Twitter started rolling out its much anticipated 'mute' function today. It will be available to all users within the next few weeks. Is this going to spell disaster for brands on the network? Only the ones publishing bad content.
By clicking on the 'more' option of any tweet or on the cog on any user's profile page you will see an option to mute that person (or brand). This will simply mean that tweets and retweets by that user will not show up in your timeline.
It's easily reversible at any time. The person who has been muted will not know and if they mention you or retweet something you've said then you will see this in your notifications.
It's essentially a way of 'cleaning up' your timeline without having to unfollow the people who's tweets you aren't enjoying (or which are annoying you).
Something like this has been available on Facebook for a while. It's useful for hiding the posts of people where 'de-friending' them would be hurtful or rude: The friend who can't stop sharing images of their new cat, and you hate cats. Or the friend who's loud political opinions are going to eventually lead to you causing a scene.
Presumably, tweeters will adopt a similar strategy with the Twitter mute button, tuning out unwanted noise without the fear of losing followers for 'unfollowing' several people.
Brands on Facebook have been bemoaning the recent algorithm changes that put their updates in front of fewer and fewer fans. Facebook's response has been: "You're not making good enough content". If it's just advertising that you want to do you're going to need to pay up.
The Twitter mute button will essentially let your followers be the judge of your content strategy. And you can be fairly sure that regular, repetitive streams of self-promotion are going to be quickly and quietly turned off.
Twitter is not 'punishing' brands, it's trying to adapt to become a better social network. To keep up with changes like these, brands are also going to need to adapt and to commit to being truly social themselves.
With customers in charge of what brand content they're seeing, bad habits will be severely punished.
Fishing for new followers with 'RT and follow to win' competitions, follow-back promises or just outright buying them are not going to create an actual audience. With users able to follow and then immediately mute you, they get what they wanted and then never need to listen to what you say again.
In a way it's very similar to the mute button on all TVs. Viewers don't need to hear the ads that bore them - but they'll turn the sound back on for creative and exciting ads or actually go out of their way to look them up on social media.
The true measure of success for brands on Twitter will no longer be just follower numbers. Especially when it's impossible to know how many of those followers are actually listening any more. Engagement is the success metric that counts now.
To drive engagement, brands are going to need to share and create content that resonates with the audience they want to target, the audience that will talk back.
How do you do this? Well, the same way you make friends in the offline world: you talk about them, not about you. Identifying the kind of people who are going to become customers and joining the conversations they are already having is going to have far more impact than finding people talking about you who are probably either complaining about you or are trying to win one of your competition's prizes... and then mute you...and then sell the prize on eBay.
Examining the content shared by a community over the last week or month allows us to see what topics or trends they are talking about the most and also how they like to share on Twitter.
Some of this content will be obvious. For example, an audience of UK Football Fans talked about Man Utd the most over the past month. But they also talked about politics (#UKIP), television (#eastenders) and the London #tubestrike.In this case, a brand targeting football fans might want to provide guides to getting to games in London during the next (inevitable!) strike. Or, like Lynx did, they may want to make light of the situation to cheer everyone up.
Being able to jump in on trending topics as they happen is a fantastic way to get engagement. But not everyone can afford a round-the-clock team monitoring Twitter. And even if they do, they may not be seeing the content that really matters.
Some events you can predict everyone will be talking about, as the British Museum did during the #superbowl. Their play on words was more than witty, it got their tweet in front of a far bigger audience than usual.
Some events require you to keep your eyes open and to expect the unexpected. Whether it's breaking tech news from the West Coast while Europeans are heading home from work or a streaker on an Italian football pitch while everyone's watching the final day of the Premier League.
Twitter is a fast-moving forum but when brands act quickly to get involved with conversations as they're happening they can reap big rewards. For example, Coral noticed in February that their followers were talking about the summer festival at Creamfields because the tickets had sold out so quickly. They immediately created some engaging content around that topic and got over 50 retweets straight away.
Make sure you're creating content your followers want to see in their timeline and don't give them a reason to press that mute button!