Tag Archives: twitter

Twitter takes next step toward curated, algorithmic Timelines

Twitter_512x512Twitter yesterday published this post about their continued “experimentation” with people’s Timelines. Specifically they are looking to keep finding ways to bring in tweets that you “might miss out on” but which may be interesting to you. And here’s how, according to the post, they’re going to make that determination:

  • Activity on accounts you already follow
  • Popularity of the Tweets
  • How people are interacting with those Tweets

But then it ends with this thought:

“As the timeline evolves, we will continue to show you Tweets you care about when they matter most.”

I completely understand what Twitter is trying to do. They want to make the experience, specifically the on-domain experience, more engaging for new and non-power users by bringing up material they feel is relevant. So they’re using those signals (and whatever else) to judge what people are mostly likely to find interesting and, as they say, fill holes in the Timeline with those posts.

But the problem is that the final statement quoted above doesn’t jive with the idea of an algorithmic feed. By definition an algorithmic feed shows the posts *other people* care about, making the assumption that by association you will as well. If other people find it interesting you will too, so we’re showing it to you is the logic.

Let’s start with a simple premise: Social networks, when you first set up a profile, are an opt-in mechanism. If I want to get updates from X (where X can be either an individual, a brand or a fictional character) then I will take the positive action of clicking the Follow/Like/Subscribe button. These are the updates I want to see because, for whatever reason, they’re important or interesting to me.

Then one of two things happen: Either users keep following more and more accounts until their feed gets overwhelmed or they decide that, nope, that’s good and stop at just a select few. (Note that I’m excluding those who completely give up, either deleting their account or abandoning it and becoming “Inactive” accounts.)

Those in the second group may not feel any need to see more posts. They’re good where they are and anything additional is likely to be confusing and unwelcome. For those who fall into first group, tools already exist to help them determine a good signal-to-noise ratio, most notably Lists. But Lists are something that’s not a great user experience either on-domain or through Twitter’s native mobile/desktop apps. The best option there is Tweetdeck or an outside tool like Hootsuite. There are options though.

Plenty of us like the stream, even if we also use tools that allow us to curate based on our interests. The key, though, is that those tools are in our control. If I want to remove someone from a List I can. I don’t need – nor do I want – Twitter determining who it feels I should see as important. Just because something is popular among the people I follow doesn’t mean I need to see it. NYU’s Jay Rosen has dubbed it the “Ice Bucket Feed” since it’s more likely to show posts that have been engaged with by others, as the Ice Bucket Challenge was on Facebook, but engagement doesn’t automatically translate into importance.

To be clear, I’m not against Twitter trying to increase engagement and subsequent usage. But, as I’ve stated before, it needs to at the very least have an opt-out option that’s permanent until I say otherwise. One of the constant frustrations is every day going to Facebook and LinkedIn and changing them to “most recent” as opposed to the feed that shows what it thinks I’d be most interested in. I don’t want to outsource what I see to these networks.

Twitter needs not just active users but ad revenue

Twitter_512x512John McDuling at Quartz says Twitter is closer to fixing the problem of what to do with its passive audience – i.e. those who see tweets but never log in and create themselves – but I don’t think he actually says what that solution might be.

The “problem” is that people are engaging with Twitter or seeing updates from Twitter in ways that don’t translate into them becoming active users. Or, for that matter, that they aren’t even registering to become users int the first place. So they may see a tweet embedded on another page or something but that doesn’t prompt them to actually get onto Twitter and get involved themselves.

McDuling offers one suggestion for making things a bit more welcoming for people with the idea of providing a curated Timeline around a single event/theme like the World Cup. That makes a lot of sense and Twitter has played around with ideas like that both on their own and with the ability to create Custom Timelines, though that’s something that’s only available on the power-user tool Tweetdeck. But it makes sense to continue this notion and offer someone like the NFL the ability to add a custom experience for, say, Bears fans at NFL.com/TwitterBears or something like that. Bring in curated tweets, offer custom video and so on. Make it a destination.

But I think McDuling overlooks something big: Ads. While user acquisition is certainly an important thing they should be focusing on I think Twitter also needs to look at ways to monetize the logged-out user experience. I’m not more a fan of advertising than anyone else, meaning I tolerate it as a necessary tool that’s in place so that I can enjoy “free” entertainment and other content. But now that Twitter is a public company I don’t think they can continue to hold Wall Street’s interest by just focusing on how to get more people to sign up. There will always be X percentage of people who are never going to sign up, so the company needs to figure out how to still make money on those individuals.

