Tag Archives: twitter

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.

Very few of us are talking to…well…anyone

This is a super-interesting look at the number of Twitter accounts and how many people are actually hearing what people are saying:

In comparative terms, almost nobody on Twitter is somebody: the median Twitter account has a single follower. Among the much smaller subset of accounts that have posted in the last 30 days, the median account has just 61 followers. If you’ve got a thousand followers, you’re at the 96th percentile of active Twitter users.

via Tweets loud and quiet – O’Reilly Radar.

Two things of note:

First – Almost every brand account on Twitter would, by this measure, fall into the 98th or higher percentile. Which should help you provide some context the next time your client is hassling you about the size of the Twitter network you’re building.

Second – What this study doesn’t look at is a number that’s been occasionally promised but which has yet to surface: The number of people who actually saw a tweet. By which I mean, sure, I have 2,400+ Followers right now, but only a percentage of those people are A) Still active on Twitter or B) Actively looking at Twitter when I publish. So of that 2,400+ group, maybe 5% actually sees what I publish at any given time. That sort of detail would help brand publishers not only gauge their ideal publishing times but also provide some additional context to existing engagement metrics.

Everyone wants to help you distribute your photos

First up we have Twitter:

For the first time, you can share and view photos via direct message (DM) on your mobile phone. We’ve also introduced a new tab in the navigation bar that makes it easy to access DMs –– they’re just one tap away from wherever you are on Twitter. You can also view photos in DMs on twitter.com.

Then we have Instagram:

There are, however, moments in our lives that we want to share, but that will be the most relevant only to a smaller group of people—an inside joke between friends captured on the go, a special family moment or even just one more photo of your new puppy. Instagram Direct helps you share these moments.

Both of these seem like solutions to a problem that may not exist outside the heads of executives who are concerned about losing users to Snapchat and other photo-messaging services. But both also seem like they’re not quite the solution to stem that tide.

Twitter’s is a bit wonky in that you still have to use the Direct Message functionality, the main problem of which is that it takes you outside the core Twitter stream experience. Instagram’s is a bit better in that it’s presented as another option when publishing the photo.

Both, though, don’t answer the core question of “How is this better than what I’m using right now?” Basically, how are these options a better choice for people who would otherwise text, SMS or whatever those photos to their friends?

For brands the answer is at least a bit clearer on the Instragram front. It’s easy to imagine how a brand publisher could Instagram Direct as a way to reach out to influencers with exclusive artwork, a first look at a product or something like that.

Either way, it’s obvious the social network powers that be are looking to get in on the direct photo-sharing game. Let’s see what comes of it in 2014.