Something strange is happening in the world of Twitter. For well over a year my average Twitter impressions count has hovered at 2.0K impressions per day. (Twitter defines an impression as anytime a Twitter user sees your Tweet.) I’ve never seen that figure deviate by more than 5% (i.e. between 1.9 — 2.1K) for a long time.
And then, starting at the beginning of March, I’ve watched my daily impression count steadily rise to 2.7K per day. Every time I check, it’s gone up. That’s a 35% increase in one month!
I haven’t changed my tweeting activity in any way recently. I continue to post each day:
One tweet about my latest blog post
One tweet for each of an assorted selection of 8 of my older blog posts;
A tweet or two about my upcoming Participate! workshop; and
A few mentions or retweets of other users I find interesting.
All my other Twitter monthly count statistics: engagements, link clicks, retweets, likes, and replies are essentially unchanged.
Yet Twitter insists that suddenly, 35% more people are seeing my tweets!
I would like to think that I’ve suddenly become 35% more interesting, but I doubt that’s what’s going on.
Is anyone else seeing this? Any ideas about what could be happening?
A social media (SM) platform feed that is not a chronological list of all posts, and only those posts.
I am sick of social media platforms deciding for me what I should see. (Read this entire post for a rare exception.)
Every major social media platform started with a simple chronological feed of all the posts from all the people you chose to follow/be “friends” with.
But every platform subsequently FUBARed their social media feed. They dropped some posts entirely, and added content that you had never asked for.
Facebook’s news feed has been FUBARed since 2009.
YouTube has been messing around with search ranking of videos since 2012.
LinkedIn’s homepage feed became FUBARed in 2016, when the company folded in its “Pulse” content.
Twitter’s timeline got FUBARed in 2016. (You can turn off their adding “tweets you are likely to care about most”, but they still insert tweets “we think you might be interested in” into your timeline.)
Instagram stopped chronologically listing posts in 2016.
Google Plus has fussed around with its home feed algorithm for several years, but it doesn’t matter because — and I wish this wasn’t true — Google Plus is dead.
Here are three reasons SM channels do this. Feel free to add more in the comments. They:
Want to add sponsored paid content (aka advertisements) so they can make money.
Want to create incentives (like “boosting” your Facebook posts) to pay them to let more people see your posts.
Know that some of their users — the ones who “friend” or “follow” everyone — would quickly withdraw from their service if the resulting torrent of requested posts were actually provided.
No one likes reason #1 but we understand why SM platforms do it. They need to make money to stay in business. Fair enough.
Reason #2 is really damaging to the concept of a SM channel as a reliable communications tool. Old media doesn’t have this option: when you buy the paper or watch TV you receive the same content as everyone else. But today, two users who follow the exact same people on Facebook may see very different feeds, thanks to Facebook’s secret and ever-changing algorithm. Essentially, Facebook makes the feed unreliable so the company can make additional revenues. I find this unreliability infuriating, and it’s why I use Facebook as little as possible.
Reason #3 is understandable — but what’s annoying is there’s no way to turn this behavior off! It would be easy for SM channels to default to their algorithmic filtering but provide an option for users to say, “Just give me everything I’ve said I wanted to see. Yes, I know I’ll still get all the ads you insert, but I’d really like not to miss anything else.” I guess that they worry too many people would choose to see everything, and the incentive for organizations to pay them to boost content eyeballs would be reduced. In fact, I suspect that only a small percentage of users (like me) would pick this option.
Ultimately, I want a social media channel that doesn’t filter. I suspect I’m not alone. Let me pick what I want to see, and let me see it. All of it.
Is that too much to ask?
A reward for those who’ve read this far — an unFUBARed SM feed!
I know one way to get an unFUBARed SM feed. From Twitter, no less — use Twitter Lists! If you create a private Twitter list of people whose tweets you want to see, you can view the resulting stream on Twitter at https://twitter.com/YourTwitterID/lists/NameOfYourList or via other Twitter clients like TweetDeck and the list is chronological and unfiltered! (Please don’t tell ’em; they’d probably FUBAR it immediately.)
Do you know other ways to get unFUBARed SM feeds? Feel free to share in the comments!
The effectiveness of Twitter as a connective social media channel is declining
In July I wrote about why 2017 is a tipping point for Twitter, noting that the rate at which users follow established accounts has slowed dramatically. As the year draws to a close I’m seeing further evidence that conversations in the twittersphere are drying up too.
After years of predictable behavior, Twitter analytics reveal that something strange is going on with how Twitter is used.
