Twitter doesn’t know enough about its users—so it’s asking them

This man wants a clearer idea of why you’re on Twitter.
This man wants a clearer idea of why you’re on Twitter.
Image: AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau
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Twitter knows whom you follow. But Twitter does not know why you follow them. So the company doing something fairly straightforward—and, for a tech company with reams of data bout its users, unlikely: It’s asking. Politely.

NT Balanarayan, a reporter with Medianama, an Indian technology blog, writes this week about a survey Twitter asked him to fill out. Balanarayan was given a list of five people he follows and asked, “Why are you following these five individuals?” The options, which do not include “because everybody is following them,” are:

  • We’re related.
  • We’re friends.
  • We work together (or did in the past).
  • We go to the same school (or did in the past).
  • I find their Tweets informative.
  • I find their Tweets funny/amusing.
  • I’m a fan outside of Twitter

Twitter is also running a 90-minute focus group for Indian tweeters later this month, with a Rs 2,000 ($33.50) gift voucher at a local department store as incentive. It is unclear whether the survey is aimed only at Twitter users in India, or in other markets as well. (Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.)

But two things are clear: First, Twitter is waking up to the potential of India, which is rapidly coming online—and onto social media. It now contributes the most number of Facebook users after the US. Yet fewer than 3% of respondents in an unrelated survey by Tata Consultancy Services said they used Twitter, of those one-fifth said they followed fewer than 40 accounts (paywall). By contrast, three out of four respondents said they used Facebook.

Second, Twitter has struggled to refine its product to boost sluggish user growth, which led to the defenestration of its chief operating officer this week. Wisely, Twitter appears is taking its cues about what it could do to provide a better experience from its users, rather than what people think at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. That is a winning formula.