Twitter’s Facebook-like Algorithm: What It Means for PR
Last week, Twitter announced that they would implement their Facebook-like algorithm across all user accounts. Previously available as an “opt-in” feature, users must now opt-out of this feature to see their full complement of tweets. Spoiler alert: few people are opting out.
Announced at the same time as a plethora of changes, including an affirmation that the 140-character count tweet would not change, universal login support, Tweetdeck standalone depreciation (cloud version is still available), bidding for live TV rights, improving the Android experience (specifically for Moments), and adding Windows 10 support (you can tweet with Cortana), the opt-in algorithm may seem to be an innocuous change amidst a flurry of changes but it’s not. This algorithm fundamentally changes the way that brands will be able to communicate on Twitter in the future.
What I want to do in this post is briefly look at how algorithmic impressions impacted Facebook and project these on to the “new” Twitter.
What does Facebook teach us about algorithms?
An illustrative example of implementing an algorithm is Facebook. Without an algorithm, Facebook would be similar to Twitter as we now know it: content seen in real time, presented chronologically. If a communication professional or marketer was able to insert themselves into the Facebook timeline without paying to promote content, Facebook wouldn’t make as much money. After all, social advertising and promotion are really about amplification of a message on these platforms.
Facebook positioned their algorithm as a tool to help get the best content read, but it actually serves as a firewall. Content is frustrated by the algorithm and can be distributed with an ad spend. Facebook’s revenue has correlated positively with its algorithmic firewall, and it’s not a mistake. You probably understand that Facebook is a pay-to-play platform for communication and marketing. Now Twitter is pay-to-play, too.
Contextually, this move makes a lot of sense. In February, Twitter’s stock price plummeted on news of stagnant growth. Recent reports that advertisers aren’t enamored with Twitter ad spends haven’t helped the situation. Facebook was faced with a similar situation at its IPO albeit under more favorable circumstances (users, growth, connections, etc.).
Few people are ging to opt-out
Here are the instructions on how to opt-out of the Twitter algorithm. They’re easy to follow, take two seconds, few people prefer a social algorithm and they are worthless to communication and marketing professionals. You can opt-out of the algorithm, but very few people that you want to communicate with are going to opt-out. Twitter knows this. It’s the same psychology that makes auto-pay such an effective tool for payments and “motor voter” such an effective way to register voters: people are far less apt to do things that require any work whatsoever. Like Ron Popeil, we want to “set it and forget it.”
This is the crux of why communication on Twitter just changed so dramatically: pre-algorithm you may have scheduled tweets for optimal viewing or repeated tweets as Guy Kawasaki advocates, but now you may tweet into abyss. Impression and engagement on Twitter have never been especially high (single digit and tenths of a percent of overall followers), but now expect them to be even lower. If Twitter is important to how you message social fans, any control you had over your messaging is now controlled by an algorithm. And although the same platitudes of “good content” that Facebook used to describe how branded content is perpetuated on timelines will probably be used by Twitter, the truth is that the only reliable option for messaging social fans on Twitter is with the Twitter ad product.
Customer service may be the only thing you don’t pay (Twitter) for
With the algorithm rolled out to everyone, it may seem a little strange that Apple would choose to launch Twitter-based customer service (social care) this week. That they did it is illustrative of one of the forms of communication that isn’t impacted by the algorithm change: social care.
Again using Facebook as the exemplar, social care occurs when a customer reaches out to a brand on Facebook (or Twitter). There’s (presumably) no algorithmic opacity – the customer reaches out and the brand can directly respond (even moreso on Twitter where direct messages are easier to initiate). Expect brands such as Amazon and Apple to continue to service their customers on Twitter for the simple fact that this is where these customers choose to initiate contact with them.
This algorithmic implementation has been a long time in the works. and this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. That said, planning for Twitter as a communication tactic today is far different than Twitter communication two weeks ago. And from here forward, the impression and click-through will be more volatile as Twitter seeks to make their stock less volatile.
What communication and marketing professionals need to do is to look at Twitter’s capabilities based upon a lower, less-predictable impression rate and update tactics and strategy to reflect these.
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