5 things Twitter can learn from Beyoncé's epic Formation weekend

The same weekend the #RIPTwitter hashtag took over the social network, superstar Beyoncé changed the conversation on that very social network. Here are some things Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey could learn from the entertainer.

Ashlee Clark Thompson Associate Editor
Ashlee spent time as a newspaper reporter, AmeriCorps VISTA and an employee at a healthcare company before she landed at CNET. She loves to eat, write and watch "Golden Girls" (preferably all three at the same time). The first two hobbies help her out as an appliance reviewer. The last one makes her an asset to trivia teams. Ashlee also created the blog, AshleeEats.com, where she writes about casual dining in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ashlee Clark Thompson
5 min read

When in doubt, turn to Beyoncé. That's what Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey did Saturday after his series of damage-control tweets in response to #RIPTwitter.

Twitter users created the ominous hashtag over the weekend in response to claims that the microblogging site would adopt an algorithm-based timeline rather than the current reverse-chronological order display (tl;dr Twitter devotees don't like the idea).

Dorsey did his best to calm the aggravation, including a cringe-worthy promise to continue to keep Twitter "Twitter-y," before deftly changing the subject and linking to Beyoncé's new video, Formation, 5 minutes later.

I can't blame Dorsey for attempting to use the entertainment superstar's groundbreaking new video to take some of the heat off of his mentions. By 5 p.m. Saturday, my own timeline was more concerned with dissecting the messages in Beyoncé's video than debating the end of Twitter. And this is exactly why Dorsey should take a few lessons away from the superstar's Formation rollout.

Twitter has been trying a little bit of everything to lure new users to the platform, including a rumored plan to forgo the hallmark 140-character tweet limit in favor of 10,000 characters. But all these flashy attempts for change have started to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the 320 million people who actively use Twitter every month. Dorsey is in a bind: How can he honor the users who have stuck with Twitter for most of its 10-year existence while attracting new, young users?

Here's where Queen Bey comes in.

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That Gatesian confidence.


Beyoncé is notoriously stingy with her interviews. She waits years between albums, then drops them with little warning or promo. In theory, her arm's length approach to letting her fans in on her life and creative process should be a turn-off. Yet the singer/dancer/actress has a devoted and growing Beyhive that hangs on to her every lyric and hair flip. Her brand is strong and continues to evolve in response to the world around her. Dorsey could learn a thing or two from Beyoncé's approach to entertainment to halt the funeral of his company.

1. Know when to speak up and when to be quiet.

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

James Martin/CNET

As I mentioned earlier, you don't hear a lot from Beyoncé. She doesn't make the rounds of talk shows to promote her albums. You don't see her on every red carpet. This restraint in her media interactions makes her sound bites and red carpet appearances even more special because they are so sporadic, but substantive because she has enough time to craft the message she wants the public to consume. And her timing is impeccable -- Formation's debut Saturday worked up enough glee about her performance in the halftime show that many folks disregarded that Coldplay was the main act.

Dorsey doesn't have the same luxury of selective silence -- the CEO of a microblogging platform should use said platform regularly. But his Twitter timeline shows that he often relies on retweets from other users rather than his own original content. When he does tweet, it feels like damage control rather than a real conversation. Dorsey can't wait for a disaster to speak up -- he has to learn to engage at the right time with the users of his platform. And he can't wait hours after a hashtag begins to engage, either, as he did with #RIPTwitter.

2. When it's time to speak, have something to say.

Here are just some of the topics Formation covers in less than 5 minutes: police brutality, Hurricane Katrina, confidence in wide noses and Afros, pride in being black and Southern (there's even room for a Red Lobster name drop). Beyoncé and crew efficiently used all the real estate that this video could offer to deliver a socially conscious, timely message to an audience that would be enthralled with anything the artist offered.

Dorsey has 3.41 million followers who care what he tweets. He shouldn't come at them with promises to make Twitter more "Twitter-y," which would teeter on the verge of dad joke if he wasn't being serious. In fact, his series of #RIPTwitter response tweets managed to say a whole lot of nothing, 140 characters at a time.

When Dorsey speaks, he should actually answer questions and deliver substantive information to Twitter users have rather than delivering PR responses that don't really clarify concerns.

3. Give fans what they want.

Beyoncé fans want a show, and she delivers time after time with stunning choreography, outfits and on-point vocals as we saw at the Super Bowl halftime show. She knows what the fans want and she finds the perfect balance of giving it to them while simultaneously growing as an artist. Dorsey has to find that same balance with faithful Twitter users. Actively engage with users to find out what they like and don't like rather than making substantial changes to the platform without any feedback. If he does right by them, they can become his best recruiters to the platform.

4. Choose the right medium for the message.

The social issues Beyoncé explores in Formation would not have had the same impact on her audience without the striking visuals of the video: the dancers sporting Afros, the little black boy breakdancing in front of a line of police, the "Stop Shooting Us" graffiti. Think of how impactful it could've been for Dorsey to use Twitter-owned Periscope to talk to Twitter users about the changes he will (or won't) make. He has to understand that such a big change to Twitter calls for a more active dialogue with the longtime users and give newbies a chance to see the CEO in action.

5. Evolve steadily rather than all at once.

When Destiny's Child released their debut record in 1998, no one could have predicted that the lead singer of this R&B group would grow into a woman who dresses her backup dancers as Black Panthers in the middle of the most popular sports event in the country. But here we are, talking about Beyoncé, an artist who has become a woke, grown woman. Twitter shouldn't be the same as it was 10 years ago, and Dorsey is smart enough to know that. But like Beyoncé, you can't grow up overnight. Eventually, your fans and users will grow with you.