By Jenny Bridle
According to a report from that stellar “news” aggregator Buzzfeed yesterday, Twitter was about to make a fundamental change and provide to tweets based on a new algorithm. In the end, the report suggested, Twitter was going to morph into another Facebook.
This apparently imminent algorithm change was the basis for #RIPtwitter trending worldwide. The good thing about this trend is it showed once again the power of the Twitter community. On the negative side it sadly demonstrated that people believe Buzzfeed is a reliable news source. This fact is so problematic that we could write an entire blog about it. But anyways . . .
Before everyone completely lost their minds over what Twitter was allegedly planning, they should have made sure they were getting their information direct from the horse’s mouth. The closest anyone had to that was Twitter’s official blog from a couple of days ago when the company announced that it would be making some changes to help users sort and prioritize what they see. And, these changes were being made to improve user experience, particularly for new and potential users.
Even if the Buzzfeed report was true, given that the idea of introducing an algorithm as an information-sorting mechanism was discussed in 2014 (and perhaps earlier), this surely couldn’t be “news” to die hard Twitter users. More, Twitter understands that the value of its product is in being live and chronological; it is where millions go for the most up-to-date news on virtually everything. Surely we should have known that Twitter would be unlikely to bring about such a drastic change (and, more, to announce it via Buzzfeed).
But, what if it did?
For those of us involved in marketing anything, a change like this could mean that Twitter “Likes” would have greater meaning in terms of connecting with specific customer segments. For example if I “like” photos of foals tweeted by ABC Breeder Inc but otherwise never look at ABC’s tweets, an algorithm could sort those likes and present that breeder in my Twitter feed more often. Seeing something over and over is how we foster brand awareness, which in itself is the beginning of the sales funnel. One potentially serious problem with this strategy is what happens when users “Like” things for the “wrong” reason(s). For example, what if I liked ABC Breeder’s tweets for no other reason than thinking the foal is “cute.”
These #FoalFriday photos often enjoy great engagement on Twitter — lots of people like and RT them — but from a business point of view, their Return on Investment (ROI) can be minimal at best. How many people go from liking a photo on Twitter to making a purchase? How many people go from liking a #FoalFriday photo to even calling a breeder?
One great thing that could result from an algorithm change is helping users to sort through the flotsam and jetsam that now forms so much of Twitter. You know what I mean: all those annoying bots, the hashtag addicts with zero to say, and those omg porn pix you never explicitly asked to see.
For hardcore racing types, however, an algorithm change might have little effect because the Twitter chats they have are really just racing talking to itself. Any kind of machine-driven data sorting mechanism, like an algorithm, is only as good and as useful as the information that goes into it. The Buzzfeed report suggested that the change would just give users more of what they say they Like. If you never step outside of your Twitterverse, a change like this would just give you more of the old negative racing tweets.
What people who joined #RIPTwitter seemed to object to the most is Twitter becoming patronizing and taking away their apparent autonomy. In this, they railed against the notion that Twitter would decide what items in the Twitter feed are important to individual users and serve them more of those types of tweets.
People getting all angry about “their” Twitter changing need to understand that Twitter is not a public service; it is a profit driven publicly traded company owned by investors. The company needs to generate revenue. Creating more value for advertisers is one way to do that.
In the end the thousands of #RIPtwitter tweets and RTs were all for naught. After the hashtag trended worldwide for part of the day, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey finally responded.
Now that the sky is not falling, everyone can go back to “their” Twitter and to liking foals and kittens with impunity.
But before you go there’s a few things we should clear up. Racing should look at these events from a new perspective, one that is determined to take stock of how Twitter is used and to use it more effectively going forward. Everyone in racing needs to understand that Twitter is an advertising medium that mixes the personal and professional. Racing doesn’t use it very effectively mainly because most of what racing insiders describe as “influential” is only racing people talking to other racing people. All the metrics in the world, even ones which suggest that large numbers of people are RT’ing one’s tweets, for example, do not mean there is any influence beyond your own universe unless you have many thousands of real, quality followers. Twitter is one of the best advertising media in the 21st Century. If racing is not effectively advertising itself on Twitter, how is the sport meant to attract and retain new participants in a world dominated by this kind of media? The use of the word “advertising” is not to suggest that paid tweets are the most effective but rather to say that racing needs to continuously expand its Twitter presence and consistently interact, in a non-hard core way, with outsiders. Twitter is not and will never be Facebook. As Jack Dorsey pointed out the best part about Twitter is that it’s real-time and chronological. Facebook wants to be a news channel like NBC or ABC. Twitter is so much more than that. And, if it can take stock, learn, and actually do, racing can be so much more right along with it.