Twitter Needs Stronger Conversations, Not Longer Spam

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Barrack Obama types in the first presidential Tweet with Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey watching.

The Internet is abuzz about how to fix Twitter. The conversation revolves around the potential expansion of Tweets to as many as 10,000 characters.

It’s a bit of a Trojan horse of a conversation. The real issue is how can Twitter break out of a slump that has the social network stymied with no growth, quarterly losses, and lackluster engagement.

Unfortunately, longer tweets won’t fix the problem. Twitter’s slump revolves around the network’s lack of human connection rather than its format. Specifically, the social network’s problem is a never-ending stream of spammy links and a lack of connectivity to other human beings.

Is It Really News?

Adrienne

Twitter made a decision a long time ago to describe itself as a news service, and a place to find out and discuss what is going on. This was an effort to differentiate it from Facebook and other social networks.

The ongoing news focus came with a price: Sharing stories, news, and content in the form of links. Links to useful information aren’t bad, but what Twitter has become as a result of the links, well, that’s another issue. What many people see in there streams are a series of short (and often poorly written) headlines and comments with links. Rare is the conversation or simple reply.

Janet

Many of the links featured in the stream of links don’t expand. Even pictures are shown as links half the time, depending on browser and bandwidth.

Worse, because of the public nature of Twitter, it has become brand marketers and PR folks’ number one or number two go-to-social network to share information. Unfortunately, their idea of information is most people’s idea of spam or just boring content (see content marketing rant).

One could say the same for many of the links shared by everyday users. Some are interesting. Most are not.

Of course, you could say shame on the people who follow these folks. But even the most casual friend seems to use Twitter to 1) drop links and 2) rant or complain. It’s hard to follow no one on Twitter and be a part of any experience.

What Can Be Done?

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Twitter’s issue is not maximum tweet length. The way 10k would come across, it would look like any other blog post with a lead and link to the whole thing, so I see no inherent value or detriment. No, the issue is feeling that whenever you log in, you’re just going to be sourced a bunch of spammy links, some pushed by brands, some pushed by users (we’ll call this UG spam for user-generated spam). But can Twitter be saved?

Now you see the wisdom of Facebook, Pinterest and Google+. Each of those networks naturally embeds posts and pics in posts. In the case of Facebook and Google+, their algorithm curates the most “interesting” updates to spare readers from what they may consider to be mundane or spammy.

Daniel Waldman

I asked several people for their suggestions on what could fix Twitter. Some of the answers are embedded throughout the post. One of the most compelling ones was simply making the 140 characters used for text, and have posts show images and stories automatically as embeds sans character count.

I agree with Shireen, but am not sure format is enough to save the day. In comparison to the other social networks, Twitter is not fun very fun or useful in the social context.

The other social networks have function beyond sharing news and ranting about it on the side. They offer unique focus on social functions like family and friends (Fakebook), or business interactionss (LinkedIn), or friends who show and don’t tell much (Instagram), or contacts who share and store useful information (Pinterest), or places where you can avoid public eyes (SnapChat et al).

Horvath

What does Twitter offer that those networks don’t? News trolls? Publicly quantified pundits? What’s missing is the conversation and interestingness, and that’s what Twitter really needs to restore if it wants to continue to grow and develop. After all, it should be about the people who use it. That’s the way it used to be. Perhaps using some sort of an algorithm to filter the stream is necessary, but that would fly in the face of the social network’s stream ethos.

I don’t pretend to have an answer, but maybe you do. Feel free to weigh in.

Do You Believe in Mermaids?

This could be titled “4 Random Rants,” but the mermaid one was too good to pass on as the headline. Along the way we will also discuss stalking photographers, social media experts, and the Donald. Here we go.

1) Stalking Photographers

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I often use a tripod when taking landscapes and in studio. It makes for a better picture, reduces shake, and lessens the amount of time necessary to take a great capture. Whenever I am in a public place, busy or not, people inevitably walk by, see the camera on the tripod, and what do they do?

Well, most stare at me, and then look back and forth between what they are doing and me and my camera. If there are multiple folks, they’ll start discussing that there’s a photographer over there. Some of them will come up to me and ask, “What are you shooting?” That’s all fine.

Here’s where it gets bizarre. Some folks walk right up behind me and start looking over my shoulder to figure out what I am shooting. That bugs me out a bit.

