Three Lessons from Twitter at SXSWi

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Mark Trammell (@Trammell) of Twitter and Nate Bolt (@Boltron) of Bolt Peters Research delivered a stellar and engaging presentation this morning.  The session title was "Stop Listening to Your Customers."  A little heretical, right?  This irreverence has led Trammell and Bolt to research innovation.  Here are a few of the themes they discussed, and my potential applications to market research.

Quick & Dirty Prototyping.  Amidst all of the push for "listening," sometimes asking and listening can get researchers to the wrong conclusions.  A great example is Microsoft's reliance on asking users hypothetical questions without providing a prototype.  Remember the MS Office paper clip "helper" of the 90s? That icon that would pop up at random (and often irrelevant) times and ask if the user wanted help?  When consumers were asked if they wanted something to pop up and offer to help, they answered yes.  Without seeing the execution, though, they weren't able to make a good call.  Taking this ill-informed direction, Microsoft followed through on the development of paper clip guy, which unfortunately fell tragically short in becoming one of the most loved features in Microsoft products.  Therefore, Bolt and Trammell encouraged researchers to push towards developing quick and dirty prototypes that illustrate the "need to knows" for users/respondents so that they can evaluate in the real realm, and not hypothetical.  Market research take-away: give respondents the right stimulus to make sure that they can respond and not guess as to what might be.

Watch as they DO.  Instead of asking, Twitter watches as people do.  They watch as they navigate, looking specifically for "friction points" for the user.  A friction point is where users have created a go-around, have to do an extra step, or have to leave the Twitter interface altogether.  Bolt and Trammell emphasized that "New Twitter" wasn't pushed down from the C-Suite, but instead, was based on watching as users experience this friction and providing iterative solutions.  Market research take-away: watch, and watch looking for inefficiencies and pain points in the process.

Innovation.  I LOVE that Trammell and Bolt specifically went out of their way to break down a myth that my colleagues and I are actively warring against: “geniuses have genius ideas that turn into genius products.”  They emphasized that great ideas come from other great ideas, usually facilitated by research.  Market research take-away: we’re all real people and we can all be inspired by the real needs of real people.

Get scrappy.  This is my own recap of a principle that Bolt and Trammell talked, but basically they said they have little to no research budget and they have to get creative about research.  They use free or cheap tools in smart ways that didn’t sacrifice their results.  They looked for new solutions to problems instead of relying on what was done before.  Market research take-away: consider whether there are simpler (easier, faster, cheaper) ways to get the job done well…then try it out!

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