Behind the scenes with user research: How we run research with influencers and celebrities

By ‎@xsvengoechea‎
Thursday, 24 September 2015

It’s not every day you get to chat with celebrities for your job, but Simona De Rosa, a Twitter researcher based in London, gets to do just that. She works with media influencers on behalf of our teams in the US and UK. We sat down with Simona to learn how she got interested in research and design, how she made the shift to working with influencers, and what’s the hardest part of her job.

What do you work on at Twitter?
I do research on Twitter influencers, or people and entities with a verified badge. These might include celebrities, journalists, newsrooms, bands, artists, politicians, writers, actors, and movie directors. Influencers tend to have a lot of followers and therefore have different needs than other Twitter users. Originally, Twitter was not designed with these users in mind, and how they use Twitter is quite different from most people. As more influencers join our platform, we are interested in learning how we can better support their needs. Though influencers are a very small fraction of Twitter user base, we care about designing a product that works for all our user communities.

I work closely with designers, product managers and engineers to understand how influencers engage and interact with other people on Twitter, what they need from our product, and how we can create a delightful user experience for them.

Does this mean I do research with celebrities? Yes, it does. Most of the time, I have to reach people wherever and whenever they’re available: in the middle of a photo shoot, squeezed in between a press interview and a makeup session, or at their desk in one of the world’s busiest newsrooms.

Behind the scenes with user research: How we run research with influencers and celebrities

@derosimona in one of our influencer’s office, running a “user test” with his dog

What have you learned about doing research with influencers?
Influencers are a small subset of people using Twitter, so from a research point of view there are a few challenges. The first is that you need to be flexible when recruiting. Ideally you’d like your research criteria fully respected but given that there are only a handful individuals on earth with those criteria, you have to be a little flexible without giving up too much on rigor.

Second, you need to plan three times the normal time allocated for a study because influencers are crazy busy and difficult to schedule for a chat. At the same time, when planning to go into the field, I keep my calendar completely open. Whenever they can meet with us, we run and meet them, wherever they are. The upside is that we get to see them in action in their own environment, and how they use our product in real life, with real-world constraints.

I’ve also learned that journalists are the toughest to interview. Given that they are professionals at running interviews themselves, they are really good at pushing back on questions. It takes a little longer for journalists than other influencers to open up.

Behind the scenes with user research: How we run research with influencers and celebrities

Simona’s field kit: recorder, notebook, and a tote to carry it all wherever an interview takes her.

What interests you about working with these influencers?
No matter how long and how much effort it takes to schedule research with them, it’s incredibly rewarding to see these people in action using our platform daily in different ways. Influencers get more notifications than the rest of us, so they use their timeline differently from the way you and I might. Some influencers favorite every single Tweet they get from fans, and others check what their bandmates Tweet first.

Seeing influencers head to their Twitter notification timeline when they find a few free minutes during their busy day to reply and post Tweets to their fans = <3 <3 <3

What are you most looking forward to next?
I’m excited about our growing research team. There is an inspiring future ahead of us as we build up team processes and culture. I’m also really excited to continue my mission as a researcher for our influencers. It’s still new and unexplored territory, and we have a ton to learn from them.

Check back with our blog regularly for more behind-the-scenes stories about the products we’re designing and the people behind them at Twitter Design.