Twitter needs to find its “pulse”


Lissted’s Tweetsdistilled experiment is coming to an end. The Twitter accounts created have been popular with all types of users.

They provide a blueprint for how Twitter could use such feeds to: increase ad impressions, encourage engagement, improve sign up conversion, potentially pop some filter bubbles and enhance its return from investments like Moments.

In its early days Twitter used to talk about being “the pulse of the planet”. Years later and Twitter’s still struggling to help users easily find its best content. And time is running out.

These tweets from M G Siegler of Google Ventures a couple of weeks ago, and his related post, had me both cheering and beating my head against the wall in equal measure.

I could not agree more. I’ve been a broken record on the subject for a while now. And it’s not been based on just words.

Tweetsdistilled – finding Twitter’s pulse

Lissted’s Tweetsdistilled application was created in 2014. The objective? To design a system to identify the best of Twitter:

breaking news

influential commentary


and the downright bizarre.

In very simple terms Tweetsdistilled is sort of what you’d get if you crossed Twitter lists with the Highlights and While You Were Away features.


– you don’t have to find or create the Twitter lists (Lissted’s algorithms do that),

– we aren’t limited by list sizes (some feeds are distilling 10,000s of accounts in real time),

– and we reckon our tweet selection recipe is way better!

And unlike something like Nuzzel (which I think is great by the way), Tweetsdistilled is 100% focussed on identifying individual tweets, not external content that’s being shared.

Tweetsdistilled: a short history

In order to test the effectiveness of the app’s recipe, in September 2014 we created a Twitter account – @Tweetsdistilled – and a bot that auto retweeted the items identified by the system. We also tried creating a feed relating to a specific community – @PoliticsUKTD.

The initial results told us we were on the right track.

Later on we split out US community tweets into their own feed – @USTweetsDistill – and made the @Tweetsdistilled feed based solely on UK Twitter community reaction.

Over the subsequent 2+ years we’ve experimented with a number of other feeds relating to different scenarios such as specific communities, geographies and topics.

These have included: @PoliticsUSTD, @HealthUKTD, @EducationUKTD, @AppleTwD, @WalesUKTD, @NUFCTD, @LogisticsTD, @EuropeTD and @PRUKDistilled. Last week we even added a Donald Trump specific feed – @TrumpDistilled!

The main feeds are broad in their focus and generally feature tweets from journalists, media outlets, celebrities, organisations, bloggers and other influencers. With a sample of good quality viral tweets from your average user thrown in!

Feeds focussed on a specific community will be a mixture of tweets that are about that area of interest and ones that could be about any topic, but which appear to be of greater interest to the group.

The end of the line for Tweetsdistilled

But all good things must come to end and as of 14th February the Tweetsdistilled accounts will be mothballed. Basically the cost/benefit equation of running the feeds isn’t justified anymore.

There are a number of reasons for this:

Objective achieved

The experiment achieved its objective a while ago and we now have a great system for identifying what matters on Twitter. (Any social listening/MarTech companies out there interested in such a system drop me a line!

Data cost

We have to purchase a significant amount of data from Twitter to power the feeds. Ironically having refined it and published the insights publicly via the feeds the biggest group of followers is Twitter staff!

Limited organic follower growth

This is due to a combination of the nature of the accounts themselves i.e. they only retweet others and don’t have tweets of their own, and a lack of word of mouth – many followers are journalists who appear to want to keep the accounts as “secret” weapons!

But the biggest reason is:

Why isn’t something like this not part of Twitter anyway?

As M G Siegler points out

“The first tab on Twitter, the one currently labelled ‘Home’ should be replaced by a tab made up of the ‘While You Were Away’ / ‘Highlights’ content. But on steroids. Thousands of tweets. The “best of” Twitter.”

I’d go further and say you don’t even need two tabs. Using accounts like these you can have everything all in one feed. Simples.

Tweetsdistilled has been a proof of concept of the value of Twitter having a feature like this.

The accounts have been popular with every type of user: influential, power, occasional and new. Here are some examples of reactions to our announcement re closing the feeds down:

Some of the most disappointed are Twitter staff!

Business case for “pulse” accounts like these

They inject the best of Twitter directly into your feed.

The approach would have a number of powerful benefits:


Most important of all in a commercial context followers are still looking at a Twitter feed and so can be served ads in the usual way. This is not the case with the Trending Now and Moments elements of Explore. Also ads could be targeted effectively when a user was following a niche community or topic feed e.g. @EducationUKTD, @AppleTwD or @NUFCTD.

More out of Moments

There’s real skill in crafting a good Moment and they can be a great way of discovering new content. But they rarely appear in your feed organically. Mixing relevant Moments into particular TweetsDistilled type feeds would potentially increase engagement and improve ROI on their creation.

