Twitter uncertainty: To leave or not to leave the platform
There has been a lot of speculation about Twitter’s future, alternatives, and whether to jump ship.
For many organisations and people, Twitter is a key channel for reaching, engaging, converting and retaining audiences. Many are anxious about the future of Twitter, pausing ad spend, watching and waiting to see what will happen, asking for advice, trying / expanding activity on alternative platforms.
I’ve summarised some key takeaways from tens of articles and opinions in the press, and in public and private social media platforms and communities.
The takeaways include important, less talked-about considerations for deciding whether to ditch Twitter.
Elon Musk keeps highlighting high levels of Twitter usage and new users growth. On 22nd November, he shared that Twitter had added 1.6M daily active users in the past week. Thus, it totaled 259.4 million daily active users.
Meanwhile, others have predicted bankruptcy for Twitter.
So what’s the state of Twitter really?
I have not seen the financial data but I know that high usage numbers doesn’t necessarily indicate success for a brand. It is data without intelligence and can often be a vanity metric.
Why is there high usage? What type of usage is this? Who’s joining the platform and why? Does this tie in with business goals? What percentage of that usage are people that have been:
- Asking others about their plans about Twitter and alternative networks
- Leaving the platform, pause or limit their activity on Twitter
- Trying to download their Twitter activity data and checking multiple times if when the data will be ready for downloading (like me)
- Verifying spoof and malicious accounts. Mind you that Google searches about the blue tick and verification have gone up by more than 1,000% in the past 30 days.
- Creating new accounts or using existing ones to expose loopholes and negative impacts from changes introduced by Musk, such as spreading misinformation
- Spreading hatred and slur
- Other malicious purposes
What has been the performance against other key business outcomes? For example, performance against trust, affinity, ad spend and other revenue generation?
Alternatives to Twitter, that have been mentioned frequently
A lot of micro communities have gained new users since the developments around Twitter’s acquisition by Elon Musk, especially since he took control of the platform.
- Mastodon. The most preferred contender. On Sunday, 20th November, it said it had more than 2 million new active users – up by 0.4 million from the previous week (on 12th November), when the number was 1.6 million. In turn, the 1.6 million number represented a three-fold increase (1 million) over the previous two weeks. Big numbers but still a fraction from Twitter’s daily active users.
- Trurth Social, Donald Trump’s network. It’s built on Mastodon code
Positive, constructive language and important causes (e.g. sustainability-related) on Twitter may provide a valuable antidote to hatred and slurs. Some purpose-driven organisations have mentioned this as a reason to stay on the platform.
However, in view of the eroded trust in Elon Musk’s plans to safeguard the platform from hate, harassment and disinformation, Derrick Johnson, president of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), tweeted that “any advertiser still funding Twitter should immediately pause all advertising now”.
Together with 60 civil rights and civil society groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and Friends of the Earth, NAACP have launched the website, StopToxicTwitter.com, calling on major brands to halt advertising on Twitter.
The website also features major advertisers that have and have not stopped advertising on Twitter.
I know of a few nonprofits that have also paused advertising and/or have reduced their use of Twitter. Some have done so because Twitter had never performed that well against organisational goals.
So what should you consider before deciding whether to leave Twitter, pause or reduce activity on the platform?
What is Twitter’s role in society?
What do organisations and individuals use it for?
As the euobserver highlights: “The platform is a political superpower. Despite all of its problems, in many countries, it is the most important platform for political debate, used by politicians, journalists and commentators.”
It is a platform where news break, which informs media outlets’ news cycles. A public barometer of local and global news, events and key ‘moments’ and people’s and organisations’ lives.
A channel for high-profile individuals to speak to and engage directly with the public.
A platform where analysts, journalists, investors, academia and others with a keen interest in emerging trends, ideas and movements source insight and collaborate. Hence the centre place of Twitter in many organisations’ news, announcements and thought leadership through senior team members.
A channel where people express their discontent or support for brands’ products, services, policies or stances. Sometimes used specifically for customer service, having your consumer’s voice heard and putting pressure on organisations to put things right.
A platform where you can reach, engage with and convert a range of people and organisations within and outside your circle. And to build communities of loyal, like-minded people.
A platform where you can build and maintain relationships with key audiences such as journalists and influencers.
None of the alternatives I have seen can serve all of these purposes.
I’ll dive into Mastodon as it’s been mentioned as the most preferred Twitter alternative.
Mastodon is a free, open-source, distributive social network that enables everyone to create their own social platform. More of a tight-nit, group of micro communities that gives users a greater control over what they see. Rather than a platform for a broad reach and influence (like Twitter).
It is decentralised and has more than 3,600 smaller networks. Each of them has its own server (referred to as an instance), users, code of conductmoderation and administrators.
These instances are hosted by volunteer administrators and moderators.
Many of the networks have their own theme and vibe, based on location, country, interest or relationship to an organisation / institution.
Users can choose which instance to register on. There is a list of servers on Mastodon’s website.
The Debirdify tool allows you to find users from your existing Twitter network on Mastodon – if you are prepared to take the time to replicate your Twitter network.
You can see posts only by accounts you follow – whether registered with your or a different instance. Users have greater control over their online environment compared to Twitter.
