Why 2017 was a tipping point for Twitter

Twitter analytics

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:

Twitter analytics

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

    Taken from statista.com on July 14, 2017; click on graphic to see current stats
  4. 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.

    Taken from dreamgrow.com on July 14, 2017; click on graphic to see current stats

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!

P.S. My friend Heidi Thorne has just posted her thoughts on the changing Twitter landscape. Well worth a read from a different perspective!

Useful free tools for Twitter analytics

free tools Twitter analytics

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.

Timeline activity
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.

Followers
The Followers option displays a graph of follower growth plus some demographics on interests, location, and gender.

Twitter followers information

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.

Conclusion
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?