Something is happening to Twitter, but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?
I started tweeting 12 years ago. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Twitter would turn out to be the most important way for people to discover my work and for me to connect with thousands of kindred souls all over the world who share my specialized interests. Over time, Conferences That Work grew into a website with ten million page views per year.
But as 2016 drew to a close I noticed that something was changing in the Twitter world. Here’s a graph of my follower count over time:
What I’ve noticed about my Twitter analytics over the last nine months
Since I began posting in June 2009, the graph shows that I consistently added between two to three followers per day — until around September 2017. At that point, highlighted by the red circle, there was an unusual increase to ~six followers/day for the remainder of 2016, followed by a sudden flattening that has persisted through the first half of 2017 to less than one follower/day.
In 2017 I’ve also noticed a dramatic reduction in the number of retweets I’ve been receiving. Though I haven’t had time to develop quantitative statistics, it looks to me as though in 2017 retweets have been replaced to a large extent with likes, (though the frequency of mentions seems more or less unchanged).
Why are these changes happening?
I’ll begin with a caution that everything that follows is ultimately speculative. I can’t say definitively what is going on, and can think of multiple plausible reasons for these significant changes. For example:
My experience may not be representative of other Twitter users. A sudden surge of engagement with my posts during Q4 2016, was followed by a rapid loss of interest.
The US election results caused more people to visit Twitter for a few months, but attention eventually shifted to the continuous torrent of breaking news at the expense of general engagement.
Twitter user growth has been flattening for some time as per the graph below; my 2016 EOY bump is reflected in the graph’s Q1 2017 bump, but future official statistics will show little continued active growth.
In retrospect, 2016-2107 will be seen as a period when late adopters continued to join Twitter, but a critical mass of active users concluded that engagement on the platform was not for them and moved to other social media platforms (I’m thinking Instagram for one). Although Twitter seems to be doing well in percentage market share of social networking site visits, as per the statistics below, it’s becoming more a site that users visit for breaking news — engagement is moving to other platforms.
What do I think is actually going on?
I’d put my money mainly on #4 above. Perhaps this Twitter analytics trend has been accelerated by #2’s associated flood of U.S. breaking news (61% of my followers are in the United States). It will be interesting to see if the trend continues, which may help to shine more light on what, to me, are changes that are interesting and important for anyone who uses Twitter for connection, content marketing, and engagement.
What do you think is going on? Add your ideas in the comments below!
Friends don’t let friends give away their original content to third-party platforms
I’ve been saying this for years, but do people listen? No they don’t. Don’t give away control of your content.
Let me be clear, by all means share your content for free on any of the gazillion social media platforms available. And if you can get paid appropriately for creating content for others, good for you. Otherwise, make sure that your content remains under your control. Don’t give away control of your content.
Why? Well, here are a few reminders:
Geocities was once the third most visited site on the internet. 38 million user-built pages! Nothing but a distant memory now, unless you live in Japan.
Remember when your friends saw everything you posted on Facebook? Not any more, unless you pay up.
Ah, those glorious days when you posted something in a LinkedIn group and a significant number of people would read it! Long gone.
Now the blog host site Medium announces a layoff of a third of its staff. There are millions of posts on the site. Will Evan Williams pull the plug some day? Will social journalism survive? Who knows?
Get the picture? Posting your original content exclusively on someone else’s platform puts you at their mercy. Don’t do it!
Though this route involves more work and/or money than posting on a third-party platform, you:
Control your own content. You can add, edit, delete, and control comments on it at any time.
Determine how your content is presented. Want to insert an offer for your services or products in the middle of a blog post? No problem.
Retain full rights to your content. (One example: the rights to anything you post to Huffington Post belongs to them. And they don’t even pay you for the privilege of writing for them!)
Build your own brand, authority, and SEO, not that of a third-party site.
Maintain access to your content. If your web hosting service goes bankrupt or is unsatisfactory, you can transfer your content to a new host. As long as the internet is up and you pay your hosting service, your content will be available.
Seven years ago I started the website you’re reading. As expected, hardly anyone visited initially. As I steadily added content (at least once per week) viewership grew. According to my weblogs, this site is now one of the most popular websites on meeting design and related issues, with 31 million page views to date, 25 million of which were made in the last three years.
As a result, this website is now the largest source of client inquiries for my consulting and facilitating services — something I would never have predicted when it went live in 2009. And the ever-growing body of articles on this blog and the inbound links to them continue to build my brand, authority, and SEO.
