now is pretty useless.
Twitter would scan your data, and recommend 20-50 users for the new user to follow to get started. This would not be pre-selected in any way. If you didn’t like the list, maybe you could click the button and Twitter would roll the dice again.
These more in-depth profiles would remain private and would only be analysed when looking for follower recommendations.
Twitter could continue to use a pre-selected list of a few hundred suggested users, but instead of just giving you a random selection of these when you sign up, Twitter would tailor the list to your interests. This could be accomplished through the use of a richer profile set-up (as above), or by simply asking a few questions each time you require more suggested users to follow.
This works to Twitter’s benefit, as they can continue to hype the service by listing celebrities, brands and power-users, but it also benefits the end user as they’ll be recommended users they might actually have an interest in following.
I mentioned this yesterday – Twitter could, and probably should, monetise the list. It cuts through all the BS. Lots of people think deals are being made anyway, so why not just go ahead and make those deals?
As I wrote in my article, there’s value being on the SUL even if a top spot was charged at one million dollars per annum. Assuming current growth rates are maintained, it seems probable that members of the SUL will be rewarded with about one million followers within about six months. For a brand, even at a million bucks that’s fantastic value for money.
Let’s use Microsoft as an example, who currently do not appear to have a clue how to use Twitter (no updates, no avatar, at least on their official account). Where else can they buy one million followers for one dollar per user, and then repeatedly hit those followers with relevant, commercialised content 24 hours a day, 365 days per year? Better, simply being on the SUL means tens of thousands of followers each and every week, which will easily replace all the null accounts they get from disinterested newbies and drop-outs, and the inevitable unfollows they will get from simply being Microsoft.
If Twitter played it safe and charged for impressions on the SUL – thereby opening the fruits of the system to everybody – they could make an absolute mint. Failing that, a flat-fee of $50K per month would still be excellent value for money for the right brand.
Of course, for any of these schemes to work, Twitter needs to wipe the slate clean with the suggested user list as it is now. Which I propose would be a good thing for everybody involved. It’s increasingly apparent that the majority of people who believe the SUL is good and/or harmless are those who are fortunate enough to be included.
It’s also fair to say that in some cases those who are most vocal about not being on the list have the most to gain should Twitter bring them aboard. But the reality is that everybody not involved loses simply because they’re at such a disadvantage.
Recommending accounts to follow to new users is a good thing, as it encourages newcomers to engage with the service. But a hand-picked list of celebrities, brands and friends of Twitter, Inc rarely leads to any engagement whatsoever, and the SUL likely has played a big part in Twitter’s drop-off rate in recent months simply because the interactions with nearly all of those listed are so completely one-sided. By scrapping the SUL and starting over, Twitter can significantly improve this feature, and go a long way to levelling the playing field.
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