POV

While you were away: Twitter rolls out recap feature

Background:

In November 2014, at its first ever Analyst Day event, Twitter announced a host of new features it would be introducing. Focusing on product innovation, the company promised everything from improved private messaging to real-time video editing, with the aim of making Twitter a more engaging platform.

One of the most interesting features to be introduced is their Timeline Highlights, or the “while you were away” feature. Basically, users will be able to see highly relevant tweets that were posted while they were absent from the social network. At the beginning of this month, Twitter officially began rolling out the feature to many of its users.

How it works:

The social network has updated their algorithm so that only highly relevant tweets appear to users. As of yet, there has been no official announcement about what content the update prioritizes. The tweets will appear at the top of a users’ timeline once they return to the application.

While you were away

POV:

Twitter has been at work, tinkering with its algorithm for a little while now. It’s great to see more innovation from Twitter, and tweaks to its user experience are a positive step. I’ve been concerned that Twitter was becoming stale for the familiar and inaccessible for the newbies; that its model risked being imitated by another player. I’ve also been immersed in forums lately, particularly Reddit, which has enjoyed a groundswell – and headlines – recently and is seen as a threat to Twitter. Google remains flush and dangerous, with G+ seeming to lack a clear strategy, and then there’s Facebook – the ever-present elephant in the room.

To understand how Twitter’s algorithm works, it’s interesting to contrast it with that of Facebook’s as Twitter seems to have deliberately gone in the other direction.

Facebook is all about preserving the content feed of its users by acting as a content gatekeeper. This means that, in general, you won’t see content from users or pages that you don’t interact with much, or that hasn’t gained traction. It also means that sometimes, posts have to gain a measure of virality before you see them, which may be hours or even days after they’ve first been published. This has created a position now where Facebook is often not the best suited platform for real-time marketing tactics, particularly without paid media support involved.

Twitter, however, is all about real-time. Twitter’s algorithmic strategy appears to be all about surfacing the content that matters, in addition to the regular fire hose of real-time content that is its hallmark. This “while you were away” feature does exactly that – it addresses the need to show people what’s important to them, which they otherwise may have missed in the platform’s real-time environment.

What this means for brands is not immediately clear. Looking at things as they stand, I’d say, at this point in time, brands will need to have good organic content in order to be recognized by this algorithm. For content visibility on demand, brands must still pay to play.

That being said, I assume that Twitter will elevate the prominence of media, influential bloggers and journalists within its algorithm. I, for one, am particularly interested in the impact on broadcast, should this strategy come in to play. Twitter, being the home of social TV/second screening and breaking news, will seek to promote credible sources. This would achieve two goals: to enable authoritative media sources to cut through the clutter of rumors and innuendo that Twitter is also known for, thereby enhancing relevance to users; and secondly, to demonstrate to media outlets that Twitter is the partner of choice for the second screen. Take a look and see what’s happening with Amplify, it offers a glimpse into the future. In 2013, Omnicom Media Group’s Annalect conducted a study that proved the relationship between Twitter buzz and TV ratings, enabling quantifiable social TV ratings. By improving media visibility to its audiences, Twitter may just end up creating a lovely trinity between platform, program and advertiser. Let’s wait and see what happens.