Are you attempting to build social media followers by drive-by following—i.e. following a batch of new accounts every day, waiting a day or two, and then unfollowing the accounts that don’t follow you back? STOP THAT! You are trashing your brand on social media.
Many people with social media bios designed to project a professional image destroy their credibility by using this “strategy”.
I suspect these are people that would never stoop to buying followers or likes. And yet ~30% of my daily new Twitter followers are drive-by followers.
Why drive-by following doesn’t work
Drive-by following backfires because it ensures that I’m extremely unlikely to want to have any kind of social media connection with you.
Here’s how it works on Twitter, my most important social media platform. I do my best to read the profile of every new follower. Rarely will I follow back right away unless you’re someone I know. Birdbrain, the excellent app I use to track Twitter followers, also shows anyone who’s unfollowed me. That’s where I get to notice that you’ve drive-by unfollowed me, typically within 48 hours of your initial follow. That’s when I make a mental note that you’re not a serious user of social media, just someone chasing a high follower count.
Instead, follow for a bit and post interesting stuff (I admit that mentions and RTs of me are nice too!) I may well follow you back.
What’s worse than drive-by following? Repeated drive-by following! I routinely see accounts commit multiple drive-bys, usually a week or so apart. My conclusion: either you are using a second-rate automated drive-by service, or you have a memory even worse than mine (which is saying something). Either way, your attempt to get me to follow you back is even less likely to succeed.
So, stop trashing your brand on social media! If you want to use social media as an effective marketing platform, don’t broadcast stuff about yourself all the time. Don’t implement elaborate plans solely designed to maximize your followers. Instead, post interesting stuff (both yours and others) and interact with people. Keep doing this. Over time, if you’re doing a good job, your followers will grow and be genuinely interested in your social media presence, and your brand recognition and value will increase.
It’s usually nice to be noticed. But when the attention is coming from blog content spammers, you may feel a little differently. The rapid growth of pageviews of this blog (on track for ~4.5M views in 2014) has coincided with an ever-increasing volume of comment spam, those irritating blog comments that promise you $79/hour working from home!, Dior fashions at low prices!, and the best lawyer in Podunk!
Currently I’m receiving over 250 comments like these a day, so I’m happy to pay Akismet $60/year for their Pro Blogger service that almost perfectly throws them into a spam folder. I say “almost perfectly”, because Akismet doesn’t handle a rarer form of comment spam, trackback spam. Trackback spam add links to your content onto a page spammers want people to visit. Trackbacks can be useful to see who is linking to your content, so I don’t want to ignore every trackback link. Unfortunately this means that you have to look at every trackback and manually move spam comments to the spam queue, an irritating multi-step procedure in WordPress. I started seeing increasing quantities of trackback spam over the last few months, so I’ve added a plugin Simple Trackback Validation with Topsy Blocker that seems to be doing a good job automatically moving trackback spam to the spam queue.
One more observation. Bloggers like me have to spend time and money keeping this crud off their posts. But there’s another victim of these sleazy attempts to plaster low-quality SEO slime over the internet. I notice lots of spam links to small obscure businesses. I wonder how many of them are being fleeced by jerks who promise to increase traffic to their website. And the business owners never know that the fleecer is spraying comment spam to make those stats rise.
“What does matter, however, is how many people notice you, either through retweets, favorites or the holy grail, a retweet by someone extremely well known, like a celebrity.”
She then laments: “Twitter is starting to feel calcified, slowed down by the weight of its own users, cumbersome, less exciting than exhausting“.
Most of the comments on her post go even further than Jenna, smugly dismissing Twitter as a waste of time—unless you’re a narcissist.
“I can handle Twitter because it is irrelevant.” “…this writer sums up exactly how I feel about social media in general, not just Twitter. This whole idea of likes and followers — it’s like setting up one’s business based on some vacuous high school popularity contest. Are we grown ups or not?” “Brevity may be the soul of wit, but I find little soul in twit. (er)”
—The three most popular comments on Jenna’s article
When you see Twitter solely as a broadcast tool, you are overlooking its most important use: as a tool for discovery, conversation and connection.
On this site I write about a niche topic: participant-driven and participation-rich events. For me, Twitter has turned out to be the most important way for people to discover my work and for me to discover and connect with thousands of kindred souls from all over the world who share my specialized interests. When I began this website 12 years ago, I discovered that traditional search engine optimization was useless because no one was searching for the new ideas I was writing about. Today, with ten million annual page views, I’ve found that the core value of Twitter comes from its ability to discover and connect with geographically dispersed individuals with whom I have something important in common.