Then there are the ones who suddenly think this a good opportunity to hack an Instagram shot. They whip out their smartphones and start shooting over my shoulders, from the side, and in the worst cases they just walk right in front of the tripod and take the shot (yes, it has happened multiple times). Now I am bugged out and annoyed.

Finally, there are the clowns who ask me if I need a model. Some will ask repeatedly, and even give me a card. The above shot of Philadelphia is one example where onlookers kept asking me to be in the shot. The photograph did OK, but it wasn’t worth asking for a hypothetical 15 minutes of fame.

2) Social Media Marketing Conversations Are Dead

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Last week I saw a thread started by a couple of prominent social media experts discussing other social media experts’ blogs, all of which debated whether or not social media marketing is dead. Right away, you should know how bad this was. My desire to throw my laptop against the wall and start screaming increased by the paragraph.

Here’s what’s dead: Conversations about social media marketing. Yes, the whole lot of them, all 762 million of them (many of mine included). It’s a new decade, but a very old and repetitive set of conversations. Build owned content, stop publishing, start talking, and by the way, here are 16 ways to grow your Twitter account with semi-fake followers. Better yet, just talk to other brands (or with other social media marketers) on your Twitter account to fake your engagement rate.

There are so many damn social media marketing conversations out there that they have blurred into white noise. It’s marketing bloggers talking to marketing bloggers… Or worse, marketing bloggers spamming each other with links on Twitter.

The social media marketing is dead discussion is the biggest navel gazing exercise of them all. It’s also the most meaningless one we could have, and the one CMOs care about least. Keep kicking that dead horse.

Come on, get real! Some marketers are just bad at what they do, and they always have been. The medium changes (hello, junk mailers and email spammers!), the problem stays the same. By the way, every profession has winners and losers.

3) Do You Believe in Mermaids?

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Image by Alexandra Moir

I bet you thought the Donald would be next, but no. We need to discuss the mermaid thing first.

A friend told me a story about a 20 something that works with him. This 20 something believes in mermaids because of an article she read on the Internet. She swears by it, and will not be dissuaded. This is a college educated person.

She might be my daughter’s next playmate. I am sure they could have a great conversation about Soleil’s favorite Disney Princess, Ariel.

My friends, this is the state of information thanks to the Internet. People cannot discern truth from fiction. Anyone with a publishing platform can be assertive in their boasts, and back them with faked images and links to other articles, more pictures and even some videos depicting similar fiction.

When you have an ignorant or ill-informed society, dangerous things can happen. At a minimum, the U.S. economy will shed higher earning jobs to better equipped workforces.

The ability to discern quality information remains the greatest challenge facing our children. We must question all sources, even the media as we have seen in recent years. Our educators need to instill the ability to qualify information or we will all be dealing with mermaid debates at work.

Anyone want to buy a unicorn?

4) Dear Huffington Post: Take the Donald Seriously

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Comic by Berkeley Breathed

I admit it, I laughed out loud when the Huffington Post announced that they would only cover the Donald Trump campaign in the entertainment section (full disclosure, I am a Huffington Post blogger). It was even funnier when Berkeley Breathed returned to lampoon the Donald again with Bloom County cartoons.

But in the case of the Huffington Post, the joke may be over. Why? The Donald is still leading the Republican field, no matter how many stupid things he says and how many attacks the rest of the presidential candidates launch at him. That’s not funny, and the story has surpassed any twisted reality show Hollywood could imagine.

There’s an obligation to report this campaign seriously rather than contribute to the circus. This guy might actually be the Republican candidate for the 2016 election. It’s not like he cares when the Kochs and other super rich Republicans try to take him out. He seems impervious to the usual slimy election shenanigans.

Beyond the obligation to take his campaign seriously, there is also the mermaid contingent.

Yes, these poor fools probably believe the Donald Trump campaign
IS
a reality TV show
.

After all, they read it in the entertainment section of a reputable news source. That’s the problem with the Internet these days.

The Value of Silence

In an era when everyone can say whatever they want and often do, silence delivers more than you would think. In fact, there is great value in silence.

Let me give you an example. I had a client that was driving me nuts, and it was all I could do from expressing my frustration. I sat down with xx in a meeting, and was catching a fair amount of grief all while listening to the passionate defense of a few questionable decisions.

