Why You'll Soon Quit Twitter

Bob Leggitt | Friday, 25 December 2015 |



When you start seeing Twitter users with 100,000, even 200,000 plus followers coming up in your inactive friends list, you really do get a sense of the site’s growing worthlessness as a marketing tool. 200,000 followers. Just think about that for a moment. If you could convert an audience that size into daily traffic on a well-monetised blog of your own, you could almost without question quit your day job.

So why are Twitter users with audiences this size becoming inactive in increasing number? And before answering that, let’s not forget the amount of work it takes the average person to build a follower stat of 200,000-plus in the first place. Most of these people have invested very significant chunks of their lives in that total. They’re not going to turn their backs on it without very, very good reason.



IS IT EVEN AN AUDIENCE?

One of the underlying issues which has started to dawn on Twitter users since muting and free analytics were introduced, is that there’s a very big difference between a followers total and an audience. Unless you’re famous, have a very high profile away from Twitter, or are offering truly exceptional value (and tweeting bit.ly links is definitely NOT exceptional value), you are not going to amass a real, fully-engaged following of six digits. It’s just not a natural outcome. If you really had that sort of appeal, you'd attract mass attention in your everyday life.

You see, Twitter IS real life. You on Twitter is the same as You in a local bar. If you don't get mass attention in bars, a huge Twitter following is almost certainly just a collection of button clicks. A very large one maybe, but a collection of button clicks all the same.

The people who command genuine, widespread and high attention on Twitter are generally those with an existing public profile. Those about whom society already cares. So whilst anyone can feasibly ego-massage thousands of Twitter users into clicking their Follow button, keeping those users’ attention is another matter entirely. The combination of muting and analytics access has revealed the reality of many large Twitter followings. It's all fake. Even if the people are real, the interest is fake. Each button click was just a bid for a followback. It's taken us a while to wake up to the fact that this is the entire purpose of most Twitter follows, but we're waking up now. Our analytics have proved to be our virtual smelling salts.

And the problem is compounding as awareness grows and spreads. The more people who realise that no one’s really listening to them, the less time those people will spend on Twitter. The less time those people spend on Twitter, the more other users perceive a decline in interest towards them. Then they themselves spend less time on Twitter… It’s a knock-on effect – a vicious circle. More than ever, many of us are seeing how small a proportion of our Twitter followers actually even read what we say, let alone care about it.



BUT WHAT ABOUT THESE MASSIVE SHORT-FORM ENTERTAINMENT ACCOUNTS THAT GET THOUSANDS OF RETWEETS? THEY EVEN REPUTEDLY MAKE BIG MONEY!

There are undeniably some very large Twitter accounts which do have highly engaged audiences, and are not run by celebrities. However, these accounts will typically be part of powerful Twitter networks which can establish new accounts in a way lone individuals can’t. They also almost invariably aggregate content at best, and steal it at worst – at least for as long as it takes them to cover the cost of paying a team to create for them. Because of the site's 'black hole' nature, it is virtually impossible for one non-celebrity to keep a massive Twitter audience entertained and engaged from hour to hour, entirely through their own creativity.

It should additionally be noted that the people running these popular accounts will probably have a strong online presence away from Twitter, and/or be schmoozing big, influential sites for publicity.

And for those who do manage to generate real, serious engagement on Twitter, the competition becomes immense. Even if you’re prepared to beg, borrow and steal, and face the consequences of that, as soon as you provoke envy on Twitter there will be people looking to get you suspended, to hack you, to troll you… Just as you stole from other people, people will now steal from you, and attack you, and report your every minor ToS breach – just for good measure. Just like in the offline world, real Twitter powers need to be extremely resilient, thick-skinned, tough and prepared to fight dirty and hard.

So yes, there are Twitter accounts with huge, engaged audiences. But don’t assume they're all run by lone nerds who woke up one morning, decided they were going to create jokes or memes for Twitter, spent the next six months doing so in a world of introversion, and suddenly found themselves Twitter-famous. It doesn’t work like that. The power-trippers, go-getter-pests, risk-takers, blaggers, thieves and aggressors, will rise to the top on Twitter, just the same as in the wider world. Most of the rest of us remain virtually invisible, however creative we are, and even if we engineer big follower stats.



AND EVEN IF IT IS AN AUDIENCE…

So what if your 100,000 followers total actually does comprise a significantly engaged proportion? Does that make Twitter worthwhile? Well, the thought-leaders in online marketing and SEO are increasingly greeting that conundrum with a “not necessarily”, if not an outright “no”.

Sites such as scoop.it - part of a new wave of online marketing and promo facilities - are highlighting the flaws in social media with their promotional matter. Of course, there's an element of "they would say that, wouldn't they?" in any competitive business pointing out the drawbacks with rival services. But users of these sites have been more vocal still about social media's declining traction. I'm not recommending that site, by the way. I read the privacy policy and wasn't at all encouraged to sign up.

