Traditional industries have lots to learn from technology companies on product development. One of these technology companies is Twitter, and Twitter has many inspiring stories of doing it right.
Electric, steam engine, mass production, personal computers, internet, mobile, and A.I. nowadays. The world is changing faster than ever, and this change is affecting industries directly since the tools we are using every day are evolving.
Even though most of the tools improve, there are several areas where the change is not as fast as the technology. Of course, disruption is everywhere; but its speed changes according to the industry.
It is not very logical to compare internet and mobile software products with CPG, Consumer Electronics, and Fashion products; since these industries produce physical goods (apparently!), and their consumption behavior is different on consumers. However, there are many overlaps on consumer behavior that can be mimicked and used to improve the processes and effectiveness.
In this blog post, we will not share stories on digitalization. Rather, we will share product development stories from Twitter, to express what things technology companies are doing good, and tell you the stories of well-known features like hashtags, mentions, retweets, bookmarks, and threads.
Product Stories from the Big Blue Bird, Twitter.
On product development area, Twitter is one of the most exciting companies in the technology world. Everything they have done shows the quality of the intelligence they collect and use internally. You will be surprised to hear that mentions, hashtags, and retweets have been developed and named by users, and Twitter has implemented them to cover the user needs in a significant way. That is not just it; they also did a great job on developing threads and bookmarks - which are also great features.
Now, I want to go over the stories of these product decisions and show what can be done by traditional industries to be agiler and reflect it on their products to stay relevant with the world.
1. Customers are the real developers of your products.
Twitter has launched on 21 March 2006. Back then, Twitter was allowing its users to share messages with 140-characters, but things have changed from back then. Back in those days, Twitter was not allowing its users to send tweets with mentions. However, this was a need; users wanted to mention each other or give each other a referral on their tweets. Even though Twitter did not invent it, it has been designed by Twitter users in 2006.
This tweet sent to the world on 3 November 2006 by Robert Andersen (Founding designer of Square, which is a mobile payment startup founded by Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter itself.) - and it includes world's first mention as we know it. I am sure he was not thinking this tweet to extend the usage of @ sign in the world today.
A little bit after then this tweet, Twitter has developed this as a feature, and they have announced that to the world on 30 May 2007.
The story of hashtags is very similar to the story of mentions. Back then, Twitter had no features to categorize or tag tweets relevant to their context. On 23 August 2007, Chris Messina, an open-source advocate has suggested using # (pounds) for groups/channels on Twitter.
Not just doing this, but Messina also wrote a blog post about this feature, but Twitter management did not implement it at the beginning. After some time passed, more and more Twitter users started using hashtags, even though they did not have organic features built-in on Twitter. Hashtags became a hit and used in ads, events, groups, basically everywhere. Then, Twitter has implemented a bunch of features working around hashtags and announced it on 2 Jul 2009.
Another interesting story is coming from retweets. The first retweet was a tweet about social narcissism - ironically. Back on April 18, 2007, Eric Rice (@ericrice) wanted to share a reply he has received from Jesse Malthus (@jmalthus), and he put a piece of text before the tweet and tweeted it.
The text he did put was "ReTweet", so this is where that term came from. It did not fly right away in the Twitter community, but after some tweets came with RT texts before them, the Twitter team saw that this is creating a duplication on the platform, so they have implemented retweet as a feature on the platform and rolled it out on 6 November 2009.
The key takeaway from these stories is, when you have a solid product which allows your customers to take different actions (ice-cream maker, mixer, or a social media platform), your customers will shape and use it according to their needs - not only the way you have designed it. To improve the experience for your customers, you need to learn their behavior accurately by watching them, and implement what they want on your products.
Imagine you have a kitchen mixer that you have designed for consumers to prepares cake. If a portion of your consumers starts using that product for making bread or making sauces for their meals; you can use these usage examples on your marketing activities, or you can create new accessories that can be bundled and used with your products.
2. Enhance your products by understanding how your users behave.
Some of us are aware of the Tweetstorms. To explain it briefly, let's check its definition on Merriam-Webster.
