Twitter is at a crossroads … and it might be leading down a controversial new path. Let’s look at a recent revelation about a possible Twitter strategy shift and what it could mean to you and your business.
At a recent financial conference, Twitter’s chief financial officer suggested that the service will offer algorithm-driven curation of feeds much like Facebook does, in order “improve the relevance for users.”
In other words, Twitter will start choosing what you see in your timeline based on what is trending, or what it thinks you might like to see.
This lines up with an earlier statement from CEO Dick Costolo. When asked whether the platform would ever implement a Facebook-style filtering algorithm, he hedged his answer by saying he wouldn’t “rule it out.”
These clues are significant, because in the past Twitter management has “signalled’ major changes like this 12 to 18 months before something occurs. In essence, they are telling their stakeholders to “get ready.”
What’s going on here?
I mentioned that Twitter strategy is at a crossroads. This is what it is:
a) Twitter is under extreme pressure from Wall Street to increase the number of its active users. A hurdle to the adoption of Twitter is that it is can be difficult to understand compared to other social networks. One reason is that the velocity of an unfiltered news stream can seem overwhelming.
b) One of the most important advantages of Twitter over Facebook is that users love the fact that it is unfiltered. In fact, we can filter the stream ourselves and control the information flow our own way through apps like Twitter Lists and third party platforms like Hootsuite.
This is a dilemma isn’t it? By making Twitter more accessible to the masses and appeasing Wall Street, it might alienate its most passionate users.
I would go a step further. By imposing algorithms to make Twitter more Facebook-like, it would be destroying a core point of differentiation for the channel.
Let me give you a small example of what I mean.
As any active Twitter user knows, news breaks on Twitter. In a famous example, an earthquake hit the Washington DC area. A Twitter user in New York City saw the news on Twitter before he felt the tremble.
In the new Twitter-filter world, the news probably would have never reached the person in New York until it was trending. In other words … too late.
There is something unique and awe-inspiring to see the chronological, raw responses of people as events unfold in the Middle East, in Ferguson, or in my hometown.
An unfiltered stream allows everyone I follow equal opportunity. A filtered stream could mean the “news” will be dominated by celebrities and the gurus with the highest Klout scores. Twitter’s beauty is that THERE IS NO ALGORITHM. It’s simply human and puts us in control.
What does this mean for your Twitter strategy?
If you love Twitter and use it for your business, this decision would be profound. Unlike Facebook, all of us have a real chance to connect with our followers based on our effort and our content. That is not the case on Facebook where their algorithms have depressed organic reach to the point that most companies have no choice but to pay to get their content seen.
An obvious way around this controversy would be to allow Twitter users to toggle between a filtered and unfiltered feed, right?
But did you know you can already do that on Facebook? How many people actually look at their whole news stream? Nobody.
(Correction: The “most recent” tab on Facebook no longer shows ALL posts. This was modified in November, 2012. There apparently is no current way to see your entire Facebook feed).
Unfortunately, here is how I think this will play out:
- Twitter will have no choice but to appease investors by editing your news stream to make it more user-friendly.
- A core group of passionate users will threaten to walk away … but won’t. And if they do, it won’t make much of a difference.
- Our organic reach on Twitter will rapidly deteriorate and we will have to pay to be seen as the Facebookification of Twitter progresses.
For me, the depressing part of this change would stretch beyond business. To me, the beauty of Twitter is the majestic random synergy — the chance that any connection can happen at any time based on your good work — and you never know where that will lead!
With this strategy change, that opportunity would be diminished and perhaps even negated as mathematical formulas determine the destiny of your tweets.
That makes me sad. My head understands why Twitter would make this change but my heart is saying no, no, no!
What is your take on it? I would love to read your comments below!
Illustration courtesy of Flicker CC and Bert Kaufman.