Get ready for the next phase of Elon Musk’s ‘Twitter 2.0’ plan, with Musk revealing over the weekend that Twitter Blue subscribers will get priority ranking for their replies soon.
In the coming weeks, Twitter will prioritize replies by:— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 18, 2023
1. People you follow
2. Verified accounts
3. Unverified accounts
Verified accounts are 1000X harder to game by bot & troll armies.
There is great wisdom to the old saying: “You get what you pay for.”
Improved tweet visibility was one of several elements included in Musk’s updated Twitter Blue subscription plan, but thus far, Twitter hasn’t changed up its ranking – or at least, it hasn’t successfully been able to implement such, without causing other issues.
Back in January, many Twitter users reported seeing big declines in overall tweet engagement. Insider reports from Twitter HQ then revealed that Twitter’s engineering team was having trouble implementing new code changes, because of the way that the current system has been patched together over time. That meant that implementing new updates – like re-ranking how tweets are displayed – was causing unexpected issues, leading to adverse side effects that restricted overall tweet reach.
It seems that Twitter has now rectified this – though Musk has also reported that the platform’s ranking algorithm remains ‘overly complex and not fully understood internally’.
Which doesn’t sound entirely optimistic – but still, Musk and Co. seem to be at the stage where they can now implement this aspect for paying Twitter users, giving them more reach and exposure within reply chains, which will also see non-paying users downranked, if they have no connection to the posting account.
Which might also lead to unintended side effects.
For example, playing this out:
- At present, following the expansion of the availability of Twitter Blue over the last few weeks, Twitter has around 450k paying Twitter Blue subscribers, as per estimates from researcher Travis Brown. That equates to 0.18% of Twitter’s 253 million total active users
- You can also assume that many of these users are supporters of Elon Musk, who’s increasingly becoming a political figure in his own right – so Twitter will soon boost tweets from a tiny fraction of users who are increasingly likely to support one side of general political discussion
- In some ways, that means the impact will be marginal – but when you also consider that only a small percentage of Twitter users produce the majority of tweets, that could have a bigger than expected impact on overall tweet discourse
- The most likely result will be that people will be less likely to tweet about divisive political topics, for fear of being bombarded by paid blue tick accounts, while more spammers and attention seekers will look to newsjack viral tweets, in the hopes of getting more exposure for their messaging
In general, I don’t know that it will have a massive impact on overall tweet interaction, because Twitter Blue take-up is so low. But it will have some effect in tilting the discussion in the app – while brands may also now have more reason to consider signing up to Twitter Blue, in order to get their replies more exposure and presence.
At present, it seems that brands are able to sign up for Twitter Blue, but Twitter, you would expect, will eventually push them towards its significantly more expensive ‘Verification for Organizations’ program, which could change the process once again.
But right now, the only pending change will be the re-ranking of replies, which, again, will likely have minimal impact, so long as it only relates to tweet replies, and doesn’t limit tweet visibility in general.
Which is another element that Twitter is experimenting with. This week, a report from Platformer indicated that Twitter has deliberately restricted the reach of accounts of competitor social media apps, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and more. Which is not surprising – Musk takes a dim view of enabling promotion of his competition, and has already tried to block outbound links to competing social apps.
If Twitter were to expand this, and maybe look to give paid checkmark accounts more exposure in user ‘For You’ feeds, that could have an even bigger impact, and could really skew the conversation in the app. Twitter doesn’t appear to be moving in that direction as yet – though Platformer did also note that among the accounts being restricted was the US Department of Health and Human Services.
That aligns with Musk’s repeated criticism of public health officials over their handling of the COVID outbreak, and maybe, that could be an indicator of Musk’s personal ideologies interfering with tweet ranking. With that in mind, and as Twitter tries to drive up Twitter Blue subscriptions, it seems within the realm of possibility that it could look to apply more broad-reaching reach restrictions on non-paying accounts in future.
It’s not there yet, but as Musk says ‘you get what you pay for’. If Twitter really wants to get more people paying, it will likely explore more options to squeeze users on this front.
And Elon himself doesn’t see the $8 per month cost as being anything significant. Just pay, it’s nothing.
I still, personally, don’t see why the majority of users would ever pay, especially since most don’t ever tweet, and thus, get no value out of increased exposure, or a blue tick. But Twitter’s still pushing ahead with its Twitter Blue plan, in the hopes that it can get enough paying subscribers to reduce its reliance on ad revenue, and free it, in Elon’s words, from ‘the whims of corporate America’.
That still seems unrealistic, but Twitter is making $3.6 million a month from Twitter Blue right now, which likely makes it worth the push, even if it fails to become any more significant as a revenue piece.
But how sustainable its re-ranking will be is another question, and it could be that giving more priority to paying accounts actually reduces tweet activity overall, as the platform becomes more dominated by political ideology.
We’ll have to wait and see – Musk says that the re-ranking will come into effect in the coming weeks.