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.

Related posts:

Why storytelling is powerful in a storm that never ends

Why this video is a perfect example of content marketing

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?!

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.

Twitter-drops-share-count

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.

Conclusion

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.

  1. Hi Andrew, I think it will wreck havoc on all those share plugins that show share counts. But like you said on the other hand – it’s not a metric that tells a full story. One can get a ton of shares but not comments or sales. It’s really about the ROI at the end of the day. It will be interesting to see how this one all plays out and if it changes how we all use and manage our social media in the months to come.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Lisa. Yes, it’s the social plugin people such as Socialwarfare who are making the most noise about this. They are trying to pressure Twitter to back down. I don’t think that will happen.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    I really enjoyed reading this post and while reading, I kept asking myself if the number of shares in a post shows enough engagement because I’ve seen some sites that whenever there is a post there are shares counting up to 100 without comments.

    If Twitter embarks on this then it will be a completely different ball game for all websites. We know Twitter’s got the most shares in any post.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Have a great day

    1. Hi Kore, it’s good to hear from you. Twitter has already implemented the change, by the way. To be honest, I wish they hadn’t made the change. However, I understand why they did. And as mentioned in my post, I think it will force us to look at the metrics that actually matter, which often aren’t social media shares.

      Andrew

  3. Hey Andrew,

    I was pretty bummed about this news although we shouldn’t at all be surprised.

    These social media platforms have been free to use and we’ve been using them to our benefit. But this is once again proof why you need to focus more on your own site instead of building that following on a platform that can change it’s direction at any given time.

    It’s all about money and although the social counts help new readers with a possible first impression, it’s up to us with our content to keep them coming back for more and wanting what we offer. The counts are cool but it doesn’t prove anything. I know none of them are accurate but it’s a great guestimation of how our content is possibly being shared.

    I don’t like this change but it’s out of my hands so I’ll continue building those relationships and providing value which in the end is what we all should be doing.

    Thanks for reporting about this and I’m sure we’ll all hear more by the time this hits the fans next month.

    ~Adrienne

    1. Hi Adrienne

      You’re right: It’s important that we focus on our own websites. They’re our own ‘real estate’, and that’s where we have control.The makers of social plugins offering share counts will be the ones hurt the most by this. Thanks for your feedback.

      Andrew

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