Agency executives say Twitter's introduction of a new algorithm for the top of the news feed could be the beginning of a series of bold moves for the platform.
The algorithm, officially introduced today, reorders tweets at the top of a user's timeline with tweets determined by criteria such as account interactions, engagement and network activity. The feature is optional and is followed by the traditional reverse-chronological feed that for years has made the platform stand out from others. Execs, including some who received briefings ahead of time with details of what to expect, said the update could be just what the platform needs to win new users and generate more revenue.
"This is a smart move for them to increase and surface better content and engagements and a better user experience," said Noah Mallin, senior partner and head of social in North America for MEC. "They've walked a fine line in not alienating existing users while also not making this a clunky experience that would require something like toggling between multiple tabs."
At the same time, Mallin added that Twitter has "really picked up the product pace," which should translate into more opportunities for marketers to continue experimenting with the platform.
Chris Tuff, director of business development and partnerships at 22squared, said the algorithm very well might be the renaissance many have been looking for from the company.
"Look at the history of Facebook—it simply wasn't sticky enough without their algorithm," Tuff said. "Remember the backlash they saw? Twitter needs to focus on their differentiators—and one of those is real-time—but it's too noisy for brands and users to break through the feed right now."
Tom Hyde, social strategy director at Droga5, said Twitter's challenge has always been "balancing signal to noise" for users. Even as it has released new features over the past year–products such as tailored trends, Moments and "while you were away" tweets—new features have felt cluttered and complex. However, Hyde said, if the algorithm surfaced more relevant content for users, it could significantly help them manage the hundreds or thousands of tweets that endlessly scroll by.
"The introduction of an algorithm, front and center, might not be what the die-hard users want, but it's what the platform needs," he said.
The algorithm comes as Twitter works to grow its user base, which totaled about 320 million in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to its quarterly earnings released today.
While many Twitter users took to the platform over the weekend to complain about the idea of an algorithm, Andy Amendola, director of digital strategy at The Community, said power users need to remember that Twitter has to take bold steps to grow its user base if it's going to survive.
"How can using data to better serve personalized content to users be a bad thing? And what took Twitter so long? If Twitter gets this right, it will be better for everyone involved—but that's a big 'if,'" Amendola said.
Moment Studio CEO Ken Kraemer said Twitter's time-based feed is central to what makes it Twitter. However, he added, the changes were bound to happen.
"It is inevitable that Twitter will need to create some scarce, attention-rich inventory it can sell to advertisers if it is going to survive on an ad-rich model," Kraemer said. "That means controlling the feed. Depending on how well they do it, it could destroy the timeline experience dedicated users love."