How to use Twitter effectively
If you’re not a celebrity, you need to use Twitter effectively. Twitter becomes powerful when you use it for appropriate two-way communication and connection, not broadcast.
You can’t have a conversation with a million people on Bieber’s antics. But you can have a valuable conversation with smaller numbers of people who are interested in a more specialized topic, and who find each other through appropriate use of hashtags.
For example, there is a community of event professionals on Twitter who tag their tweets with #eventprofs. This community also uses a host of other hashtags related to their interests, professional affiliations, upcoming events, etc. This soup of appropriately tagged tweets provides a great way for those interested to discover what is happening and talk about it. One beauty of Twitter is that all these tweets are public and searchable. So it’s easy for newcomers to the profession to discover interesting information and peers on their own schedule.
Yes, over the years the #eventprofs hashtag has been used increasingly by people who view Twitter as a broadcast medium. They pump out “listen-to-me” tweets while rarely or never responding to anyone else or retweeting interesting material. So Jenna is right that the amount of noise on Twitter has increased. That’s the inevitable tragedy of a social media commons where posting costs nothing but the poster’s time. I don’t dismiss this noise lightly. It makes finding interesting tweets harder. There can come a point when you decide that the effort to filter is just not worth it any more.
The power of the hashtag
What has happened in the event community as a result of increasing noise is the creation of more specialized hashtags for smaller niche groups. Because anyone can create and use a new hashtag, it’s possible for a community to coalesce around a useful hashtag. Hashtags are flexible Twitter tools that anyone or any group can use.
I like that I get to decide how Twitter works for me. Unlike Facebook there are no secret, ever-changing algorithms deciding what I should see. Yes, it’s work to filter the fire hose of information that Twitter serves up; the daunting collective output of currently over 200 million monthly active Twitter users sending 500 million tweets per day. But when you use Twitter effectively, you can reap the benefits of meeting and connecting successfully with people who are of value—value that you get to choose.
Last month Twitter quietly rolled out some very useful free analytics tools. I say quietly, because I’ve seen very little discussion of them online. Perhaps that’s because they have not been made available to everyone yet. Whatever the reason, they have been eye-opening for me, so I’m sharing my initial impressions here.
Here’s how to access Twitter’s new tools. You’ll find them on the Analytics menu on the Twitter Ads page, as shown in the above screenshot. This page requires you to turn off any ad-blocker you have running in order to load—fair enough!
If you see an Analytics menu (at the time of writing not everyone does) you’re in luck. There are two options: Timeline Activity and Followers. Pick the former and you’ll see something like the graphic above.
The Timeline shows statistics about your last thirty days of tweets. What is most interesting to me is the number of clicks on any link included in a tweet. Traditionally, social media mavens tend to focus on how many times tweets are retweeted and mentioned, and obviously that’s important. But I had no idea how popular some of my tweets were in terms of people clicking on embedded links. Much of my content is narrowly niche-focused, so I generally don’t see a lot of retweets. But conferencesthatwork.com receives over two million page views a year, and those hits come from somewhere. What these Twitter analytics show me is that many people are clicking on my links, even if most of the time the associated tweets are not being subsequently retweeted. And, most important, I can now see which tweets were popular. This is valuable information!
Yes, these analytics has been available for some time via other mechanisms. All the URL shortening services provide similar statistics for individual shortened links. But in practice, you’d need to use a) a unique short URL for every tweet and b) only one shortening service. a) is cumbersome, and b) is impractical because some services that auto-generate tweets from posts, like LinkedIn and Google Plus, insist on using their own link shorteners, requiring manual amalgamation of clicks over multiple services.
The timeline of mentions, follows and unfollows at the top of the page provides a nice overview that can be helpful for noticing interest peaks, but I prefer to monitor this information using the excellent Birdbrain IOS app.
The Followers option displays a graph of follower growth plus some demographics on interests, location, and gender.
This is interesting but less useful to me, though you may find it valuable. It would be great to be able to drill down further into the location demographics so I could see my followers in, say, the Netherlands, and then be able to reach out to them when I was visiting.
For me the gold here is the clicks per tweet statistics. Although I don’t write blog posts based on what I think will be popular, this information gives me a much better picture than I’ve had before of how interesting specific tweets are to others. Over time it should help me understand better how my tweet content and timing affect what people read, allowing me to reach more people with better-marketed content. For free, what’s not to like about that?
Are these new tools of interest to you? How would you use them?