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Why Twitter is creepy

No, it’s not just the bird. And, no it’s not my opinion. One of my teenagers told me that Twitter is creepy. And I saw a recent post by Paul Dunay where his fourteen-year-old’s friends “wanted nothing to do with [Twitter].” Given the meteoric rise of Twitter, how can it be that at least some members of the digital generation have such negative reactions? These very same kids are active in Facebook beyond all bounds of time management, so they are not cyber-shy. I think it has to do with Twitter’s user experience.

Twitter Bird With Music Notes

Image by Salon de Maria via Flickr


I had lunch with Paul today and we briefly talked about that common experience that our teens have with Twitter. I think one of the clues to the perception lies in another comment my daughter made. Upon walking into my office, she saw Twitter up on the screen and said, “Oh yeah, that’s your stalker site.”
Stalker, eh? There’s a brand image that any company would love to have, huh? Well, maybe not. And I have to wonder whether some of that negative perception is driven by the simple choice of words. In Twitter, you “follow” someone, which certainly connotes more of a stalker connection than Facebook’s “friend.”
But perhaps there’s more here. On Facebook, friends request to be connected and you must approve, while on Twitter, they follow freely and you must block them to prevent it. You can lock your Twitter stream to force approvals of anyone with a follow request, but it’s not the default, so few do. The default is “opt out” rather than “opt in,” a subtle difference, perhaps, but it might lead to an out-of-control feeling. About such things do perceptions revolve, in case you haven’t paid due deference to usability gurus. For some reason, Facebook seems comfortable while Twitter seems creepy.
I wonder if the new digital generation can perceive creepiness in a Web site as easily as us oldsters can see it in a person’s face. Perhaps they’ve become so attuned to the digital world that they perceive things that we miss. Well, a sample size of a few teens does not give us enough data to reach a conclusion, but I’ll be interested to see the next study that shows Twitter users by age.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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