About a week before it was due to go public, Twitter released a major redesign of its site and apps. It effectively turned itself inside out: Pictures are now included in users' timelines, and tweets can be favorited, retweeted, or responded to with a single tap. This new Twitter was to be more like Instagram and Vine, and less like the text-only Twitter of old.
So, how has it worked out? If you assume — safely — that one of Twitter's goals with the new design was to increase engagement, then the answer seems to be yes. "We have seen, over the past few days, volume of engagements go up," said Jon Dick, head of marketing at influence-measurement site Klout.
"Looking at some of our high-level volume numbers, we've seen as much as a 10% increase in engagement among Twitter users." These, he cautioned, were early, back-of-the-napkin calculations. Based on past experience, Dick posited that the change was likely more pronounced among more casual users, and that active Twitter users' habits are a bit harder to change.
"We have seen, historically, that more visual content drives engagement than plain text," he said, echoing what has become conventional wisdom among Twitter marketers and media types. This correlation was likely central to Twitter's redesign decision: Pictures do well on Twitter, so Twitter needs more images.
Tim Haines, founder of Twitter tracking service Favstar.fm, noted similar surges. "It looks like favs and RTs have jumped 10–15%-ish amongst my users," he said, noting that his results, too, are preliminary. "That's a casual observance of the change in trends shown in graphs."
He also mentioned an unexpected change: "Not sure if my users were doing something weird, but there was a lot of follow and unfollow activity," he said. In aggregate, follows and unfollows increased by "more than double," at least "for a few days after the intro."
Whether this was users adjusting to the new layout — unfollowing due to a noisier feed, for example — or simply a quirk of Favstar's user base, which is comprised largely of Twitter power users and isn't really representative of the average Twitter user, is unclear, at least for now. But it is worth pointing out that, in addition to in-feed retweet and favorite buttons, the Twitter redesign added in-feed follow buttons:
This is probably good news for Twitter, which, on the eve of its IPO, could not provide comment. The company tried to increase engagement, and then engagement increased. If Twitter's own internal data matches Klout's and Favstar's, we should expect to see Twitter trumpet it after the IPO as evidence of its vibrancy. (We also don't know what kind of content is doing better as a result of this increased engagement. If it's mostly images, this could have lasting effects on just what kind of service Twitter is. And, I mean, for all we know, this increased engagement is just confused, angry people mashing buttons. But hey, you can probably monetize that! Google has.)
But the most important goal of the redesign was to make Twitter friendlier to new users — to not just attract them, but to keep them. And only Twitter knows if that part of the plan is working too.