Social media is a wonderful thing. As a content writer, I need it; sites like Linkedin and Twitter are integral for promoting my content. And it’s often free, which is great. However, like most “free” things, there’s usually a catch.
Here’s the thing: social media sites exist to make money. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. They are businesses. Which is why the people behind them covet our data so much — “If a product is free, you’re probably the product,” as they say.
And, of course, in order to maximise revenue, constant changes are necessary: to design and functionality, etc.
On-going Facebook changes
Facebook is a good example. Remember when you could post content that would reach most of your followers organically? Now, you’ll be lucky if it reaches 10% — unless, of course, you pay to promote it. And on the horizon is the emotion button, which thankfully seems better than the originally proposed “dislike” button.
Many, if not most, of the changes are good for content marketers; I love how targeted Facebook advertising is. However, some can be a pain in the proverbial. And what action can we take if we’re not happy? Ask for our money back? Oh, that’s right, it’s free.
Twitter drops share count
Twitter caused something of a stir recently with this announcement:
“Next month the tweet and follow buttons will switch to a modern, high-contrast design of white text on a dark blue background. This visual refresh updates our button design from 2011…”
So, Twitter is updating its tweet and follow buttons, we say. That sounds good, but then…
“… We are simplifying the Tweet button by removing the share counter displayed alongside the button. This new display removes the count and counturl display parameters, and will render in the same pixel dimensions as a Tweet button configured without a share count today.”
What Twitter has done is shut down the primary access point provided to third-party developers like Buffer and Hootsuite. As a consequence, that social proof we all crave has been significantly diminished. Now, only shares from Twitter’s website will be recorded — unless, again, you’re willing to pay up to the likes of Gnip, which is too expensive for most of us.
To illustrate, my last post, Why storytelling is still powerful in a storm that never ends, displays a respectable 63 tweets. However, in reality, it has been tweeted more than that. How many times? Well, I can guess, but I have no way of knowing for sure.
When I learned about this change, these questions ran through my mind:
- How will I be able to measure the impact of my content?
- Will my readers engage with me less?
- How will content marketers prove to their clients they are earning their keep?
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Why has Twitter done such a dastardly thing?
Ultimately, I’m sure it comes down to money. And is this so surprising? Particularly since Twitter’s share value has more than halved since they listed on the stock exchange in January 2014. Why should they provide their data for free when they can sell it?
There is also a suggestion that Facebook’s generally larger shares counts make them look bad. I don’t know about that; I personally get considerably more shares on Twitter than Facebook. It just depends what industry you are in.
Is it all that bad?
I asked self-described content geek Max Johns for his view. As it turns out, he isn’t surprised — or losing any sleep — about the change.
“Twitter can’t just sell display space, so it makes sense for them to look at the back end,” he says.
Max suspects most of those concerned about the change probably don’t dig too deep into their analytics. He suggests the Twitter share count isn’t actually that important.
“We should think about what we should track versus what we can track…just because a number is there doesn’t make it useful,” he says.
Max believes that mentions in conversations, bounce rates and completed call to actions are often more important metrics.
He does concede, though, that a simple number next to an icon is easy to understand for bosses or clients who don’t really understand content marketing.
What value does a number on an icon actually have if it doesn’t tell the whole story? Apart from bragging value, I’d say not a lot. Perhaps Twitter’s move will force us all to focus on metrics that matter, metrics that truly demonstrate we are heading in the right direction towards our content objectives.