What is Twitter good for?

Talk to the can

My post about my little family project attracted some attention after Ory Okolloh Mwangi retweeted it and it got me thinking about what Twitter is good for as a promotional and distribution tool. I wrote about Twitter engagement in May 2015 after reading Anil Dash’s post titled “Nobody Famous” and although I have a much smaller Twitter following, I had noticed similar trends.

Twitter engagement – much ado about nothing much

The tweet attracted a fair amount of attention for my tweets (my “routine” tweets attract about 10% to 25% of these impressions) and yet the actual click-through rate was about 1.2% with a total “engagement rate” of 3.5%. Remember that the “engagement rate” includes –

  • Media engagements;
  • Link clicks;
  • Detail expands;
  • Profile clicks;
  • Retweets; and
  • Likes.

Of those, the link clicks and retweets probably offer the most direct value (a single retweet was why the tweet attracted so much attention in the first place). The other forms of engagement are focused on the tweet itself and attached media, not the blog post I shared.

Some stats to illustrate a point.
Some stats to illustrate a point.

So what is Twitter good for given the relatively low, meaningful engagement? By “meaningful engagement” I mean engagement that leads people to the blog post I shared. That, after all, is how I have chosen to share my content – on my blog. The answer is probably “not much” if Twitter’s value is the extent to which it sends traffic to what you tweet about as opposed to focusing attention on itself.

The rumour that Twitter is going to expand tweets to 10,000 characters and discard its vaunted 140 character limit casts a different light on the relatively low, meaningful engagement rates you see on Twitter. What it means is that the impressions a tweet receives and the tweet-related engagement rates will become far more significant than the forms of engagement the lead users outside the Twitter ecosystem. It sounds obvious when you think about it but the implications are pretty profound. As Mathew Ingram pointed out in his article on Fortune titled “Here’s Why Twitter Wants to Expand to 10,000 Characters” –

If and when Twitter does roll out its 10,000-character feature, in other words, expect that to be quickly followed by a pitch to publishers like the Post and others to host their content entirely on Twitter, in return for a share of the advertising revenue and a commitment to help those articles go “viral.” Another step in the death of the link.

10,000 characters is quite a lot. It is enough space to write a short story and if Twitter provides sufficient text formatting options for publishers, Twitter could well become another walled garden fuelled by the amount of impressions its various promotional and distribution options can offer. It will become another closed ecosystem to tempt publishers increasingly threatened by the growing ad blocker phenomenon and a shift of content to Facebook and even Medium. I agree with Ingram that this sort of move really erodes the link, the basic currency of the open Web.

Hey IOL, it’s ok to link to Gareth Cliff’s blog post

What’s going to happen, then, is that the content landscape will be divided between the gleaming, closed cities of Facebook, Twitter, Medium and others and the vast wilderness populated by blogs, independent publishers and others who either go it alone or form alliances to survive. For those whose content lives in the new gleaming cities, life may seem pretty good but there will always be the lingering fear that comes with knowing that they’re just tenants and their new patrons make all the rules.

Speaking of the wilderness, I have noticed what seems to be a resurgence of interest in blogging and running independent platforms. I’m not sure if this is just confirmation bias but it almost feels as if the blogosphere is making a comeback. I really hope it is because this the blogosphere is going to be the only environment where engagement translates into actual views of your content, not just some distributed flyer advertising your content. It could also become the only environment where you will have an opportunity to see all the content you want to see, how you want to see it (remember RSS?) and not the content someone else’s algorithm thinks you should see.

So, if I am right about all of this, what is Twitter good for? For that matter, what are Facebook, Medium, Snapchat and other social services good for? They have to attract publishers or they’ll have nothing to offer users but their primary focus isn’t publishers, it’s whatever it takes to keep users coming back and that will be at the expense of publishers who want pretty much the same thing, although ideally using good quality content. This doesn’t mean that publishers and social networks are aligned, at least not in the medium to long term. At some point their interests will clash and those walled gardens will start to feel like prisons.

Image source: Pexels, released under a CC0 Dedication

Social media enthusiast, writer, strategist and photographer. Inbound Marketing Specialist. Passionate about my wife, Gina and #proudDad. Allergic to stupid

1 Comment

  1. I have found < 2% "engagement" to be more or less average, even for accounts with 20K+ followers.

    I personally think posting long form content to Facebook or Twitter will result in fewer people seeing the content, than if it were just on a blog, as it will probably receive a similar level of engagement as a Tweet or short post.

    Social Media is great for listening but it's not great for getting the message out as such a small percentage of the people we're connected to actually see what we post.

    I've found blog content tends to receive ongoing views, over the long term, without spending additional time promoting it. Social Media posts, even if they are not auto-deleted, tend to be more ephemeral.

What do you think?

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