opinion

Changes in Social Media and What You Need to Know

February was a big month for updates on social networks. Twitter updated their algorithm and is talking about expanding to 10,000 characters. Twitter added gif search. Facebook added “reactions” to their like function. Part of what keeps social media interesting is that it is always changing. Let’s take a look at the changes and what they mean to businesses.

10,000-Character Twitter

There have been many studies done that correlate the frequency of tweeting with the amount of actions (likes, retweets, mentions, clicks) in a tweet. People who tweet more frequently will get more followers faster, have higher engagement levels, bigger impressions and more clicks.

The biggest potential change that is coming is the 10,000-character limit for tweets. Twitter currently allows 140 characters per tweet. The limited size is what defines the network as a microblogging platform.

You have just enough space to express a thought, and not even a complex thought either. An increase to 10,000 characters changes the dogma of Twitter. But why should that matter to a business?

If Twitter makes this change, you may have to redefine how you interact with the network. Conversations are no longer limited to one-word responses and a string of emoji. Why share a link when you can just share the text? Or the bigger question will this change the legal requirements of tweets.

If you can have 10,000 characters on Twitter, then why can they not require you to post disclaimers, 2257 statements, rules and regulations, contest terms, the list could go on.

Imagine, if you will, trying to run a Twitter contest and listing all the rules, regulations and requirements for the contest; or posting about an enhancement supplement and having to add the warnings. The tweets would be horrendously long, not to mention a huge hassle to write.

Then you still might be left with 140 characters because 9,860 characters were spent writing your disclaimer. The bigger picture is this, does the 10,000-character limit open up Twitter to regulation from which it has previously been exempt.

The other issue is how does it affect actual usage of the network. Will it replace blogs?

Anyone looking at driving traffic to their site will cringe at the idea that the blog will go away. Though you can get your news from it, it is not a new social network. Twitter is a news network. It has broken new stories before the affiliate press, such as Whitney Houston found dead, Hudson river plane crash, the raid on Osama Bin Laden and the Boston Marathon bombings. This trend has become known as Citizen Journalism.

This change in Twitter could make it more of a news network, but instead of clicking the link people will want to stay on site to read the story in their timeline.

The Twitter Algorithm

Twitter has released its new (and basically first) algorithm! Finally, a change that is not making it like Facebook! Even though Facebook also has an algorithm (EDGErank), the two operate differently. The difference? The Facebook algorithm suppresses content and will actively keep posts from appearing in follower’s timelines, the Twitter algorithm dedicates a part of your timeline to tweets that you missed but still shows you all of the tweets in the active timeline.

This new algorithm is trying to shift the culture of Twitter to becoming more engagement based. Since the inception of the micro-blogging platform, Twitter has shown its tweets in reverse chronological order, or LIFO for those of you who like manufacturing terms.

Last In, First Out

The most recent tweet posted is the one that people see first on their timeline. LIFO is part of what has influenced the short lifespan of a tweet, being roughly 18 minutes. Because so many people are tweeting, your tweet is easily drowned in the quagmire of tweets. The solution to this has been frequency.

There have been many studies done that correlate the frequency of tweeting with the amount of actions (likes, retweets, mentions, clicks) in a tweet. People who tweet more frequently will get more followers faster, have higher engagement levels, bigger impressions and more clicks.

The new algorithm is trying to mitigate this a little bit by adding a “while you were away” section. This is a small section at the top of your timeline that shows you the top tweets of accounts you engage with since the last time you logged in.

Most of the reactions to this change have not been positive. People like the LIFO aspect of Twitter. It is a social network that is alive with conversation. The fast paced style of Twitter encourages people to log in frequently and interact with the social network.

For people who use Twitter for business, the benefit to Twitter has been that there is no algorithm, like EDGErank, that buries your tweets. This new change really increases the importance on engagement.

The “while you were away” part of the timeline shows top tweets for you, for the user. The top tweets are the top tweets of the people you engage with regularly. So if you, as a brand, want to appear in your followers “while you were away” section of the timeline, you will have to engage with them and get them to engage with you.

Ultimately engaging with your followers is part of Twitter’s best practices. If you want better results from your social media you should engage with your audience. However, now it is becoming even more important because Top Tweets are more than just a function of search, they are now a function of the timeline. Will this increase your engagement rate? Will it increase impression? Lifespan of a tweet? Click rate? At this point it is hard to tell.

Likely if you are appearing in the “while you were away” section, your engaged users are more likely to engage with those tweets. But we do not know if it will impact the bottom line. The other big question is how will you know if you are appearing in that section? Right now there is no way to know. They are no releasing any information that would alert you to that, so you cannot judge if your engagement tactics are successful with the algorithm.

Currently you can opt in or out of this new algorithm, though likely they will just make it the default for all accounts. If you would like to opt in, you can go to your settings, and click the check box that says, “Show me the best tweets first.”

Twitter Gif Search

Twitter has integrated a new kind of search feature to help diversify media content on the platform. They are now the only social network that you can search for gifs to share. What is even more interesting is that you can perform the search from the same place you are writing the tweet.

So when you go to add your gif, you can do a network search first. In case you didn’t know, gifs will play directly in the timeline. They are a great way to make your content more diverse and eye catching. Though this is not a huge change, it is indicative of what Twitter has been trying to do, which is make the network more directed towards engagement and diverse content.

Facebook Reactions

Facebook finished out the month with a big new update to their platform, called reactions. Reactions are emoji based “like” options. For years, people have been complaining that there is not dislike feature of Facebook. So if you dislike something you either comment that you dislike, hit like anyway, or chose to not engage.

With the rollout of reactions you can now chose like, haha, wow, sad or angry. You can even do combination reactions, i.e. you could like and wow a post. The new addition to the like feature simply adds a more nuanced element to “like”.

Some people think that this will decrease comments as it increases the simple one click response. That is possible. It is also possible that it will increase engagement rates because people have more options than like or comment. It may grab the crowd that was never going to comment in the first place.

Though the changes in social media were not earth shattering, thankfully the earth shattering change (10,000-character tweet limit, is still in theory and not practice), they are showing that the networks are moving to increase engagement by their user base.

This focus is likely due to the fact that engagement has been decreasing across the board. Some hypothesize that it is because the social networks are too focused on making money, and others that people are moving to different networks. Regardless, it is nice to see some changes that encourage engagement and could benefit user experience instead of simply make a buck.

Lauren MacEwen operates 7Veils.com, providing social media strategy and management for the adult entertainment industry. Her Twitter handle is @7_veils.

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