Though annoyed, I kept my mouth closed. I had already voiced my opinion on said projects. After a few minutes, the client said, “And we’d like to give you another $20,000 project.”

It literally paid to shut up.

When You Are Quiet

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When you are quiet, you have more energy. You become aware of everything around you.

You see things that are right in front of your eyes, things that you would normally miss. You are awake.

Online Perception

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Every now and then people need to say what they have to say. Some things demand an outcry. Recent NFL delinquencies come to mind. But when there you see a consistent pattern of mouthiness, it’s often perceived as egocentric.

I often see my past critical blogging as a petty attempts to justify actions, feel smarter than other people, or drive traffic in the face of a controversy. More importantly, such actions were hurtful to others.

When I became fully aware three years ago, I made a commitment to change. Often that meant not saying what came to mind. The value of silence outweighed the benefits of saying what I wanted.

I forced myself to a new content standard, one that didn’t engage in this kind of judgement. Content needed to be beneficial, and if it was critical, it had to be in a general way. This was difficult at times, but it built character.

Today, my blog is much less popular, in part because I did things like cut frequency and removed social media as a primary topic. But, I also know there is less traffic because posts are less controversial now. There is no train wreck to witness.

Yet my business and personal results are better now. I get more deals now because I am less vociferous. Clients feel safe now and don’t have to worry about a loose cannon blogger on their team. My relationships with others are better in all aspects of my life.

It’s the value of silence.

Poise

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I could not keep my mouth closed four years ago. What changed? First I became a Dad, second I realized how mouthiness was hurting myself and others, and then finally, I became the sole breadwinner in my family.

Today — most of the time — I avoid engaging in negative posts, actions and conversations.

I’m not always able to act with poise. In fact, earlier this year I received a communication from someone I caught red-handed poaching resources from one of my interests. The person demanded how I discovered their actions. My anger got the best of me and I reacted, calling them out for unethical behavior. It’s been war ever since.

That relationship was a competitive one already, but the additional negative energy was something I could have avoided. Instead, I created an unnecessary distraction and time suck. Yet another reminder that shooting your mouth off doesn’t pay.

But usually, I keep my mouth closed. Pick your battles wisely, my friends.

Pop Created the Twitter Link Farm

Many people complain about Twitter becoming a stream of links. Now a research report supports their claims, but the surprising reason for the shift is an increase in popularity some users receive, as noted by larger follower counts.

Two professors studied 2500 people on Twitter, and then artificially inflated some of the subject group’s Twitter accounts with new followers. The surprise result?

The newly popular Twitterati found that they couldn’t keep growing their accounts by just sounding off or offering day in the life content. To keep the momentum going they increased frequency posting links and updates, and found that stopped impacting their growth, too.

When that failed, the average follower stopped communicating. They just stopped.

Instead, they started viewing Twitter as a static medium, going in and browsing, and then leaving. Much like one would treat TV. And the posts that are left? Well, those are the links. The study concludes the more links that are on Twitter, the less conversation there will be.

I’ve been on Twitter since March, 2007. While my account never exploded like some of my peers, I have seen relatively consistent growth. Sometimes I have offered more link posts on their to grow my account, and currently, I do less of that (but still some). As you can see by the above chart, that’s never really impacted my growth one way or the other. I never left the Twitter conversation, though.

What causes an account to still grow? The truth? I can only say that I have strived to share useful or fun content, and to be present for others.

Plus, frankly, I enjoy talking with people on Twitter, much more so than Facebook. I know Facebook is more dynamic, but… I think that enjoyment shines through.

However, striking up conversations on Twitter is harder by the month. As the study indicates, the link stream gets thicker. And the genuine @s seem to be dissippating.

What do you think?

Six for Six

Day 71 - Dreidl Die
Image by slgckgc

Next Monday marks the six year anniversary of my first blog post. As I’m blogging less these days, I decided my final post of this year with six reflections based on my experiences over these years. Here are my observations about social media, blogging and marketing based on my journey:

1) The Idealism of Better Business Through Social

When I began blogging, I believed in The Cluetrain Manifesto. Its raw message that businesses would be forced to act better thanks to social media spoke to me. Cluetrain inspired hope that conversations could change the very fiber of business in favor of people. I was full of passion for that change, and my first book Now Is Gone reflected this idealism.

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