Gary is wrong on this one. Twitter’s problem isn’t noise, it’s a lack of organic conversations. The one thing that attracted many of Twitter’s hardcore users from 2006-2008, is now all but dead in 2015. The beauty of Twitter in those early days was that it was an incredible discovery tool. You could meet new people seamlessly, and you could expand your network (personal or professional) all at the same time via simply chatting with people on Twitter. It was a huge chat room open to everyone, 140 characters at a time.
Then in 2008, Twitter decided that it didn’t have the bandwidth or funding to pay for all these ‘silly’ conversations. So it changed the rules, and said that you couldn’t see a reply a friend left unless you were also following that 3rd person. This effectively killed any chance we had of organically expanding our networks on Twitter. Which was one of the key attractions of the site prior to 2008. This alone caused many of Twitter’s early adopters to either leave the site, or spend far less time there.
Then…came the celebrities.
Ashton Kutcher killed Twitter
It was 2009 and I was looking at a billboard in Alabama telling traffic up and down Woodward Avenue to follow Ashton Kutcher. I had to pull over and take a picture, because this was a huge deal, right? Finally that little site I loved was getting mainstream attention!
Which, of course, was the beginning of the end. Ashton had found Twitter. Oprah had found Twitter, which meant everyone was about to find Twitter. The mainstream floodgates opened, and suddenly everyone was joining Twitter.
And the user experience was about to change dramatically. When the marketers found Twitter, the marketers did what marketers do: They turned Twitter into their new marketing channel. Another blow to early adopters that had come to Twitter for the conversations, which were increasingly being choked out by self-promotion.
The Rise of the Twitter Chats
In late 2008, the Twitter chat was born. And in great part, this was a direct response to the increasing difficulty in creating and cultivating organic conversations. Prior to 2009, I could go on Twitter almost anytime I wanted and ask a simple question and within 5-10 mins be involved in a deep conversation with a dozen people. And that was when I had maybe 5,000 followers. In fact, I started #blogchat simply because 6 years ago I asked a simple question about blogging and in less than an hour, there were over 200 tweets in that conversation, and I wanted to add a hashtag to it so I could keep up with everything said around the topic.
But even the increasingly use of Twitter chats points to the fact that organic conversations have increasingly left Twitter. So much so that we had to schedule them! Let’s meet on Twitter every Sunday night at 8pm Central to talk blogging! Because otherwise, it won’t happen.
User Behavior Has Adapted as the Experience Has Changed
More and more, Twitter has become a content stream where it used to be a conversation stream. It’s not about interactions and discussions, now it’s about sharing links. The way I use Twitter has completely changed in the last few years. I used to use Twitter as a networking tool, I’d go there, say hi to a few friends, and over the course of a couple hours I’d reconnect and catch up with friends, I’d be introduced to some new ones, maybe even grab a work lead or two.
Today, the primary way I use Twitter is as a content stream. Every day I send out more links to my own content than I would in a month in 2009. The type of engagement when from conversations to clicks and RTs. And we all changed our behavior as a result. At least those of us that stayed did. The result is that there’s more ‘stuff’ on Twitter and none of it is getting the eyeballs or engagement that it once did.
I’d Like to Order a Tweet, and Can You Upsize My Engagement?
Back to the issue of falling engagement for a minute. I currently have about 50,000 followers on Twitter. When I send a tweet out, obviously not all 50,000 followers will see that tweet. I get it. But according to Twitter’s analytics, only about 1-2% of my followers see the majority of my tweets. That means that less than 1,000 of my 50,000 followers see the average tweet I leave.
That sounds impossibly low, so on a whim I decided to spend $10 promoting one of my Tweets to see if I saw similar engagement numbers. Here’s what happened:
Numbers are a bit hard to read, but what this means is that organically (free), my tweet reached 754 of my followers. When I paid Twitter $10, they were able to reach 5,850 of my followers. Which brings us to the second way to get engagement for your social media content: Pay for it.
Twitter is Dead and it’s Never Coming Back
I joined Twitter exactly 8 years ago. For the first 18 months I was there, it was truly a magical place because of all the wonderful people I came to know. But when ‘everyone’ found Twitter, the experience began to change. And Twitter began to devalue the role of organic conversations on the site. The core experience that attracted many of us to Twitter in the first place began to erode. Now that Twitter has gone public, shareholders and Wall-Street will push for more monetization efforts. Which means the experience that drew me to Twitter in the first place will continue to disappear.
And the irony is I’ll post this on Twitter, and a lot of the people that would agree with me, the people I connected with in those first 18 months will never see this post. And it won’t be because there’s so much ‘noise’ on Twitter that my post gets lost in the content stream.
It will be because they’ve already left Twitter.