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Twitter reveals its new look: What does it mean for marketers?

25th Apr 2014
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So, Twitter has had a makeover. Don’t worry though – it’s not completely unrecognisable. In fact, strangely enough, you may have the feeling that you’ve seen this new-look profile somewhere before. That’s because it seems Twitter has been taking style tips from another well-known social site. 

Having been trialling the new design with specially selected users since the start of April, Twitter made it available to everyone on Tuesday - although it’s still optional at this point.

Fundamentally, it still works in the same way, as the main differences are visual ones. Good news for those who aren’t fans of change, then (i.e. almost all of us). The first thing you'll probably clock is that it’s out with the old “header image” which used to sit behind your profile photo, and in with the “header photo”, which is very much like the cover image you’ll find on Facebook. Gone is the background wallpaper too - but as a compromise you do still get to choose a colour. 

You’ll also notice some nifty new functions:

  • Best tweets - These are popular posts that have generated the most engagement. They will be larger than other tweets on your feed, making them more attention grabbing.
  • Pinned tweets - You can now pin one of your tweets to the top of your profile, making it the first post people will see when they visit.
  • Filtered tweets - You now have the option of viewing people's timelines with certain filters in place. For example, you can choose to just check out tweets with photos or videos, or tweets with replies, etc. 

On the face of it, it's just a prettier profile. Big deal. However, our experts think the changes may be more significant than they seem. Peter Sigrist, managing director at 33 Digital, notes that Twitter’s changes reflect the new ways that people are interacting with social media, and thinks this is something businesses really need to pay attention to.

“The new design changes at Twitter offer some hints at the general direction of social media, which customer service and marketing teams should be aware of," he explains. "The first thing I noticed about Twitter’s new look is how it reflects the general trend that the web is becoming a more visual place. Reflected by the popularity of services like Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat and Instagram, consumers are becoming more sophisticated in their visual tastes and fluency. Twitter is reflecting this shift in its platform, elevating the importance of visual content."

Adam Lawrenson, creative director at Digit, agrees that these changes represent the needs and expectations of the modern consumer, as well as the long-term aims of the social network itself. “Twitter’s look has become distinctively more editorial, thus suggesting content is now at its heart. The platform has been testing changes to the design for a while, and I believe this signals their intention more than the redesign itself. It conveys that they are always thinking about brands, advertising and editorial.”

He continues: “Predictably, the rise of news aggregators has forced Twitter’s hand a little, not to mention the upsurge in advertising revenue witness by Facebook following their facelift. However, what I think really works for Twitter when compared to other news aggregators is that people have very personal news streams. They receive content from a huge number of hand selected publishers, rather than relying on the output of a few news outlets. To see this presented in an editorial format will be very powerful.”

In practice then, the new layout and features should complement the activity that’s already happening Twitter, and make it easier for people and brands to get what they want out of it.

What does this mean for marketers? 

Indeed, Danny Chadburn, content strategist at iCrossing, certainly thinks that the new features will make it easier for brands to use this particular marketing platform. “Twitter is the heartbeat for events and campaigns for many companies. Adding the option to create 'sticky' tweets allows them to continue conversations while still highlighting the messages which initially sparked them. As companies start to see the benefits of keeping these posts visible, Twitter will be hoping this translates into more demand for their advertising products.”

Meanwhile, Sigrist thinks that the new emphasis on all things visual can also improve the effectiveness of content marketing in terms of images and videos. ”Customer service teams can benefit hugely from visually engaging content, especially when a brand wants to grab attention, or perhaps has to convey something complex during a crisis. We’ve worked with a major rail company, for example, to develop video and design strategy that the customer service team can use over Twitter to explain difficult issues that occur repeatedly. The new Twitter design will help by pushing such content to the surface on a brand Twitter page. This, in turn, will drive up engagement and, according to Twitter’s new rules, that content will then become even more prominent.” 

Lawrenson also sees these changes as a natural - not to mention long overdue - development, that will benefit Twitter's whole spectrum of users: “The personalised news that Twitter can deliver has long been its greatest asset, so I am glad to see that the design is slowly but surely following suit." 

Thumbs up so far, then. But – there was always going to be a ‘but’ – there are some clear limitations to these functions and social media marketers mustn't expect their lives to be any easier than before. I mean, how often do we actually visit a profile on Twitter, anyway?

“It’s worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of customers viewing tweets will do so via their own Twitter news feed, so these changes to the brand page will be of limited impact,” points out Sigrist. “The message remains the same as before for customer service teams – listen and understand your audience, measure what works, and hire people capable of producing excellent content. Whether we talk about words, pictures, video or interactive engagement ideas, content that falls short of the mark will increasingly stand out as companies and brands invest in skilled teams and the right tools.”

In terms of the consumer's reactions, Carolyn Hughes at Fourth Day Public Relations reflects on the comments she's heard about the new profile look, reminding us that social networkers’ pages are almost like personal property so interference is rarely appreciated. “If the changes alienate regular users – and feedback hasn't been great so far – then the changes will be highly unpopular with brands, businesses and marketers in the long-term, as their target audience could leave for other social media.”

Judging by the success of the revamped profile's closest lookalike Facebook though, Twitter has nothing to worry about.

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