If anything, the turmoil of the last few months has highlighted the role the media has played in many of the challenges facing us in its pursuit of attention. Om Malik expresses the central issue well in his post titled “Two relevant thoughts about media”:
What I find ironic is that the a thinker in the 1950s and a pop-star in 1990 got everything so right, while media industry keeps coming up with explanations that increasingly sound hollow. Media (as an industry and as cultural barometer) has often tried to shift blame to others — cable, Internet, Facebook, Google, Fake News — but seldom takes into account its own role in accelerating the breakdown of social norms and values. It is chasing dollars and attention at any cost which has lead to where we are.
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.
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 –
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.
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.
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.
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.
At work here is what is called, variously, “social syndication” or “traffic exchange,” a technique increasingly in vogue among publishers looking to get their articles and brands in front of other readers. Publishers are measured by how many unique readers they can pull in, so working with a site that has a similar but not completely overlapping audience can help them extend the reach of their content. This is key now that Facebook is making it harder for publishers to reach readers organically. Publishers also say the deals help them fill in the gaps in their own social programming with stories that they didn’t or couldn’t write themselves, which is good for readers.
So, basically, publishers are returning to that old link economy model that made the blogosphere what it was but with a new name and, it seems, without trackbacks. I’d call this progress and a happy side effect for the open Web. It looks like the industry has also found religion with some old-fashioned sensibilities about audiences:
“That fiefdom-like thinking that ‘we own this audience and it’s ours only’ is very old media. It’s like people saying, ‘I only subscribe to The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times,’” said Daily Dot CEO Nick White. “It’s just not the right model anymore.”