There’s been talk of a Twitter replacement for so long now it feels like an over-spun line from a tired parent.
Just keep waiting, it’ll soon be here. Not long now.
From just round the next corner, it feels as though it’s finally here.
First, Twitter put a cap on the amount of content people could see and announced plans to put the useful Tweetdeck tool behind a paywall.
Second, Meta announced their long awaited Twitter rival they’re calling Threads.
Surely, Threads is the answer, right?
If you’re hoping for this as an outcome, it won’t. But it won’t be good news for Twitter.
What Threads will be
News is sketchy but the low down has been that will look a lot like Twitter, or should I say, old Twitter, and it’ll be linked to Instagram.
It’ll also be free, Meta say, and there will be no limit on posts that can be read. Because it hooks into an existing channel there’s no need to start on the bottom rung with zero followers. That’s going to be a powerful incentive to organisations that have spent time building an existing following.
In addition, the benefit of this is that people can escape the undiluted craziness of the Elon Musk era with a platform that’s not safe to use, is rolling back on safety measures and in short has become something of a weird pub fight.
Stephen Fry was broadly correct in 2016 when he called Twitter ‘a secret bathing pool in a magical glade that had become stagnant.’
Threads isn’t the silver bullet
Is Threads worth looking at? Absolutely.
The tempting thing is to hope that Threads will be an easy like-for-like swap. All of your Twitter followers will magically reappear on Instagram. Bingo. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
It didn’t happen with Mastodon, TruthSocial or BlueSky. Even with the advantage of being connected to Instagram I don’t think it’ll happen here to the same extent. It replicates an existing network rather than builds a whole new one.
For the UK, this means that the prime Threads via Instagram audience is potentially under 30.
Ofcom data shows 91 per cent of 13 to 24-year-olds use Instagram and 82 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds. Almost two thirds of 35 to 44-year-olds use the platform, too.
Every single age demographic has Instagram used more than Twitter in all age groups except over 65s.
On the face of it, it’s a smart move to relocate those text-based messages to the ‘Gram. But hold on a second. Go and look at your Instagram insights. That’s your actual audience.
In practice, if you look at your corporate Instagram insights you may see a different group of people staring back at you. What that won’t be is a reflection of the whole of the audience that you’re looking to serve.
An aside on the changing nature of Twitter
Here’s one unscientific example of the changing nature of Twitter from my own experience. In 2009, England played Australia in the 1st Test of the Ashes. Their last two batsmen Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar had to survive 88 balls to scrape a draw at Cardiff. I followed the bulk of that on Twitter from the passenger seat of the family car with my wife driving and five-year-old son in the back.
Following on Twitter meant I could see every ball, the joy of the English reaction and the despair from Down Under.
On Sunday, I also followed an Ashes Test. This time I did it on the BBC Sport app without thinking the decision through. Why? Because that was the place I headed too without thinking knowing it would give me the best experience. It was only on reflection that it wasn’t Twitter.
Everyone who has loved Twitter on any level will have a different experience.
What the demise of Twitter and the launch of Threads means for emergencies
There’s no doubt Twitter has been a powerful tool to use in an emergency.
When an incident happened, people headed to Twitter and saw the relevant organisation providing real time updates.
The riots of 2011 shaped so much of the last 15-years for public sector Twitter. The Government of the day, you may recall, wanted to haul Facebook, Twitter and RIM the makers of the BlackBerry in for a grilling. They also wanted to ban Twitter and Facebook in an emergency. Saner voices prevailed when it emerged putting your own content there as a trusted voice was the route.
In truth, posting to Twitter in an emergency was the last important reason for having a public sector Twitter account. With the limit on tweets and the stripping of blue ticks from organisations that last reason has been eroded.
Will Threads be a route to communicate in an emergency? Maybe. But I don’t think it’s a like-for-like and it shouldn’t be the only route.
How to communicate in an emergency post-Twitter
The route to communicate in an emergency is already with us. There is already a complex ecosystem of platforms, tools and channels. In the UK, as a population we tend to use five or six platforms. And there’s email.
For me the communicating in an emergency is creating sharable date-stamped content on a range of different platforms. Why date-stamped? Because the algorithms may not show the update for several days by which time the incident has moved on. Showing that the update is 10am on June 3 2023 builds in obsolescence.
The answer may be to post the same message to the corporate Facebook page, a WhatsApp community channel, Threads, email and he website. Yes, this is more work.
What communicating in 2023 is resolutely not is trying to drive traffic to a website. Platforms penalise links. To reach people, you need to put the text of the update onto each platform rather than link back to the website. By all means update your website too. Just don’t think that people will navigate to it from Facebook, Twitter or Threads for that matter.
Can you invest time in building an email list for people in an area prone to flooding? Of course you can but it’ll take time. Email is an important channel.
Journalists and Twitter
Journos have loved Twitter for years. Its influence far outwerighs its audience largely because journalists were there for the breaking news. Not only that but the decision makers could make an announcement in 140 characters without having the fuss of organising a press conference. Or answer questions.
There may be alternative ways to message reporters day-to-day and Threads could be a useful place to point journos to in an emergency.
Twitter won’t disappear overnight
Before Facebook there was MySpace. In 2008, it was the largest show in town and pulling in huge numbers. A series of wrong turns led it into decline. It still exists as a platform but its been a good decade since it was big enough for Ofcom to count it as a channel in the UK.
Twitter will do the same. It’ll decline. It’ll find new direction. It may even have new leadership. History tells us that once decline sets in that’s it. It’s all a question of time.
You absolutely need to make a social media review
What about the other days of the year when you are looking to reach people with a shopping list of tailored messages?
The answer has to be look to run a social media review on yourself to freshen up your position. I’ve blogged about this before. Much social media architecture was developed in 2010. Time has moved on. Those people have left.
Have a fresh look.
The simple Janet and John of a social media review is to look at your audience, your current channels, UK data around who is using what in 2023 and you’ll start to see the patterns emerge.
Bottom line… educate the client
The line I come back to again and again is to educate the client. This is the chief executive, the middle manager, the person you work with to communicate. If you’re having trouble keeping pace spare a thought for them.