They are a series of tweets on a particular topic, where a user replies to herself on her previous tweets to make the story continuous and express her thoughts in a better way. Even though the creator of tweetstorms is not apparent, Marc Andreessen (founder of Netscape Navigator) is the person who made it famous. You can check several tweetstorms of Marc Andreessen here (since he has deleted some of his tweets, it is hard for us to embed examples.)
After tweetstorms got popular (within three years), Twitter developed "Threads" as a feature and announced it on December 12, 2017. Even though it is very similar to the previous stories, this time, things went differently, and rather than making Twitter build something that will make a feature work like a charm, this time, users used Twitter's features to share so-called 'tweetstorms' to express themselves better.
"Bookmarks" is also a great example.
So many Twitter users around the world (I was doing this too) like new articles they see on the timeline if they want to read it later. Twitter users have explained this on Twitter for thousands of times, and Twitter has heard that. The Twitter product team has started working on fixing that problem, and came up with #TwitterBookmarks.
It is not something groundbreaking, but considering the noise on Twitter and millions of feedbacks coming from the community, they have filtered this pattern and saw the importance of it on the community. On 10 October 2017, they have rolled out this feature to test and understand the user behavior.
The key takeaway from these stories is, it is important to develop your product considering the user behavior carefully - because, changes affect your customer base, and you should be sure that you are providing an excellent customer experience to different segments. How can you achieve that?
You should be a user of your product, monitor and learn from your usage, and observe how your customers use it to generate qualitative insights. Afterward, you should validate this idea by enlarging your sample and find out the real need or user behavior. Users might use your services in a way you have not designed them for - just like we have talked in our previous section.
3. When making changes at the core of your products, you need to test and iterate by monitoring behavior.
When Twitter started, it was defined as a "microblogging platform", which was right, because you were able to express yourself with 140 characters. This was the thing that makes Twitter itself, it was its self-expression, and the situation was making it unique. However, over the time, this definition has changed. Twitter wasn't a "microblogging platform" anymore, but was the pulse of the world. Considering its reach, you were able to see anything happening in the world and the reaction of people.
Twitter had evolved in the time when it started; tweets were including some basic thoughts, check-ins, status updates et cetera. However, after the time has passed, people began to share more sophisticated thoughts on the platform. This is where 280-characters came in.
The Twitter team has analyzed the usage data of their users and saw that for Japanese, Korean and Chinese, 140-characters was not limiting people, because words are shorter or have more meanings compared with English and other languages. However, this was an issue for other languages, because, at some tweets, people had a hard time to express themselves. So, they wanted to extend 140-characters limit to 280-characters, and monitor how user behavior would change. They were frightened to jeopardize the platform, so they have rolled out this feature to a small number of people.
Test results were positive. Users who tweeted with 280-characters received more engagement, more impressions, which is great for a social media platform and its users. Also, the user experience of the platform did not get affected. According to the data, only 5% of the tweets were longer than 140 characters, and only 2% of them were over 190 characters.
After this test, Twitter published this update to its userbase. Japanese, Korean and Chinese languages did not get an increase in character limit since it was easier for these languages to tell more with less number of characters, but other languages have received this update.
The key takeaway from this story is, after hearing customer feedback and developing your product, you need to be careful. A product is a living organism, where every change you make on it, will affect its experience. Therefore, it is essential to dig into the data to validate customer feedbacks and educated guesses of yours, proving the idea initially, testing it on your audience, and iterating until it makes sense to your customer base.
Your customers define the success of your products.
Customer-centric companies are the winners in the experience economy we are living in. Time and experience are the most important currencies in today's world, and if your products or features do not satisfy your customers, then they will start searching for alternatives in the market. It is essential to listen to your customers everytime they have an idea, watching out their behavior on your products, and always think on how to make their lives easier and better than it is today.
It is hard for product managers in traditional industries to be as agile as the Twitter team - but, the reality is, when the consumer behavior shifts, brands who build products in a customer-centric approach and have an agile process will survive.
Today, being consumer-centric and acting agile unlocks success.