By any measure, the growth and popularity of Twitter has been phenomenal. To say that Twitter has hit mainstream isn't really the right metric to use. It's more powerful to note that for a large group of Twitter enthusiasts, to spend even a day without using it would be as bad (or perhaps even worse) than not having email. It has become just that necessary. How did the site get to this point? And what are the lessons that any entrepreneur might be able to learn from how it got there? Here are a few thoughts on the real secrets behind Twitter's success:
- Focus on real time. For the socially connected online, there is little use for yet another place to talk to your friends. If anything, we all have too many of those to start with. But a site dedicated to RIGHT NOW stands out. It's useful in a way that none of the other sites we use are.
- Skip the extra step. Approving every friend request can be a lot of work – even if you're not the most popular of people. It does make sense on most social networks, but when it comes to posting updates on Twitter, if you do it publicly, anyone can follow you without approval. The result is that any user's audience on Twitter can grow exponentially without barriers.
- Force your customers to do less. If you have ever heard the saying that "less is more" – Twitter is the ultimate proof of that. The forced 140 character messages have made us all refocus on brevity, and as a result of this volume decrease, those of us that are constantly overcommunicated look to the site as the one place where we can still feel that we are on top of the flood of communication that rules our lives.
- Build enough evangelists to compensate when things go wrong. One of the most well known facts about Twitter is that the service has been notoriously unreliable and crashed frequently. Though it is much improved from those days, the site still goes down or loses functionality relatively regularly. Yet it has managed to build up enough power users and evangelists, that people forgive their down times and keep coming back.
- Integrate with the most popular competition. The single most useful feature I personally uncovered from Twitter was the ability to integrate it into my Facebook page so that may Twitter updates also become my status on Facebook. This demonstrates a fact that many entrepreneurs already know – by integrating with your competition where your "customers" currently are, you make it easier for them to migrate over to your site.
- Launch where your influencers are. A big reason for the early success of Twitter was their launch at the SXSW Interactive festival two years ago. It was a place where all the influencers that matters for Twitter were already going to be and putting the site in front of them there allowed them to become word of mouth ambassadors for the site following the event.
- Offer a public ranking or authority. The final element that has helped Twitter to succeed is that it has a built in authority ranking with the number of followers you have. This is located right beneath your username on the site and it's high visibility means that it is easily the ultimate metric for anyone using the site. And you can't help but want that number to go higher.