Another Twitter thought piece you don’t need to read

Last week, Twitter changed its stars to hearts, changing “favorites” to “likes” and the world exploded. Well, not really, but there were an awful lot of “thought pieces” pondering the change. Twitter is a company constantly being picked apart here in the valley, and “what should Twitter do” posts  are as common as discussions about the latest unicorn. Therefore, I decided to write one myself, but from a slightly different angle and one week later.

Twitter's heart animation, frame by frame. Source: Lauren Morris

Twitter’s heart animation, frame by frame.
Source: Loren Morris

It’s rare when companies change only the visual aspects of a “product” (such as this is) as opposed to changing or tweaking functionality. When it made the change Twitter said that “The heart … is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people.” More importantly: “we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers.” It is the new users that Twitter wanted to focus on with this change, saying that favoriting is much more confusing than liking. After all, says Twitter “you might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite.”

Experienced Twitter users thought the change was horrible. We all know what the Twitter favorite means, was the general sentiment. And indeed we do, but everyone uses it a bit differently and there are a lot of different meanings. I generally used it to bookmark a tweet, end a conversation by indicating I had seen a response, support a tweet (but not enough to retweet,) and sometimes, yes, to like a tweet.

Two responses I thought were interesting were almost contradictory. The first was that a “heart” requires more emotional investment than a star, therefore the barrier to use it and thus engage with Twitter would be higher. The second was a response to that one and said that the barrier to heart would be lower for users because they are familiar with “liking” and hearts from Facebook. It is the desire to be like Facebook that drove this change.

Which leads me to go back to a point that Twitter occasionally understands, as with Moments, and occasionally not, as with suggestions to follow celebrities, Twitter has a steep learning curve. It can be even harder to understand its benefits. The first step is to follow the right people, even though everyone has a different group of “right” and Twitter is trying to help new users find theirs in its onboarding process. The second step in understanding is about engagement, and that can be harder to introduce. Should new users reply often? Retweet first? Or maybe, and perhaps this is the major impetuous for the star to heart change, teaching new users how to engage on Twitter should start with a “like?”

Jack Dorsey, on his return to Twitter a few weeks ago, said “the world needs a strong Twitter.” I happen to agree with this sentiment as I believe Twitter offers something no other app/service does: the ability to connect with people across the world who share your interests, as varied as they may be. But Twitter could find itself between a rock and a hard place if new users aren’t finding reasons to use it and the experienced users are being driven away by the changes. It is the experienced users who are the content creators and who drive the real conversation on Twitter, not the brands or celebrities. Twitter needs to make sure they stay.

Last week, when Twitter’s experienced users were in an uproar after the stars to hearts switch, it seemed that Twitter made a big mistake. Today, one week later, it seems that the change actually increased like activity. Today Twitter’s SVP of Product, Kevin Weil, shared that activity increased by 6% for existing users and 9% for new users. So whether it is the similarity to Facebook, mirroring an action that users are already familiar with, or the official reason that “the heart is a universal symbol. It’s a much more inclusive symbol” it seems that Twitter is on the right product path.

The message to PMs: test everything, question all graphics, even well-established ones, look at other services to see how users might view an action, and never underestimate the power of the heart.

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