Twitter’s Missed Opportunity with Lists

When Twitter Lists first came out, I was sure they were going to have a big impact–especially on Twitter’s growth rate. But Twitter has blown it. Lists have failed to live up to the hype. Because Twitter has failed to evolve Lists and add key features.

Before Lists came out, I’d already given them a lot of thought. Our company had even developed TweetPackages, an early version of Twitter Lists. Just before Lists arrived, I blogged about the ways businesses could use them. Mark Schaefer even incorporated those posts into his book, The Tao of Twitter. I was excited at the opportunities Lists presented, because I thought Twitter was actually investing in the feature.

Unfortunately, Twitter chose to simply build a copycat of the streams or columns in Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, with the added ability to make Lists public. They have failed to add the two additional features that would allow Lists to take off:

  • the ability to @ a Twitter List
  • the ability to get DMs based on keywords tweeted from a List

That’s it. Nothing too complicated as far as functionality. But those two changes would enable businesses to use Twitter as a full-fledged notification system, letting them deliver personalized tweets to users to provide effective customer service, personalized content, and more.

Lists for Customer Support

Let’s say that you and a group of other social media “experts” decide to make yourselves available to help those new to social media. You create a List with everyone in it, and call the List SM101Team. When someone has a question, they just tweet @SM101Team. Everyone on the list sees the tweet in their stream, and can answer the question.

Or, you want to use Twitter for customer service. Perhaps you already have a corporate account. In that case, you could just use Hootsuite, CoTweet, or some other service to let all your customer service personnel tweet from the corporate account. You want to give customers a more personal connection, though. So, you have your customer service people create their own Twitter accounts. They each have an area of expertise and they tweet and blog about their area.

You also create a customer service List, off your corporate account. It includes all your customer service people who are on Twitter. When someone has a question, they simply tweet at the customer service list, and all your customer service people see the tweet. Any one of them can answer, but the answer comes from their personal Twitter account, providing that all important one-on-one engagement.

Filtering List Tweets

When you add filtering Lists by keyword, even more possibilities emerge. You may be familiar with ListiMonkey, a service that lets you subscribe to a Twitter list and have tweets forwarded as emails when someone in the list tweets a certain keyword. In this case, Twitter would add UI that lets you specify keywords for which you want to get a DM.

Let’s say your business involves promoting local restaurants. You have a website and services for that. As part of your service, you use your account on Twitter to create a List of the Twitter accounts of four-star downtown restaurants. On your website, you invite people to follow the List. You tell customers that they can use the List to sign up for notifications of specials from the restaurants. All they have to do is filter the List on the keywords “Discount” and “Special.”

Whenever a restaurant in your List has as special they want to promote, they can just tweet it from their own Twitter account. Because they’re on the List, anyone following it sees the tweet. But customers who have created DM notifications will get a text message sent to their phone about the special offer (or an email, depending upon their DM settings).

Customers get to opt in for specific types of messages, with anonymity. And Twitter becomes the notification system.

Complex Corporate Notification Systems

How about this scenario?  I’m a real estate agent for a large firm, like Windermere, and I serve the Kirkland and Redmond areas. I create a List for each area, and suggest that users filter based on the type of house they are looking for. For example, I have a Redmond list and a Kirkland list. (I’m actually the only member of the list.) If a customer is looking for a 3 bedroom home in Redmond, I have them subscribe to my Redmond list and set up notifications for the keyword 3BR.

Windermere then creates a private account that all of its real estate agents follow, but that is unavailable to the public. The account has been set up so that any new listings are automatically tweeted in a specific format:

[Area] #BR [Price Range] [additional info]

For example:

Redmond 3BR $450,000, large lot, near Einstein Elementary.

As a realtor, when I see a new listing for my area come through, I retweet it. (Though, ideally, auto-retweet is another feature Twitter would add.) That’s all I have to do—yet all of my customers will get text messages about the new listings that specifically interest them. For example, if I RT the Windermere tweet above, all of my customers looking for three bedroom homes in Redmond will get an SMS containing the tweet and a link to the listing. A tweet courtesy of me, their realtor.

One-click Opt-in for Twitter Notifications

It could get even better. Twitter already lets you add Lists to your website by simply linking to the list URL. They could enable you to specify the filters in the URL: With one click, people could sign up for personal notifications, right from a company’s website.

If you didn’t know, Twitter also already offers a feature called FastFollow. With FastFollow, anyone can follow a Twitter account by texting Follow [account_name] to 40404. The best part? You don’t have to have a Twitter account or set one up. Using FastFollow, you can get all the tweets made by an account sent to your phone, even if you don’t have a Twitter account yourself.

By itself, FastFollow has limited uses. A Twitter account has to be very careful not to tweet too often, or people will unfollow them. But what if you could FastFollow a List, with keyword filters, as above? Any business could use Twitter to allow its customers to opt into customized SMS notifcations from their phone. The customer would never even have to  see the Twitter UI.

Not only would this make Twitter a highly flexible notification platform, Twitter could leverage the information for advertising purposes. Just as Facebook learns a lot about our tastes by the pages we Like, Twitter would learn a lot about users by the notifications they signed up for. They might be able to deliver targeted ads to phones for opted-in users. Moreover, they could charge businesses for this kind of notification service. Plenty of companies already make money providing SMS services. Twitter would make a lot of them obsolete.

How much would your business pay to be able to send relevant, timely text messages to customers who have opted in? And get those personalized messages out via a simple tweet?

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