By Adam Fraser.
As I wrote about recently, Facebook has been severely choking its organic reach in the past 12 months.
Simple translation: if you want a reasonable % of your Facebook fans to see your content you need to pay to play.
Social media just got a whole lot less social and whole lot more media….
Now I fully understand the issue a social media platform faces as it creaks under the weight of its own success. Facebook tell us the average user could be shown 1500 posts each time they log in. Which of course no-one can consume.
So there is a genuine need to protect the user experience. And of course, equally understandable is the desire for any media platform (especially when listed) to monetise and charge people for securing access to the eyeballs they want.
Whilst Facebook copped a lot of flack from the business community (and lets be more granular, the marketing fraternity) about these organic “choke” algorithm changes, I would say the average user feels some combination of:
- they don’t know the choke “thing” has happened
- they don’t care it’s happened
- they are vaguely aware that they aren’t seeing everything from everyone but see point 2 above
Arguably the user experience has actually improved for the user. Less clutter. Seeing more relevant friend updates and less noise from brands who were never the primary reason people went to Facebook.
Which brings us on to Twitter. Rumors abound that they are considering some sort of “choke” of content. We already see sponsored tweets. Their own recent tweet confirmed we would start to see content from people we aren’t following. Once again Big Brother will determine which content you should see and so starts the journey almost certainly ending where brands will have to pay to ensure their content is seen in the stream.
Part 1 of the reaction to this will be as with Facebook. Business owners and the marketing digerati will cry foul. We feel let down. We put huge efforts building our audience. This isn’t fair. Organic reach on social should be free. Etc. Etc.
Then they will promptly get over it, begin pay to playing, and assess the analytics for ROI, CTRs and CPA on Twitter as they do other digital marketing platforms. Life will go on very quickly. Unless….
The fly in the ointment here is the user experience. Improved? I would strongly argue NO given what Twitter is, stands for and has become. Twitter is not Facebook and its core ‘power-users’ certainly don’t want it to be.
Twitter is the place where news now breaks. Twitter is the place for raw, uncensored conversations on anything and everything. It’s unfiltered, slightly anarchic and has a wonderful randomness in terms of what you see when you check in to your stream.
It could be Piers Morgan with 4.5m followers, or the guy you just met at a conference with 126 followers. No favours curried or asked for. He who publishes has as much right to the stream as the next man. Luck of the draw, self curated by users.
Once algorithms and predictive models about ‘what the user really wants’ are introduced, this all changes.
It starts with seeing tweets from people you aren’t interested in (or certainly haven’t actively opted in to see). Then more promoted tweets. Ultimately, a “choke” where Twitter determine what you see from whom in which order. To me, this is a dangerous, slippery slope which may not have the same happy ending as Facebook (who, for now, are maintaining their user and profit numbers).
Twitter performs many functions but at its heart it is a listening platform. To me, the purest and the truest social network. The cocktail party. The two way conversation. You decide who you speak to and who you listen to. It’s been a very successful formula which has reached scale and everything looks fine as long as active monthly user numbers grow.
Make one tweak too many to the formula which made you successful and the wheels can quite suddenly (and quite rapidly) fall off. Usual reference My Space. Other relevant references. Blockbuster. Blackberry. Any business which stops obsessing about what the user actually wants, not what they “think they want”.
Twitter is a long way from this, but should practice what it preaches and listen to its user base. My sense is playing with the stream and choking via an algorithm would be a dangerous tactic (the comments under their announcement make this very clear).
Pivots are ok and expected. Undermining the user experience and the reason people fell in love with you in the first place is not. Fascinating to see how this pans out.