Twitter has had a rough couple of years, at least from a public perception standpoint. But while much of the market narrative around the platform has been negative – mostly fueled by the comparison between Twitter and other social networks (notably Facebook) – there is still a lot to like about the world’s most popular micro-blog platform. Even if it’s not as ‘micro’ as it once was.
Yes, amidst the doom and gloom, Twitter did actually see growth in 2017. Not a heap, they haven’t been able to translate the extra attention being generated by Donald Trump’s tweets into a growth opportunity. But Twitter has seen growth – in engagement, in active users, in time spent on the platform. The shift is not huge - the platform added 13 million more monthly active users between Q3 ’16 and Q3 ‘17). But it is clear, Twitter is improving in all the key metrics.
It’s not on the fast track, but it is, however, on track.
For marketers, this is important to recognize – while Twitter may not have the reach potential of other platforms, it does provide some significant advantages, most notably in its open, public nature. What’s shared on Twitter is generally available for all to see, which is why more people use Twitter to call out brands or highlight their experiences. On Facebook, only your friends will see it, so if you have a complaint, you’re probably better off posting it to Twitter – which people do, with various studies showing that Twitter is the social platform of choice for customer service-related queries.
And that provides some key opportunities for brands – here are five tips to help maximize your use of Twitter in 2018.
1. The Age of the Algorithm
After Facebook demonstrated the potential of algorithms for social networks, all the other networks were forced to take note. Sure, there are potential issues with the algorithm approach – you show people only what they want to see and you’re effectively fueling filter bubbles – but the engagement benefits are significant. There’s a reason Facebook’s at 2 billion users and counting.
Twitter rolled out their own algorithm almost two years ago, with the pitch that users would ‘never miss an important tweet’.
Twitter’s algorithm has since been criticized more than praised - but as noted the performance data speaks louder than the posted commentary from users.
Twitter users are more engaged, more often, which is a big endorsement of their algorithm-driven approach.
And from a marketing perspective, it’s important to understand exactly how Twitter’s algorithm works, and how you can use it to your advantage.
The first thing to note is that Twitter’s algorithm is not as advanced as the one used on Facebook. Facebook’s News Feed algorithm has been in circulation for some time, and has been refined and improved based on the thousands of data points The Social Network can utilize. Twitter not only has fewer data points to reference, but their system is also less complex – which makes it somewhat easier to influence.
For example, if you’re seeing tweets in your feed which have been liked by someone you follow, and you don’t want to see them anymore, click on the drop-down in the top right of the tweet and select ‘I don’t like this tweet’. That simple action will completely eliminate tweets liked by that user in your stream. Of course, you have to do this for every user who’s liked tweets you want to remove, but it shows how much input users can have on their feed – the algorithm is fairly basic, and can be educated by your preferences.
Given this, brands should to consider how the following factors can boost their Tweet exposure, using the algorithm to advantage:
- Engaging more often with responses to your tweets and mentions - Positive actions boost exposure - the algorithm's working to show users more of what they might like. So if you Like a tweet, there's a higher chance it gets shown to more users – not only by putting it higher in the feeds of your followers, but by showing it to people who follow you and/or the other user
- Liking and re-tweeting your own tweets - Because Twitter uses Likes and re-tweets as indicators of popularity in the algorithm, you can actually increase your exposure by Liking and re-tweeting your own content. The algorithm’s not so basic that it weights these too heavily, but more engagement equals more opportunity – there are benefits to doing this (if you’re okay with the narcissistic message it may send)
As with Facebook, more actions lead to more exposure, so rather than focusing on merely scheduling tweets each day, it’s also worth allocating time to respond and engage as much as possible, and seeking out new opportunities for interaction (which we’ll cover in more detail below).
2. More Room to Tweet
I wasn’t convinced that Twitter’s decision to double the length of tweets was the right one when they first announced the test back in September, but the initial backlash seems to have died down, and Twitter’s data has shown that the extended tweets have actually lead to more engagement.
The key benefit of longer tweets seems to almost be that the initial 140 character limit has attuned our behaviors to brevity, making the extension a big advantage. We’re now so used to condensing our messaging that most users barely notice the longer limit, they just tweet as normal, and because we kind of know around about what the 140 character limit will be, when we do now exceed it, it’s more just a bonus, as opposed people trying to push their tweets to the full 280 character limit every time.
From a marketing perspective, the extra tweet capacity is great because you no longer need to limit your creativity, or put together grammatically questionable responses, which can look unprofessional. There was a surge of brands trying to use up all 280 characters when the feature was first released, but again, that’s died down – now, most people just tweet as normal, with the added length merely simplifying the process.
So how can you use the 280 character limit to best effect? For the most part, it’s just more freedom in creation, but as shown in the above chart, there may be benefits to pushing your messaging out where possible. If longer tweets generate more likes, and more likes = more reach via the algorithm, that’s certainly worth experimenting with. If you expand your messaging and your analytics look good, that could be the way to go.
Some brands have used the expanded tweets as a form of intro to lead into their blog posts, as Simply Measured has done here.
