Twitter Launches New Option to Follow Specific Topics, in Addition to User Accounts

Friday, November 8, 2019

Andrew Hutchinson, socialmediatoday.com
Twitter Launches New Option to Follow Specific Topics, in Addition to User Accounts

Over the next few days, you might see a new notification like this appear in your Twitter timeline:

Twitter Topics notification

Yes, after several months of discussion and testing, Twitter is now launching its new Topics option, which will enable users to follow specific topics, and have those tweets appear within their Twitter stream along with the specific accounts they follow.

Twitter follow topics

Here's how the process works, according to Twitter:

"On your Home timeline and in search results, you’ll see prompts to follow topics. Tap the Follow button in the prompt and we'll personalize your

Twitter experience based on your interest in this topic. We may also match you with other topics that we think you are interested in based on your profile and activity, such as the Tweets you view or like."

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The idea is to improve tweet discovery, and boost engagement on the platform. By highlighting more relevant content, rather than putting the onus on users to find the key accounts to follow themselves, Twitter's looking to make it easier for users to stay in touch with conversations of interest - while also cutting out some of the superfluous junk that flows through the tweet stream.

Twitter first started testing topic streams with a small group of users and subjects back in August, but now, with a full launch of the option set for November 13th, Twitter has expanded its curated listings to cover 300 topics of general interest.

Though politics won't be among them - as reported by The Verge:

"One topic you won’t find included in the initial batch: politics. The company tells me it’s sensitive to the potential unintended consequences of its algorithms offering additional amplification to tweets about sensitive subjects, and so it’s sticking to lighter fare to start."

The listings will be formulated using a combination of machine learning and human curation, with human editors working to keep the topic streams focused, and to filter out the junk.

That's important, because as Twitter knows, relying on algorithms alone probably won't deliver the best result. Twitter knows this because it's actually tried this exact process before. Back in 2015, when Twitter launched Moments, one of the options available was to 'follow' a Moment and have those tweets appear in your regular feed.

Twitter also tried to use Moments as a tool to improve tweet discovery again last year, with an expanded option to help users stay up to date with happening events in a chosen topic - but without dedicated human curation keeping those topic streams on track, they never gained traction, nor helped to boost awareness of tweet content.

Twitter will be hoping that its latest approach leads to better results. And it should - the addition of human curators should help to keep the topic streams relevant, and ensure the right information is flowing through, which could make it a valuable addition to improve your tweet stream.

But it'll also require a change in process, which users tend to resist. Twitter users like control (see the outcry over the roll-out of the Twitter feed algorithm in 2016), they like being able to dictate exactly what they see in their timelines. And while a side effect of that could be that they miss some relevant content, they may not warm to Twitter deciding what's relevant for them.

Users can already use the Explore tab to see trending news, and that can help them link through to relevant accounts to follow on their own. But the new Topics listings could be an even better option, depending on how it functions.

And worth noting too, we often view additions like this through the prism of what will be useful among the established markets we know, where Twitter is already fairly commonplace. But Twitter is still branching into new regions, where users are not familiar with tweet streams.

As you can see here, while Twitter has only added four million new monetizable daily active users in the North American region over the last year, it's added over 4x that in other parts of the world, underlining the fact that this is where Twitter's future opportunities lie.

For these users, this could be a massive improvement - so even if you don't see immediate use for it, or value in the function, there may be other applications.

Essentially, it's impossible to say how the new addition will go, and how significant it will be within the broader Twitter usage process. Twitter has tried similar before, but they have never really pushed such.

Will this option, along with the addition of swipeable lists, create a new, more engaging, more immersive tweet experience? Or will it fall flat once again?

Another way that Twitter could look to make Topics even more compelling is through another proposed idea that would enable users to tweet to certain groups, as opposed to having to share everything with all of their followers.

If you could follow certain topics, and send tweets only to people interested in those discussions, would that make it a more compelling, useful option?

We'll have to wait and see how users respond.