One instance may have very strict criteria for blocking strong language, opinions or spam, whereas others can be more relaxed. Instances can be blocked by other instances, for example if they contain extremist content, hate or slur.
Posts are displayed chronologically.
There are no ads on the platform.
Some large organisations with multiple brands or departments, set up their own instance and create accounts for their brands or departments on it. European Union and the German government have done this.
The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) launched the public pilot phase of two social media platforms in April this year: EU Voice and EU Video. They are based respectively on Mastodon and PeerTube software. The aim of the pilot project it to offer alternative social media platforms that prioritise individuals and their rights to privacy and data protection – with no adverts or profiling of individuals that may use the platforms.
Organisations can restrict membership to their instance, for example by email addresses from a set domain (such as work or university addresses). They can also block interactions with other instances.
Concerns about Mastodon
Vulnerability, security and privacy
I like the distributive nature of the platform – in line with the fifth principle of Doughnut economics (‘Design to distribute’). But security and privacy are a big concern.
A private server hosts people’s personal information – such as profile information, photos, posts and direct messages of people who have signed up via that server. This includes personal details, such as name and contacts that may be shared over direct messages – for example, to check a complaint or post products or kits to customers or supporters,
They can check any user’s information if they want to. There is no encryption.
Current security doesn’t sound particularly robust and aligned across instances.
The security of an account switches from centralised control to the administrator or moderator of a local network.
If a server goes down, Mastodon accounts using that server will lose everything. A server administrator has told a Wall Street Journal journalist that they have a back-up for their servers. Somewhat reassuring though I am unclear how common this is.
Server owners are being asked to give users three months’ notice of closure.
Forbes reported that earlier this week, cybersecurity researchers found that Mastodon had a number of vulnerabilities and other security issues. For example, they found that:
- An HTML injection vulnerability could be used to steal users’ credentials.
- Another exploit could allow a hacker to download all the files on a server including shared photos sent via direct messages.
In most cases, security comes down to one or two individuals or small entities administer an instance. So there are no security teams. Instances are not necessarily secure or private.
The euobserver also highlights related security concerns.
Sounds like there’s a strong community spirit too and an intention to keep Mastodon free of hate and slurs. However, moderation of content and instances is another big challenge that Mastodon is expected to see as it continues to grow.
As the network expands, so will the use of the platform for disinformation, extremism and other malicious use.
Lack of data portability from Twitter
As euobserver points out, Mastodon’s current company structure, in which its only employee, founder, director, chief executive and only shareholder, Eugen Rochko, does not reflect good non-profit governance.
Consider who’s running the server if you are thinking of joining. This can be an organisation, individual, company or a group.
The network is initially not intuitive to users
This is understandable, given that the platform is run by a limited number of volunteers and donations, and has grown more and faster than expected. But it is a barrier to adoption.
On the flip side, its distributive nature means it should to possible to be used by anybody, anywhere in the world, without being manipulated by big corporations, billionaires or authoritarian governments.
Some familiar names that have been early adopters – entrepreneur Deborah Meadon, actor Stephen Fry, and author Emma Kennedy.
Opensource directory of media, PR and comms people on Mastodon.
What should you do?
Having managed multiple social media channels myself, I know how challenging it is to keep adding new channels to your plate. Especially when you try to maintain old channels.
It takes time and headspace to familiarise yourself with a new platform – tips from others, testing it yourself, a much higher level of trial and error.
This time and headspace will be diverted from something else. Is that a justified use of organisational resource and passion?
Should you reduce or pause your ads or other activity?
- Be clear on why you use Twitter. What specifics of the channel tie in with your organisational objectives and mission? How does Twitter fit in wider marketing and other functional strategies of your organistaion? What do your target audiences need and want in relation to your cause/product/service? What channels does your target audience use and trust?
A quick survey can help inform these conclusions and decisions. If a lot of your key audiences are staying on Twitter, it would be wise for you to maintain your presence there.
- Set clear objectives and measures about your Twitter and other social media channels (ideally smart, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound goals and KPIs) and monitor performance against them. Consider what channels can help you achieve these objectives and meet your audience’s needs.
- Pause your ad spend on Twitter.
- If you continue using Twitter, focus on activity that can be paused or stopped quickly without significant implications.
- Back up your Twitter data. Here is how to do it. Note that it can take 24 hours or longer for your data to be ready.
- Let your audience and stakeholders know if you decide to be less active on Twitter and/or if you shift your focus to other platforms, why and how this will help your audience/organisation/mission.
- If using Mastodon, ensure you use unique passwords and refrain from requesting and sharing personal information such as contacts – until Mastodon provides sufficient reassurance about security and privacy.
- Provide guidance to social media users in your organisations, for example employees or senior leadership team with work Twitter accounts.
- Register your organisation’s name or brand on new platforms that you are considering joining to secure it.
A lot of the above are core aspects of effective and efficient social media management anyway.
If you would like help with figuring out how to navigate this new uncertainty, get in touch. Be it to:
- Bounce off channel-specific thoughts.
- Help shape wider social media strategy, social media policy, a process for monitoring and dealing with messages from detractors.
- Crafting a social media survey that your audience is likely to fill in.
- An objective audit and recommendations for your social media channels to help improve effectiveness and efficiency.
- Help with another aspect of social media presence or marketing.