Audio Tweet Feature Flopped On Twitter, But Why?

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For the average bookworm, audiobooks are one of those fleeting activities they invest in before revising their bookshelves all over again. However, according to Forbes, people were more likely to want to listen to audiobooks when they were doing an activity that would not allow them to read in print at the same time (i.e. driving). Home listening dropped from 71 percent to 68 percent in 2019, and car listening increased from 69 percent to 74 percent. 

E-books aren’t even making the killing that publishers may have thought it would. Publishers of books in all formats made approximately $26 billion in revenue in 2018 in the U.S., with print earning $22.6 billion and e-books bringing in $2.04 billion, according to the Association of American Publishers’ annual report 2019 via CNBC.

In a tech-crazed world, people still appear to prefer print more than audio and digital means of reading books. But what about social media platforms like Twitter? Was Twitter onto something with their idea of audio tweets in the summer of 2020? And what went wrong?

How were audio tweets supposed to be used? 

The World Health Organization confirms that there are an estimated 285 million people of all ages who are visually impaired, with 39 million classified as blind. (Majority are ages 50 and over, accounting for 82 percent.) But why does age mean anything when it comes to social media?

Judging from the delight of seeing 80-year-old Dionne Warwick, who is not visually impaired, tweeting up a storm since December 2020 (although she joined Twitter eight years before that), there are a population of followers and accounts who are delighted to see an “older and wiser” group on Twitter. In fact, SproutSocial confirms that Twitter’s population includes 17 percent of users ages 50 to 64 and 7 percent ages 65 and up. 

In an era of inclusivity, it makes sense that the social media platform would want to make it easier for those in senior demographics and those with disabilities to operate Twitter easier. And considering what a hit TikTok has been with video-dominant social media messaging, the remaining 32 percent (ages 13 to 17), 38 percent (ages 18 to 29) and 26 percent (ages 30 to 49) may have thought audio tweets could come in handy, too. 

Available exclusively on iPhone iOS, Twitter’s Help Center instructed users to tap the “Tweet Compose” icon, tap the “Voice” icon, tap the red “Record” button to talk for up to 2 minutes and 20 seconds for each individual tweet, and then tap “Done.” (Longer messages would be threaded up to 25 tweets.) Then tap “Tweet” to send the message to the world. 

Did anyone actually use audio tweets? 

As with most new tech options, audio tweets did gain some enthusiasm. Restaurateur Guy Fieri and former NFL player (and Academy Award winner of a short film) Matthew Cherry tested the feature out. Then by the end of June, audio tweets just started dwindling away.

From first glance, the problem with audio tweets is there is no context. While users can see the profile image of the person talking, there’s no summary of what the tweet is about. 

Twitter users who listen to audio tweets may end up with a timeline full of audio responses to topics they’re unaware of beforehand—or don’t care about. Imagine Twitter users who randomly send tweet replies without any context. Or, imagine the dreaded SoundCloud rapper who says, “Listen to my music” without bothering to explain why (s)he thinks it’s something you’ll enjoy. Audio tweets could easily fall into the “Report” spam category.

Should Twitter give audio tweets another go?

While Twitter tried its best to describe audio tweets as “a more human experience for listeners and storytellers alike” and called on journalists to share breaking news stories or protesters to give first-hand accounts, voice tweeting didn’t really offer users the opportunity to be able to do so in the same way as a written tweet with a video, GIF or image attached. 

It still has potential to work if some of the kinks are worked out—or if they get someone like Warwick to use it, who has had followers zooming in on her every tweet. But before Twitter gives it another go, they may want to take into account both an audio and written option to include the 466 million people worldwide with hearing loss, too. As of now, both visually and hearing impaired users and those who opt for print/digital reading over audio seem more comfortable with Twitter as it stands—in 140 to 280-character written timelines, no “play” button needed.


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