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Twitter to Eliminate Share Count. What’s It to You?

Last week Twitter announced that they will discontinue share counts in their API. What this means to you is that you will no longer see the number of times that people have shared your content on Twitter. This might seem like an innocuous announcement, but it could be a huge disruptor for content, marketing and communication plans everywhere.

The reason for this is pretty straightforward: Twitter shares are typically the easiest content shares to earn. They are not particularly effective for click-through, but likely perpetuate further sharing because of the social proof that the number of shares intimates.

When I want to do in this post is to (briefly) look at why Twitter is making this change, to share some data substantiating that Twitter shares are an important communicator of social proof and to propose a couple of ways to mitigate the impact of this change before it goes into effect on November 20.

Why Twitter is discontinuing share counts

Cision - Twitter stock

The graphic above is a one-year snapshot of Twitter’s stock price. Consider this:

Point being, the reason Twitter makes this change or any other change is with a profit motive.

Twitter says that this change is due to “finite engineering resources” as they moved to a new platform. People frustrated with this change suggests that there may be other motives for it (one of the big arguments being that Twitter has two partners that will enable share data for larger publishers). The “why” conversation is a non sequitur to the “how,” however. All you need to know is that Twitter is making this change, and this change is an effort to improve their profitability.

Why Twitter share counts are valuable

On the surface you might think that share counts aren’t a big deal. You presume that the same distribution mechanisms would apply whether a person sees how many times that an article has been tweeted or not. But reader psychology does not see things so rationally. And there is evidence to suggest that however effective you think that Twitter has been as a distribution channel for you, it probably has not been. So let us take a look at why this is:

Twitter shares do not correlate with page views

Twitter Buttons

When you read an article and see how many people shared on Twitter, you make some presumptions about its popularity and distribution. It turns out that Twitter shares do not correlate with page views. This is consistent with my experience and is probably one of the worst kept secrets about social media.

If that impressive number next to a Tweet button does not really tell you how many people have read what you are reading, it might make sense to question what it does tell you.

Twitter reach is (proportionally) small

Another (sometimes) impressive number on Twitter is follower count. If somebody with 100,000 followers shares your article that should be a good thing, right? This also is a gray area for Twitter. Twitter reach may vacillate between 1 and 3 percent on average for most tweets. So, that share to 100,000 followers becomes an impression to 2,000 followers.

An impression to 2,000 followers is okay, until you realize that the engagement rate on that tweet (the people who click through to read the article) may be .02 percent. So, for a post shared to 100,000 followers you may get 20 “readers.” We could probably further follow that rabbit hole to how much of your content they actually read, but you can see how an impressive distribution metric is slight in actuality. So let’s connect the dots….

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What social proof in product reviews can demonstrate about Twitter share counts

If you visit Yelp or search for something on Amazon.com or on Google, you will in all likelihood find reviews. And most people trust reviews quite a bit. One of the fascinating psychological aspects of online views is the concept of “herding.”

In a 2013 study, a group of data scientists found that positive online views perpetuated additional positive online views. The researchers conclude that because the positive reviews perpetuate themselves, many online reviews could be exaggerated and prone to manipulation.

Let’s project these findings onto Twitter share counts: what happens when there isn’t a quantifier next to a Tweet button? Does it affect how positively people feel about the content that they are reading? Does it influence their decision to share the content themselves?

If online reviews are any indication, perhaps this one innocuous change to the Tweet button could have significant impact on how readers feel about the content that they’re reading and about their likelihood to perpetuate the content through their social channels.

I mention all social channels to suggest that lack of social proof on the lower barrier-to-entry platform could perhaps influence whether readers would share another platform such as Facebook, Google Plus, Reddit, et cetera.

So what can communications professionals and marketers do to mitigate the impact of this change?

Measurement and migration

Twitter-Logo

Hopefully I have made a reasonable case that eliminating share count from the Twitter button may be a disruptive factor for communications professionals and marketers. And if so, a reasonable next question would be what can you do about it? The two biggest things to do to prepare for this change would be to make sure that you have measurement in place to understand how the change affects you, and to have a path in place to migrate readers to a more reliable medium (in this case email). Let’s take a look at both of those:

Measurement

In order to adequately measure the impact of share count on communications or marketing, you have to measure the right things. In the study above, I mentioned that share count is not correlative with page views. However, since this is a relatively easy measurement you might want to make sure that that is true for you. You may want to measure how correlative Twitter shares are to Facebook shares or other social shares, and you may want to measure overall page views before November 20 and after November 20.

There is not a uniform solution to this question (every business’s plans vary), but if you are receiving a lot of social shares on Twitter you must have metrics to understand how the change will impact you.

Migration

Twitter-Birds

Relative to the impression count for Twitter, email is high. An email message will likely reach the majority of your email subscribers and be read by anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of them (this has been shown to vary a lot depending upon the vertical). In any event, an email subscriber may be 100 times more likely to read your email than a Twitter follower would read your tweet. So migrating followers into subscribers is a sound tactic regardless of the Twitter change.

If Twitter shares are referring traffic back to your site, a way to mitigate this is to find ways to entice followers to subscribe to your email updates (discounts are pretty big deal for most businesses in this regard). Retaining readers as email subscribers may be a useful way to sustain page views if the absence of Twitter share count reduces the number of referrals to your site.

Conclusion

Many people are understandably frustrated with a change like this. If anything this should substantiate that nothing in the digital space is permanent. Changes like Twitter’s decision to remove the share count button are going to have ramifications for many different businesses to some extent, but with a little bit of planning hopefully communication professionals and marketers can mitigate the impact that this change (or any other for that matter) will have.

In closing, I offer a quote about dealing with change from the former star of the X-Files. I do not know the context of the quote, but it is awesome to mention her and it is more or less appropriate:

“I hope everyone that is reading this is having a really good day. And if you are not, just know that in every new minute that passes you have an opportunity to change that.” – Gillian Anderson

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Images: Mambembe Arts & CraftsGarrett HeathEsther Vargas (Creative Commons)

Tags : social media

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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