Efficient listening

A follower of one of these Tweetsdistilled feeds is effectively getting served some of the best tweets from a group without having to follow the thousands of accounts that are being distilled.

They also don’t have to switch into a different part of the app or use Tweetdeck like they would do to use a Twitter list. And finally they can still follow specific accounts as well if they want to see all of an individual’s tweets.

Ideal for a new user

No requirement for a new user to follow lots of accounts, they can follow one stream based on an interest area and then start to follow individual accounts over time if they want.

Optional for existing users

Instead of forcing an algorithmic approach onto someone’s feed, where they potentially miss content they wanted to see, these accounts simply augment the user’s native feed.

Filter bubble popper

It’s been well established that most users of social media only follow accounts that are similar in views to themselves. A system such as Tweetsdistilled allows you to see some of the most important and interesting tweets from a particular community without having to follow the specific members. This lack of direct relationship could encourage users to broaden their horizons.

So overall the accounts should:

– increase advertising impressions;

– get more out of existing investments like Moments;

– encourage engagement;

– improve sign up conversions; and

– potentially broaden the content users see.

Thanks and goodbye

Surely this is all a no brainer. If we can build Tweetsdistilled with our constrained resources then surely Twitter could? We’ve probably got the technological equivalent of duct tape and cardboard toilet rolls at our disposal compared to them!

No one will be more sad to see the feeds switched off than me. Leaving aside any vested interest, I’ll miss the fantastic content they gave me and their ability to keep me up to date with everything that was happening.

I’ll be following up this post with a few based on the data we’ve analysed.

In the meantime thanks to everyone who followed the feeds. We’ve really enjoyed helping you keep your finger on “the pulse”.

‘The Big Bang Theory’ of Content Marketing

Physics can teach us a thing or two about what matters in Content Marketing




Two things collided to create this post.

First, I’m a huge ‘The Big Bang Theory’ fan. For anyone who doesn’t watch the show its central characters are two roommates – Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter – both physicists at CalTech, and Penny, an aspiring actress and “temporary” waitress who moves in across the hall from them.

Penny lacks the guys intellect, often struggling to understand (or care) what they’re talking about, but she knows a lot more about life and relating to people than the two geeky scientists.

Second, I showed a very clever real life physicist, Stephen Baldwin* a graph of retweet activity over time for one of the tweets identified by our Tweets Distilled experiment. Tweets Distilled seeks to identify interesting tweets early in their lifecycle.

Tweets distilled

Stephen suggested there could be parallels between what makes content successful and the physical properties of heat capacity and phase transition.

*Stephen specialises in acoustics and sound processing and is currently looking for a new challenge.

Our Theory

Here’s a summary of what we produced:

Content heat capacity

Content Heat Capacity equations

Content phase transition 

Content Phase Transition changes

Sheldon Cooper will explain the physics behind these properties later in the post. First here’s the story of the tweet that got me and Stephen talking….

Giving it 110 per cent

On the day of the Scottish Independence Referendum, CNN’s graphic department had clearly been listening to too many footballers’ post match analysis as they put this graphic up on screen.

CNN reports 110  turnout in Scottish independence vote   Daily Mail Online

A Twitter user called Brady, who goes by the screenname of @BurningGoats picked up on the error and tweeted:

This was just after 8pm. The graph below shows the average retweets per minute in the 8 hours after the tweet was posted. Burning goats retweets You can see that in the first hour and a half there was a limited amount of activity. and by 21:31 the tweet had been retweeted 62 times. This is exceptional for Brady as none of his tweets in the subsequent 2 months have had more than 2 retweets, but it’s nothing compared to what happens in the next few minutes. Betfair Exchange   BetfairSports    Twitter At 21:31 the tweet is retweeted by @BefairSports, an account that doesn’t follow @BurningGoats. @BetFairSports has over 80,000 followers, one of whom is the ex Liverpool and Germany footballer Dietmar Hamann who has over 600,000 followers. Didi Hamann   DietmarHamann    Twitter He also retweets the story at 21:33 and immediately following this combination we see a massive spike in retweet activity. Burninggoats retweets after influencers From then on the tweet never looks back maintaining a rate of 40-80 retweets per minute for the next couple of hours.

Finally at 02.26 the story is picked up by the mainstream media and appears on the Daily Mail, whose article generates nearly 1,500 comments on Facebook. Daily Mail CNN 110 per cent The Science

So how can physics help to explain what happened? Over to the awesome Sheldon Cooper to explain.



Sheldon: Two physical properties are relevant here. Heat capacity and phase transition.

Heat capacity

Heat capacity is the amount of energy that is required to increase the temperature of a material. It can be expressed as an equation, thus: Heat Capacity Equation So the higher the heat capacity, the more energy it’s going to need to get hot. Different materials have different heat capacities.

