On Twitter's Custom Timelines

On Twitter's Custom Timelines

Twitter introduced a new feature yesterday, called custom timelines. Think of it as Twitter's equivalent of Spotify playlists:

  • add the tracks (tweets) you want into a playlist;
  • once you've put them all together, you can share your playlist (custom timeline) with others;
  • you can always rearrange the order of your tracks (tweets) and if you're not happy with some of them, you can simply remove them.

Custom timelines have their own specific URLs, and you can browse people's custom timelines as they're all public (although, if the history of Twitter lists is anything to go by, this could be subject to change later on, for the same reason why some people have private Twitter lists).

Twitter is already using this feature, as you can see here, along with a select few other developers who have been chosen for testing.

The only drawback is that you can only create custom timelines in Tweetdeck. While this is not a drawback per se, the implication is that you cannot build custom timelines on-the-go on your mobile or tablet.

What does this mean for me?

This new feature won't affect brands directly, BUT it's one thing they can use to their advantage. Here are a couple of ways you can make use of Custom Timelines:

  • SOCIAL HUB: one thing I admire about EE (besides their blazing fast 4G network and their swanky headquarters in London) is their Social Hub, a "command centre" room that is now seen as the social nerve of the business. I had the privilege of seeing it live a couple of weeks ago, and it's quite impressive - at first sight it might look like just another office room, with a massive screen and some funky lights that will remind you of the 70s disco-balls. Flick the switch and the room comes to light - the monitor is an interactive touchscreen monitor that shows you who's talking about EE, sentiment, where they're tweeting from, trending topics, as well as mentions of their competitors; as soon as mentions of EE grow progressively negative (cue: a potential PR disaster), the funky disco-ball lights turn red, while positive mentions will turn those lights green. This cost EE a lot of money and trust to begin with, and it took a director's undying faith in social media and a leap of faith to fund this project. Now, not every company has the budget to fund a social hub, and sadly not every company has directors with funds (or faith) to invest in social media-related projects. With Custom Timelines, you won't need to worry about that - build a custom timeline in Tweetdeck with mentions of your brand or your brand's latest campaign and show it on a monitor in your office. Then, sit back and watch how quickly that monitor becomes the new office water-cooler, where people stop by to see how the brand is doing. As you add tweets to the timeline, it will update right away at the top (like a regular timeline), so it can be as up-to-date as you make it.
  • EVENTS: custom timelines can now allow you to list the tweets related to your event. This will work even better if you have a hashtag throughout the event, making it easy for you to track online conversations about it. Unfortunately it's custom for some people to hijack a hashtag to promote their own services which are in no way related to your event, company or brand. Here's where custom timelines come into play: create one in Tweetdeck, add the best tweets OR those that you think tell a story about your event (comprehensive enough for people who aren't at the event to understand what's going on); add the tweets from the official live-tweeters too, if you've hired them. Then show those tweets on a monitor OR share it online so those who couldn't make it to the event can be a part of it.
  • A quick remark: using tools to showcase tweets from an event isn't something new. In fact, you can already source tweets and display them, with tools like Tagboard that will look for specific hashtags from multiple social networks.

Any competitors?

Now, when new tools or features are announced, people (and tech blogs) seem to have the habit to ask "will this new tool/feature kill [name of existing tool that does something similar]?"

While this new feature is similar to what Tagboard is all about (even though Tagboard supports other social platforms beyond Twitter), you can rest assured that social aggregator tools like Storify won't feel threatened. At all.

Custom Timelines aren't a substitute for social listening, and they aren't a substitute for social aggregators either. In fact, think of it as "filtered social listening", where you choose what appears in the timeline.

Additionally, bear in mind that tools like Storify aggregate content from multiple platforms beyond Twitter, with the option to add your own commentary to put some context around the media you've chosen to embed in your Storify "story".

But wait, there's more...

That wasn't the only announcement that Twitter made: they also announced the private beta release of an API to go along with Custom Timelines. This will enable developers to create timelines programmatically. Think of it as using Boolean language to filter down the content that's relevant to you. You can then create a custom timeline that will pull tweets about an event or a topic.

This API is currently being tested by a selected few, but a brilliant example of this in place is Politico, which uses the API to feed policy industry tweets into a Tweet Hub, as you can see here.

If you're a developer and you're interested in taking part in the Custom Timelines API beta programme, click here.

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