Too often we don’t see change until it’s already happened. If you had polled a thousand marketers a few years ago and asked the following questions, you wouldn’t have gotten a lot of “Yes” responses:
- Will Google ever shift to favor mobile rankings?
- Will the Stories technology pioneered by Snapchat overtake the social media platform feed?
- Is vertical video here to stay?
Looking back now, the fact that all of those things happened seems like the logical course of events. But very few people got out ahead of them and most of us are still playing catch up.
So, what other change is happening around us that we are too sure of ourselves to notice? Here’s one:
Anyone else notice how prominent the Thread has become on Twitter? (Also called a Tweetstorm, if you’re one of those people who fully embraces the technological degradation of our language.)
It’s everywhere. Like any tactic, some are using it to sketchy ends like spreading misinformation. But plenty of professors, political scientists, entrepreneurs, developers, and journalists, among others, are regularly using Threads to tweet out bite-sized but connected content that, when read one after another, reads a lot like…a blog post. This begs the question, is this the end of the blog post as we know it?
Because identifying change is only valuable if you can predict what the effects of that change will be, here is our theory: the increasing prevalence of Twitter Threads is going to cannibalize enough of the blogging world that blogging is going to become a less effective tactic for SEO.
Somewhere, Rand Fishkin’s mustache furrows in dismay
Here are some parameters for this future digital marketing hellscape:
First, the Tweet Thread won’t reduce the importance that Google and other search engines place on fresh, authoritative content on your website. People are going to just stop reading it.
We’ve seen this happen repeatedly as new platforms come online or develop new features. There’s nothing preventing you from looking up photos on Tumblr instead of Pinterest, from posting your own photos to Flickr instead of Instagram, from reading news on the Boston Globe’s website instead of on Facebook or listing your resume and publications on a website instead of LinkedIn. People just don’t do those things anymore, so if you want anyone to look at what you’re posting online, you’ll need to post it where the attention is.
We’re not going so far to say anything will change in the way Google ranks content on search results pages (we are, after all, writing a blog post about the death of blogging for SEO marketing value). But if most brands compare the delta of their blog traffic from now versus a few years ago to their social followings now versus a few years ago, we bet they’ll be able to validate our hunch on this one. Here’s a highly scientific model of those trends:
The user behavior of going to a blog to read information is going to be replaced with the impulse to go to Twitter for a thread.
What are the indicators that will tell us when this starts happening?
- Twitter threads will be more easily titled and searched for on the Twitter app.
- People will start sharing Twitter threads with you outside the app, via email or text or screenshot.
- Twitter threads will start showing up in SERPs
Second, the US will not be the leader in this shift. It will come from the developing world.
According to Hootsuite, 80% of Twitter’s user are from outside of the United States. Twitter is embracing this international growth with Twitter Lite, which is data friendly and geared towards the 2 billion people around the world whose smartphones are their only connection to the internet. The low barrier of entry inherent in posting a Thread on Twitter, compared to blogging on a website, points to quick adoption in places less internet-literate than the United States.
From a consumption perspective, Threads, if they catch on, could spread rapidly in places where social media platforms play an extremely prominent role in people’s digital experience. Currently West Africa and Oceania are places “where many Facebook users don’t know the app is on the internet, or have no idea there is an internet beyond Facebook.” (Yes, we linked to a Twitter thread. But so did the New York Times.) Quartz has a detailed article on these misconceptions also.
No, you aren’t going to see Twitter Threads (Threading?) everywhere the same way blogging took off in its heyday.
The content landscape is different than it was when blogging had its heyday. Social platforms in general have matured from syndication outlets to become content hosting environments themselves. In fact, the idea that Twitter threads will eat away at blogging is just a continuation of this general trend. Therefore, it’s a struggle within an ever-shrinking corner of the internet.
Twitter is not seeing the same growth as the other platforms in its cohort. While more people use the platform daily than ever before, monthly user growth waxes and wanes and overall growth for 2019 is predicted to be only 1%. One way to look at this is: the people already using the app are using it more than ever before, but Twitter isn’t bringing in new users. Various competing channels (IG Stories and Live, YouTube channels, newsletters, etc.) are still taking more and more of the online content pie every year.
Brands will be bad at it, and it will drive most brands further away from peer status on social media.
Various factors such as platform changes, privacy concerns and the shift to messaging, and the rise of influencers and brand ambassadors that speak on behalf of brands, have driven brands further from the peer status they enjoyed with their consumers early on social media.
