Tag Archives: twitter

It’s not Tweets that impact box-office, it’s word-of-mouth

A new study has been released that shows just how much a tweet about a movie impacts the box-office results for that movie, according to Variety.

According to the study, the value of a Tweet on box-office is highest about a month out from release, around the same time serious advertising kicks in though obviously well after the release of the first trailer and other assets. The closer to the actual release date, the less it’s worth since, presumably, people are making longer-term decisions about what movies to see. And the farther out from release, the less other press there’s been about the movie, press which isn’t always positive.

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There are other factors – the sentiment of the Tweet obviously matters, as does a statement of intent or call to action, and things will vary from genre to genre. And there’s a common sense conclusion in the story about how the buzz that’s happening in the sweet spot identified here can help studios project box-office a bit.

Also of note in the story is the admission that each Tweet isn’t just a thing in and of itself. The people doing the research also gave it a value beyond the one person since it’s assumed, that opinion is shared by X number of people who haven’t spoken up themselves. What that multiplier might be isn’t stated outright, unfortunately.

As always with stories like this, though, the thing that comes to mind is that the focus is too firm on Twitter or other social platforms. So what’s labeled here as “Twitter buzz” or something similar is actually word-of-mouth. It’s people recommending a movie (or whatever else we might be discussing) to the people they know and who know them. And as study after study points out, people put a lot of value on what the people they know have to say and what they value.

That’s true of just about everything and is incredibly important to remember whenever discussing social media. Twitter, Facebook and other networks are just tools that facilitate the spread of word-of-mouth, which is often peer-to-peer in nature. They change the scale at which that happens, absolutely. But they usually don’t change the fundamental nature of the recommendations that are happening.

So when we talk about “how much is a Tweet worth” in regards to movie box-office, computer sales or anything else, keep in mind that this is all about word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth that’s scaled, sure, but it’s still just that.

Twitter isn’t a traffic generator so stop thinking it is

A lot of people today are discussing this piece by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Thompson takes issue with Twitter effectiveness as a traffic-driving platform, citing that it sends a minuscule number of click-throughs and that many of his tweets saw very low engagement numbers.

His take-down piece ends with this:

It’s fair to come away from these metrics thinking that Twitter is worthless. But that’s an unsophisticated conclusion. The more sophisticated takeaway is that Twitter is worthless for the limited purpose of driving traffic to your website, because Twitter is not a portal for outbound links, but rather a homepage for self-contained pictures and observations.

twitter-bird-blue-on-white.pngThe very thesis that Twitter is and should be a traffic-driving platform is not only a relatively recent development but also not backed-up by any rudimentary experience with it. For at least a couple years after it first launched Twitter wasn’t about “Look what I just published'” but more cleanly and clearly about conversation. It was about trading jokes, discussing topic and more and it wasn’t until the media companies and social media rockstars with their endless lists of tips came along that it became about the links.

Also, anyone who knows anything about Twitter knows that Twitter’s main feature – the Timeline – makes link traffic a sketchy proposition at best. If you look away from Twitter for more than 30 seconds you’re going to cycle through two or three complete rotations of your Timeline, meaning everything that was published in that time is lost to the stream unless you go chasing after it. So you’re dealing with an audience at the tail end of this chain:

All Twitter > Those Who Follow You > Those Who See Your Tweet > Those With the Time and Inclination to Click Your Link

That’s a pretty small subset and shows that Twitter, as anyone who’s run any sort of actual content program could tell you, isn’t going to be your big traffic generator. There are other reasons for that, but the arrangement of the unfiltered stream is the biggest. Certain things will sometimes take off on Twitter, sure. But it’s never, at least not in its current incarnation, going to be a major source of traffic to a story.

That’s not to say, though, that Twitter doesn’t have value for a publisher or individual writer. But that value isn’t always best expressed by click-throughs and site traffic. There’s brand awareness, there’s customer/reader loyalty and so much more. Engagement can and sometimes should be the primary goal.

Yes, Twitter wants to keep readers within its environment. That’s no surprise. Facebook has the same goal and both have made their desire to host more and more media content themselves very clear. That calls into question the entire idea of using social media as a traffic engine since the end goal seems to be to send none at all.

All of this is me spending a lot of time on an op-ed that has the shakiest of foundations: It’s a case study based on one individual’s experience and informed solely by their prejudices and opinions. That in and of itself would be grounds for discounting this without further analysis. But too many people over the last couple days have been giving this far more credence than it deserves.

Twitter makes its play for the casual user

twitter-bird-blue-on-white.pngTwitter has laid out what seem to be their plans for the first half of 2015. We can look forward to:

  • The ability to record, edit and share videos natively within the Twitter app. While they seem to say this will coexist alongside Vine it’s easy to take the next step and guess that Vine functionality may one day exist solely within Twitter and Vine cease to exist as a standalone app.
  • Further “experiments” with how “relevant” Tweets are surfaced in someone’s Timeline. The post certainly leaves the door wide open for the much-discussed algorithmic feed that would mimic Facebook’s to an extent but it also hints at giving you a prioritized recap snapshot for the period you were away from Twitter so you can catch up.
  • A way to fill up the Timelines for those people who haven’t put the legwork into following a bunch of people. It’s easy to expect that these “personalized” timelines will be to some degree filled with the accounts Twitter thinks someone will engage with most.
  • A revamped Direct Message experience. The end goal here seems to bring DMs more in line with other messaging apps, though details here are the light.

Put all of that together and you can see the company is focused on two audiences: Light/casual users and big media companies.

The first is absolutely being targeted with the changes that are being made to the timeline. While it’s still unclear as to whether those changes will be opt-in/out or not, the idea of seeing “top stories” immediately upon returning is meant to appeal to those who maybe don’t have Twitter open all day or who don’t have other ways they’re keeping up with the news. In fact, here Twitter may have an advantage over Facebook. If Twitter can indeed figure out how to surface stories that are important and not just highly-engaged with (as Facebook) does then it can retain its standing as the place people go for news while Facebook stays as the place for people who want to watch that Christmas ad with the penguins.

The second is being targeted because they’re the ones behind the accounts (along with celebrities) who are most likely to be used to fill in the Timelines of the people who don’t build their own. And even if a “top news” recap does skew more toward actual news, these are the accounts who are likely to be included in that recap. Finally, they’re going to be huge users of Twitter’s native video capabilities, particularly if (as rumored) it includes auto-play, which brands love and the audience loathes.

It remains to be seen how this will all play out, obviously. But now Twitter is on the record with where they’re heading in 2015. How all this will impact brand publishers can only be guessed at right now. There are certainly potential upsides (more exposure though the display of “important” updates) and downsides (if your posts stink they may not be deemed important *enough*), but the devil will be in the details. More certainly to come.

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.