An algorithmic Twitter is a very different tool

Twitter_512x512I think it’s hard to estimate just how greatly the Twitter experience would change if, as reported, the social network shifts to an algorithm-driven Timeline.

While everyone has reacted very strongly to this, particularly in the PR and media worlds, I’m trying to take a more cautious approach for the time being, at least until we know more. After all, this may be something we can turn off if we opt to, in which case it impacts my personal experience not a whit.

Despite the lack of insights as to how this might work (though we can take some guesses based on how Twitter has started showing random Favorited tweets in people’s feeds) there are some areas I’ve been thinking about and which I’ve seen others begin to speculate on:

For brand publishers the impact could be huge, either positively or negatively. On the upside, brand tweets usually see higher engagement levels than those from individuals. So this could be a good thing, surfacing those updates in more people’s feeds and increasing their exposure. But, as we’ve all seen from Facebook in the last year or so, algorithms can be manipulated by the networks that put them in place to their own ends and based on their priorities as a company, not based on the best interests of the audience.

Misinformation would take much longer to disapprove. Think about the last time there was a major news event and how things went down on Twitter. There was the initial blast of sketchy facts followed by a period where details became more and more clear until the real story was clear. But how much longer did those initial inaccurate tweets still appear in your timeline as people just catching up on things shared the news? It’s been my experience that the initial, inaccurate stuff sees much higher engagement than the later corrections. So if items are being ranked on engagement there’s the possibility the garbage will be given priority over the later updates. That’s a real problem that Facebook faces now and it would be a shame to see Twitter go down this same route.

Time-shifting would denigrate the value of the real-time feed. Again, think about what the current Facebook experience is: Your Newsfeed is probably a mix of posts ranging anywhere from the previous hour to five days ago. So instead of getting the real-time experience of what’s happening *now* Twitter would become another platform that’s a random mix of what *has* happened. And that degrades one of the core components of Twitter.

The begging for Favs or RTs would get out of hand quickly, likely leading to some sort of crackdown on the practice, which would mean the value of those points in the algorithm would have to be thrown into question, making said algorithm just that much more mysterious. And the use of media – photos and videos – that usually create higher levels of engagement might have to be curtailed by the algorithm since it could be seen as gaming the system by publishers.

The biggest part of Twitter that would benefit from this is the “lean back experience.” So the people who would get the most out of this are those who follow mostly celebrities and stars of some sort. Celebrity tweets are off-the-charts in terms of engagement and are usually not very timely, making them perfect for an algorithm-based format. So the extreme casual user is the biggest beneficiary of this, which is entirely the point.

In short this is a can of worms that I don’t really think Twitter wants to open. I understand it’s doing this out of a desire to make the experience more friendly for new or light users. Which is why this needs to be either an opt-in or opt-out experience, likely the latter since a new user isn’t going to know they need to opt-out of an impure feed.

Twitter is messy. While it’s a corporately-owned, centrally-managed tool the “how” of Twitter has almost always been in the hands of the users. I use Lists, other people don’t. Someone else is really into hashtag tracking, that’s not my thing. I use Tweetdeck, other people only use Twitter on their mobile devices. Innovations that are core to the experience like hashtags, @mentions and so on have all bubbled up from the user base, not from the company itself until they co-opted them and made them into feature sets. I get that it’s exactly that messiness that keeps some people at arms’ length, sticking with following Britney Spears and Zac Efron and that’s it. But it’s also exactly that messiness that makes it such a wonderful place. Yeah, you miss a lot if you’re not paying attention, but that has to be OK. Corporate decision-making cannot be held captive to some people’s fear of missing out.

As I said on Twitter (of course) the other day, it’s never been a place where I was concerned about finding news I *needed.* I have RSS for that and have actually just gone and added subscriptions to some sites I felt I was missing out on. It’s been a place where I found news that other people thought was interesting enough. If I missed something, well, them’s the breaks. But I like weird, messy Twitter a lot more than I like Facebook, where a group of engineers in California are making judgements about what should or shouldn’t be important to me without my input at all. That’s a level of control I’m not ready to give up, which is why I like RSS feeds so much. And for those who complain that they can’t manage everyone they’re following on Twitter, the solution isn’t this. It’s the Unfollow button, which is the best mechanism at hand right now to help you define your own signal-to-noise comfort level.