Leonard explanation for Penny: It’s why they don’t make hair straightener plates out of rubber!

ghd Phase transition

Sheldon: As the temperature of a material rises it will change state. These changes are called phase transitions and the most well-known are from solid to liquid and liquid to gas.Phase Transition There is also a fourth state that matter can take. When a gas is heated sufficiently it will ionise and form plasma (the most abundant material in the universe). Different materials go through phase changes at different temperatures.

Applying physics theory to Content Marketing

Content heat capacity

Sheldon: If we relate:

– heat capacity as a measure of the quality and likely potential interest a piece of content possesses within an online community (where high quality content is equivalent to material with a low heat capacity);

– energy as the tweets, retweets, favorites, likes, shares and other forms of engagement with the content it receives; and

– temperature as the level of interest it’s achieving within the relevant online community;

we get: Content Heat Capacity This predicts that low quality content will need high engagement to raise the level of interest being shown in it.

Leonard to Penny:  “You might read an article on toilet brushes, but only if Gerard Butler tweeted it!”

Gerard_Butler_My_Morning_Man (2) Content phase transition

Sheldon:  If we see the different states content can exist in as: Content Phase Transition changesSolid phase = low quality content that even your followers find uninteresting or decent content that receives very little engagement.

Liquid phase = great content that’s got some engagement and started reaching followers of your followers, or not so great content that’s lucky enough to get engagement from some influential sources.

Gas phase = content that’s reached the wider community, either because a) it’s awesome and quickly got the attention of people dotted throughout that community, b) it’s pretty great content that’s getting lots of engagement generally or c) decent content that’s had the full star power treatment to force it out into the wider community.

Ionised = Amazing content that’s so “hot” you’d actually talk to someone about it in the real world and/or it’s appearing in media outside of the online community concerned.

The key is that the more widespread the appeal of the content among the community the lower the temperature (interest level) it will have to reach to change its state.

So awesome content will take a lot less energy to go through these phases and start reaching the wider community .

Leonard to Penny: “It’s why the biggest secrets make the best gossip.”



How the theory fits the CNN Story

Sheldon: The CNN graphic is great material. It’s funny, has immediate visual impact and it’s got numbers, and everyone loves numbers. It therefore has an inherently low heat capacity i.e. very high content quality rating.

The tweet by @burninggoats improves on this by bringing in the “giving it 110 per cent” phrase that is often used by sports people. This meant the tweet itself had an even lower heat capacity and so raised its inherent quality further.

Implication: The tweet only needed a relatively small amount of energy (engagement) to raise its temperature (interest level). 

At the same time the content also had the potential for widespread appeal. Whether you were interested in the Scots referendum, appreciated the sporting reference or simply wanted to have a laugh at CNN’s expense, many people were likely to find this content interesting.

Implication: The tweet only needed a relatively low increase in temperature to change state and reach the wider Twitter community.

Combine these two and you had content that only needed a relatively small amount of energy (engagement) and it was going to reach far and wide. This is what happened when it received the retweets from @BetfairSports and @DidiHamann. Liquid to Gas And the content subsequently “ionised” when it was published by the Daily Mail.

Practical application of the Theory

To be successful you need to recognise three key implications:

1. Content creation and design is crucial

If your content isn’t all the things you know it should be – well designed, eye catching, exciting, thought-provoking, surprising, timely, appropriate format etc – then its going to need a lot of energy from the community to raise the interest level.

If you don’t possess this yourself e.g. a brand with a huge organic following like Apple, or you can’t buy it (celebrity endorsement for example), then content like this is going to really struggle to reach beyond a small proportion of those who are closest to you.

2. Listen to understand what will have widespread appeal

If you want to reach the parts of a community you don’t already know then you need to understand what is likely to engage those people, as well as those close to you, and design your content accordingly.

This will mean that your content has the potential to “change state” at much lower levels of interest. Again this means the energy (engagement) requirements to achieve this are lower.

3. Influencer engagement (and potentially paid promotion) will often still be necessary for success

In almost every case the quality and appeal of the content will only get you so far. They will reduce the energy requirements, but they won’t eliminate them.

As we saw with the CNN example, the innate quality and widespread appeal of the tweet meant it turned into a liquid (reached the followers of Brady’s followers) quite quickly. Even still it took the input of energy from Betfair and Didi Hamann’s engagement to make it change state to a gas and start reaching the wider community.

This demonstrates one of the potential benefits of an influencer strategy. Though be wary. It’s important that the influencers, really do possess the potential for influence. Don’t get fooled by simple reach numbers. Make sure they are highly relevant so that the wider community they help you reach is the one you were looking to target.

Finally in a corporate situation the use of paid promotion should be considered as an alternative to provide this additional energy when it doesn’t appear organically.

Sheldon Cooper signing off.