We’re entering an interesting stage for social platforms, one which seems to be shifting focus from corporate benefit to community good. Of course, both elements need to co-exist – you can’t run a business without an eye on profit. But amidst the controversy in the wake of the 2016 US Presidential Election, and the ways in which social platforms, which have become integral to our broader interactive process, can also be used against us, there does seem to be a changing of the tide.
Such is evident in Twitter’s latest transparency report.
According to Twitter, the platform has suspended more than 1.2 million accounts for sharing, or seeking to share, terrorism-related content between August 2015 and December 2017.
As explained by Twitter:
“Between August 1, 2015 and December 31, 2017, we suspended 1,210,357 accounts from Twitter for violations related to the promotion of terrorism. Of those 274,460 accounts suspended in the last reporting period, 93% were flagged by internal, proprietary tools, and 74% of those accounts were suspended before their first Tweet.”
That last stat is particularly impressive – Twitter’s internal tools have been able to detect the majority of suspect accounts and remove them before they’ve had any impact at all.
But most interesting, in the broader context of social good versus corporate performance, almost 23% of all their removals since 2015 took place in the last reporting period.
As you might recall, Twitter posted no growth in overall users in Q4, sitting flat at 330 million MAU.
In fact, usage actually declined in the US, where you would have expected the Trump effect alone to have prompted more interest. In overall terms, 274k suspensions wouldn’t account for a major impact in these broader stats, but the fact that Twitter has been actively willing to push out some of these questionable accounts, while risking the wrath of Wall Street by not showing growth, is a positive sign on several fronts.
Growth has been the biggest headache for Twitter. Facing inevitable comparisons to Facebook, Twitter has always struggled to keep up – as have all social platforms, with Facebook now towering above at 2.13 billion monthly actives. That comparison, fair or not, has been a weight Twitter’s been forced to carry. Logically, more users means more advertising potential, which inevitably leads to more revenue. Slower growth means diminishing returns - a narrative that’s been forced down Twitter’s throat for the last four years.
But in the modern age of digital media, that may not be entirely accurate.
Sure, Facebook remains the greatest example of social platform success, particularly from a business perspective, but Facebook’s ubiquity also means that there’s not likely to be another Facebook, ever. No one could have foreseen The Social Network’s growth, and no other platform has even come close, but that doesn’t mean that some smaller players, like Twitter, can’t focus on more niche audience subsets and still generate significant revenue.
This seems to be where the next phase of social media, as an industry, is headed. Facebook is Facebook, and it’s out on an island, beyond the reach of competitors in terms of size and scale. But Snapchat still beats Facebook in younger audience usage, Pinterest is driving opportunities as an eCommerce connector. Twitter can do the same – this is something they’ve been focused on with their expanding video content efforts, serving more specific audience groups. But we may see Twitter further splinter off in this regard, and shift away from the wide audience focus in favor of more specific audience offerings.
The positive of this – and the secondary driver to some degree – is that such a shift could also free Twitter to take more action against trolls and bots, with less concern for how that will impact top line audience numbers.
They’ve already been moving on this – in addition to the 274k suspensions noted here, Twitter’s also suspending and removing more accounts than ever, as noted in this tweet from Twitter analytics platform Followerwonk in March.
Twitter is deleting/suspending accounts at an unprecedented rate. In the past 30 days we have detected:— Followerwonk (@followerwonk) March 5, 2018
2.18 million new accounts
3.18 million deleted/suspended
We've never seen a net loss over 30 days, before.
That seemingly came in response to a New York Times article which highlighted the widespread use of Twitter bot factories, which various celebrities and ‘influencers’ have used to artificially inflate their audiences.
Twitter’s also removed far-right accounts and others which have violated the platform rules - activity that the company has long been criticized for overlooking. Part of the logic behind that is that Twitter, it seemed, was hesitant to act because of the potential impact such removals might have on overall numbers. Evidently, that’s becoming less of a concern.
For marketers, such a crackdown can only be a positive. Sure, overall audience numbers could, potentially, be lower, but you don't want to be reaching fakes and bots. In order for your message to get through, you need it to be seen by real people, and any effort to remove fake accounts will likely improve performance.
It’ll also help in the case of influencer marketing – right now, Twitter follower counts are still used by many as a proxy for ‘influence’ - which, given the amount of fakes and bots, is likely not representative. Uncovering those with actual reach and response rates will make it easier to pinpoint who you should be working with on the platform to boost your messaging.
So how will this impact Twitter’s overall user numbers? We’ll get some indication of this on April 25th, when Twitter reports its Q1 18 numbers. There likely won’t be a heap of indicators as yet, but given the overall efforts and figures being shared, this does seem like a step in the right direction for Jack and Co. – provided the market's able to trust the process.