Twitter’s Mute Is Bad News for Brand Reach

twitter-bird-blue-on-white.pngLast week Twitter rolled out a new feature that’s as much good news for the everyday user as it is potentially bad news for brand publishers: The new Mute button will allow people to essentially hide updates from an account that they feel over-publishes or has otherwise become an annoyance more than a source of new, interesting and engaging material. This may be that person you met at the airport last week and who you now know is a fan of the most extreme theories on every topic. Or, more troubling for brand publishers, a brand account that someone has now lost interest in.

What’s problematic for brand publishers are a couple of things:

First off, some metrics will stay the same while others could change drastically. The number of people Following an account will, presumably, remain the same but the number of people who are actually seeing those updates will be much less, thus making that Followers metric even dicier than it was before.

Followers have always been a weak number since it never truly represented the number of people who see published updates. Reach has been slightly better, but even it isn’t perfect. That’s why it’s been so necessary for so long that Twitter start providing better native metrics that better show the number of users for whom a particular Tweet was actually loaded or something similar.

Second, there does not appear to be a way to see who’s muted an account’s updates or how many have done so. There’s an opportunity here for a metric that, while it may not be the most positive, is still an important number to learn from. After all, these are people who have signaled, in a round-about way, that an account is still important to them even if they don’t want to receive their updates.

Along with that, there’s no way to contact these people outside of a DM, which may not be welcome considering they’ve muted the account now trying to DM them. So there’s no way to ask them what the reason behind the Mute was or make an appeal for them to come back. That means not only is a lot of interesting feedback being left on the table, but that person may not ever think to unmute an account unless they see it in someone else’s update.

With all that in mind, this is a good time for brand publishers to take another look at their Twitter publishing strategy and make sure it’s working, not just for themselves but for the audience as well. This is a question publishers should be asking regularly, but given how the audience now has a whole new way of signaling their discontent with content volume, tone, topic or other factors.

Twitter updates coming to theater pre-shows

Trending and interesting entertainment content from Twitter and Vine are about to start showing up on movie theater screens thanks to a deal between Twitter and National CineMedia, according to Variety.

The deal will add a segment to NCM’s “First Look” pre-movie programming that will include curated material from Twitter and Vine, the latter being owned by the former.

While I have issues with the NCM side of this – I don’t know why mainstream media outlets like this, MSNBC or others think pulling in social media will somehow help them be more relevant – it makes a ton of sense for Twitter. For that company this marks a big stake in the ground in the fight against Facebook (and so some extent Tumblr) as they battle for supremacy in the media conversation circle. Each one wants to be *the* place people talk about movies, TV shows and more. If Twitter can get the content people are publishing there in front of a big audience it goes along way toward that goal, as well as the more fundamental “What is Twitter?” issue that has hampered mainstream adoption.

Twitter feeds your ego to get your attention

An interesting experiment from Twitter that’s meant to make you feel good about how you’re doing with your publishing there. On the one hand this makes a lot of sense, even if it is about three years late to the “gamification” trend. On the other, this is so clearly going to be primarily interesting to super-duper power users (who are likely already doing alright engagement-wise) it’s hard to see this having much value for others.

Twitter has begun experimenting with an account, called @AchievementBird, that will direct message you ‘achievements’ that you earn with your tweets. The account is protected but has granted follows in the past few days.

via Twitter Toys With Ways To Boost Engagement With ‘@AchievementBird’ Experiment | TechCrunch.

Twitter Achievement Bird

Digital/Social’s role in marketing and forecasting

If I were still writing MMM on a regular basis I could have a field day with this story about social media’s impact and usefulness in not only movie marketing but box office prognostication.

Twitter has claimed a decent impact on water cooler conversations, Buzzfeed has reinvented (or at least smartly repackaged) native advertising and Tumblr has used the momentum after its acquisition by Yahoo to position itself as the new echo chamber for fan engagement. Budgets have been steadily shifting towards digital media, and digital savvy has become the new must-have. Overall levels of relevance, mass reach, sophistication and smart spending have increased tremendously in 2013.

via Digital Data on December Movie Releases: 47 Ronin, Anchorman 2, More | Variety.