Specifically with regard to Twitter, complaints typically relate to the almost immediate expiry of each tweet’s visible lifespan, and the fact that a Twitter timeline is a shared resource. When your tweets appear on a user’s timeline, not only are they going to disappear within moments – the user’s attention is also immediately going to be diverted to the next tweet, which may well show them content from a competitor. So in using Twitter, you’re really pumping content onto a page you not only don’t own and don’t control, but don’t even OCCUPY for more than a few seconds at a time. Twitter loves this concept, because it means that if you want a piece of content to have lasting reach, you have to pay.

There’s also a growing feeling that engaged Twitter users become ‘institutionalised’. In other words, they won’t leave Twitter and explore the rest of the Web. This is more apparent in some genres than others, but it is a factor. Twitter has become an expert at cherry picking the key elements of everyone’s content, and serving it to the masses on a continuous loop. For many, this evironment becomes an insular hub that satisfies their every need in itself. Twitter users will click links if tweets pitch them in the right way, but they’ll often go straight back to Twitter and will not explore longer-form content as Google-surfers do. They’re also in my experience much less likely to engage with on-site monetisation than visitors from the search engines.

All this is fine if you just want to mess around on Twitter, but if you’re trying to prize Twitter users onto a site you control, you’re likely to find the scope very limited. You’re dealing, to a large extent, with an audience that’s used to everything being bite-sized. An audience that expects pictures and one-liners. If the content to which you’re trying to refer such users is not equally bite-sized, they may well reject it. If it is equally bite-sized, they may nick it and post it on Twitter. In some cases you can’t win.

If you're on Twitter for its own sake, fair enough. But even then, never forget that as soon as you stop tweeting, you stop existing (once again, unless you're famous). Is that a comfortable thought, or do you deserve a more sustainable online presence?



OTHER PROBLEMS

Other problems with Twitter include the potential for poaching. All Friends and Followers lists are public, so I can go through your fanbase, follow them, tweet them, promote myself and my offerings to them… That costs me nothing beyond the time it takes to do it. In the offline world, you would NEVER share a list of your customers with a rival. But Twitter forces you to do that, and this is another of the elements to which marketing and promotional operations are starting to wake up. Good marketers are, I believe, beginning to consider Twitter in terms of the potential damage it can do to their existing audience.

Then there’s the fact that Twitter has become a byword for worthless, self-serving spam, to the point where people expect it. All the old expressions of interest – Liking, Following, Listing, etc – have been perverted by spammers, so now none of it means anything. If someone with the word ‘marketing’ or ‘promotion’ in their bio Likes your Tweet, you wonder how long it’ll be before they un-Like it again. If they Follow you, you wonder how long before they’ll unfollow.

This situation is untenable. It makes trust much, much harder to gain. And since Twitter is already so work-intensive and time-consuming that it’s practically a joke, setting aside even more time to fight the scourge of flagging trust just pushes the effort of Twitter promotion beyond reason. You’re trying to create engagement, on a digital treadmill, in a world of zombie behaviour. It’s ridiculous. And frankly, if promotional gurus are still telling you that Twitter is God’s answer to online success, they’re either severely deluded, or leading you up the garden path.



WHAT IS TWITTER STILL GOOD FOR?

I don’t believe existing Twitter users will depart the site outright, en masse, because it’s still a major media site with useful benefits. Twitter is, for example, very useful as a one-to-one contact resource. It keeps incoming enquires short and means you don’t need to read through long, convoluted emails, and it’s much easier (as compared with email) to manage contact accessibility on an individual level.

There's also of course Twitter's value as an ahead-of-the-news information service. If you know how to search Twitter properly, it's very hard to rival for finding brand new information first.

Another great benefit with Twitter is its potential for use as an ownership resource. Tying a Twitter account in with an online project can help in cases where that project might be renamed, or moved, or just cannibalised for use in other projects. For instance, you could brand your images with a Twitter account username you know is stable and not going to change. That way, if you rename, move or dismantle your site, the images are still attributed to you, and not potentially the new adopter of your old site name.

Ownership verification is extremely important online. Using Twitter for this purpose does work, and the site's non-editable timestamping makes it highly authoritative too. For instance, once you tweet a title/snippet from your original content, there's no way anyone can suggest that you came up with your title/idea later and then backdated it. No one can dispute a Twitter timestamp.

BUT…

But I genuinely do think that the way we regard Twitter, and our perception of its usefulness, is changing. As a true social resource, Twitter is not dying out anytime soon, but if you are currently using Twitter for marketing and promotion, I think there's a very good chance you will quit tweeting for attention in the foreseeable future. The way to market, going forward, is with high quality long-form content. If your writing is really good (or you can source good writers), you do not need the promotional facets of Twitter or any other social networking site. That's been the case for a long time, but now, increasing numbers of promo and marketing setups are beginning to recognise the fact. The snowball, I feel, is starting to roll.

Planet Botch is contactable only via Twitter.