If you use Twitter in your marketing strategy, you undoubtedly spend hours carefully crafting generous numbers of tweets for your brand. Twitter, the fastest-paced social network, requires us to engage with... Keep reading here. https://t.co/jGa7INLj0Q— Simply Measured (@simplymeasured) January 8, 2018
Others have used the extra length to expand their tweets with extra lines between the text - the theory being somewhat similar to how longer Pinterest pins stand out in the feed (Simply Measured again).
When you’re designing each blog post, what are you doing to achieve your engagement goals? How are you designing your blog post to generate engagement?— Simply Measured (@simplymeasured) January 11, 2018
Here are tips on how to achieve each of the top engagement goals.https://t.co/sz3EVEyMpv
Is this effective? We honestly don’t have enough data at this point to know, but it’s definitely worth testing out and experimenting with, and seeing how your audience responds.
3. Advanced Search
But while there are newer features to explore, one of Twitter’s biggest benefits remains its public nature, and its advanced search tools enable you to take advantage of these to best effect.
Twitter marketing expert Mark Schaefer illustrated this well in a recent Social Media Examiner podcast:
“To demonstrate, Mark did an experiment with a local pizza place, which had tried Facebook ads without any success. Mark suggested the owner use advanced Twitter search - Mark showed him how to set up a stream with every conversation that was within five miles of the zip code that mentioned the words “pizza,” “restaurant,” “dining out,” or anything like that.
On average, someone in the area mentioned pizza every 20 minutes. The tweets might have been silly things like, “Oh, I can’t believe how stupid I am. I just dropped my pizza face-down on the floor.” Mark suggested tweeting the person back, “We’re going to deliver you a new pizza.” It doesn’t matter if the customer didn’t buy the dropped pizza from you. You become a legend. Another person complained about slow delivery from a competitor. Mark suggested the pizza place owner respond with, “Next time, try us.”
This is a basic example of how Twitter’s advanced search features can be leveraged to identify opportunities – sure, not every subject is going to be as popular as pizza, but there are brand-relevant conversations of this type happening all the time, and because they’re all public, you can easily find them, then act on them, with relatively minimal effort.
You can set up advanced search streams in Tweetdeck, Hootsuite or most of the other social management platforms, enabling you to stay on top of relevant mentions. It’s not new, but it remains one of the key benefits of an active Twitter strategy.
And as noted, the more engagement the better, with Twitter’s algorithm rewarding such interaction. The advanced search tools can help you find new opportunities in this regard, which can help boost exposure.
Worth utilizing to your advantage.
Last month, Twitter launched its new ‘Threads’ feature – which is essentially simplified Tweetstorms, enabling you to string together a series of tweets on a given topic.
We’re introducing an easier way to Tweet a thread! pic.twitter.com/L1HBgShiBR— Twitter (@Twitter) December 12, 2017
Along with 280 character tweets, Threads gives you a lot more room to add context, which has significant brand implications when used wisely.
As recently noted by Social Media Today contributor Ben Shute, one of the key benefits of Threads is that they’re native to the Twitter feed – they’re present on the platform where people are already active, as opposed to Moments or a link back to your website. Because of this, they provide a new opportunity to more easily add context – and because the full thread is hidden behind a ‘See more’ prompt, they’re also not generally intrusive, so you can add more context to a tweet without overwhelming your followers.
Threads provide a new way to offer more details explanations, step-by-step instructions, more in-depth messages with added context. And because the tweets are linked, it also makes it easier for users to understand, without seeing a single part of the wider message appear in their stream.
As with longer tweets, it’s too early to say exactly what will and won’t be most effective with Threads, but there’s a range of new opportunities to consider, and its another key tool to have in your Twitter marketing arsenal to help add context to your messaging.
5. Video, Video, Video
As with pretty much all social platforms, video is the best performing post type on Twitter. This was highlights again in a recent study from Buffer.
If you’re not utilizing video, or considering how you could possibly incorporate video into your Twitter strategy, you’re overlooking a key opportunity.
Twitter’s live-streaming push seems to have lost some momentum of late, but the platform is still broadcasting a heap of exclusive content, and will continue to make this a key focus as they look to drive more investment in video programming.
It’s going to be tough for Twitter to generate optimal momentum for their video efforts, with Facebook, Google and Amazon all expanding their own TV-like pushes, but you can expect Twitter to find new, better ways to showcase their happening video content, with additional prompts and promos to make users aware when they’re airing.
That’ll lead to more opportunities for video publishers on the platform – as Twitter’s algorithm evolves, it will also be able to recommend more related video content, of which, yours could be highlighted to more users.
In addition to this, Twitter will also be looking into more image recognition type ads, which they showcased more than a year ago but have yet to roll out.
These, too, will provide more opportunities for visual content, more ways to promote and improve your marketing strategy.
Visuals, in general, are key to improving your Twitter performance, and video, in particular, is worth considering. Consider too, that shorter video is generally more effective on Twitter, with research showing that a 15-second video on the platform is just as effective as a 30-second one, in terms of recall and impact.
That may mean your Twitter videos require a dedicated, platform-specific approach.
As noted, while the broader narrative around Twitter has been less than impressive, there are significant opportunities in the platform, both for research and engagement. Don’t overlook the potential – the combination of public commentary and expanded communication options can provide reach and engagement benefits, both on and off the platform itself.
You need to track your analytics, and ensure your efforts justify the time spent, but definitely, there are still ways to use Twitter to great effect.