But one of the biggest factors ushering most brands back up to interrupter status online is the growing level of difficulty in sharing the same types of content as their consumers. It’s harder and harder for a brand to blend in on your feeds as aesthetics have shifted away from the light-hearted community feeling and curated authenticity of early- and mid-stage social media towards the detached, meme-driven irony of Gen-Y content. Twitter threads are just another arrow in the content quiver that brands will have a hard time emulating.
You’ll have to pay for it.
As Facebook leads the privacy and group-focused Social 2.0, expect to see your favorite tweeters go private and use Patreon or other means to get a subscription fee out of you.
That’s enough crystal ball gazing for now. Check back in 2 years and see if we were right.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in Washington, D.C., today to address a growing list of concerns that have come up regarding data collection methods and security practice on Facebook. Here is Zuckerberg’s full testimony.
As advertisers, we spend a lot of time on Facebook. Building ad campaigns, designing social media strategy, targeting potential consumers, and implementing tracking codes are daily activities for our Digital Marketing team, as they are for any digital marketing agency in 2018. But the ubiquity of Facebook advertising, especially within an agency or marketing department, can make it easy to forget just how powerful the platform’s targeting options are. If advertisers are ignoring the specificity of the levers we pull, then we’re even less likely to go one step further and ask, “What data points is Facebook basing this targeting on?”
Let’s take a look at Zuckerberg’s testimony and what changes it might presage for the platform.
Zuckerberg starts by stating, “Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company.” I think it’s important to remember this whenever we’re working on Facebook. Zuckerberg really believes this (see his note from Feb. 2017 for a detailed breakdown) and he sees Facebook as a positive set of tools to build, connect, and empower communities to do good in the world. At least, he did until recently.
Zuckerberg’s testimony reads like an admission of naivete: “For most of our existence, we focused on all the good that connecting people can bring.” However, the recent string of crises that Facebook has endured seems to have wisened him up a bit:
“But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
Now, we’re a creative agency, not a media outlet. I’m not a reporter, and while I’ve been working in Facebook for years I’ve hardly been tracking its CEO’s every move. There’s plenty of support for the theory that Zuckerberg is more self-serving than he appears. For the sake of this blog post, the takeaway is this: Facebook screwed up, they know it, and they’re doing some things about it.
Here are some changes, as described by Zuckerberg, that we need to be aware of as advertisers:
- “We’re removing developers’ access to your data if you haven’t used their app in three months.”
- “Two weeks ago, we found out that a feature that lets you look someone up by their phone number and email was abused. This feature is useful in cases where people have the same name, but it was abused to link people’s public Facebook information to a phone number they already had. When we found out about the abuse, we shut this feature down.”
- “From now on, every advertiser who wants to run political or issue ads will need to be authorized. To get authorized, advertisers will need to confirm their identity and location.”
- “For even greater political ads transparency, we have also built a tool that lets anyone see all of the ads a page is running.”
- It remains to be seen if this will only apply to political advertisers.
- “We will also require people who manage large pages to be verified as well. This will make it much harder for people to run pages using fake accounts, or to grow virally and spread misinformation or divisive content that way.”
- “Our best estimate is that approximately 126 million people may have been served content from a Facebook Page associated with the IRA at some point during that period. On Instagram, where our data on reach is not as complete, we found about 120,000 pieces of content, and estimate that an additional 20 million people were likely served it. Over the same period, the IRA also spent approximately $100,000 on more than 3,000 ads on Facebook and Instagram, which were seen by an estimated 11 million people in the United States.”
- This jumped out to me as the most interesting point in the whole testimony: 93% of the reach that the IRA garnered in the lead up to the election was organic. That sound you can hear is underappreciated community managers and content creators collectively dropping the mic.
There is plenty in the testimony that can inform your strategies going forward. But beyond optimization tactics and platform updates, what should we, as advertisers, take away from Zuckerberg’s testimony and the tribulations of Facebook recently?
Facebook is, as described by to Nick Thompson, editor of Wired Magazine, “one of the most effective advertising mechanisms that has ever been built by mankind.” And that’s certainly true, because it allows us to know some pretty personal things about our potential customers. Think about some of the ways that we can target our ad campaigns on the platform:
- Whether or not a user is college educated
- A user’s proximity to your location
- A user’s recent purchasing history
- Users with an upcoming anniversary
- Users who are new parents
- Users who are politically “Very Liberal” or “Very Conservative”
Facebook’s business model is to gather as much data about its users as it can, and then sell it. While Zuckerberg’s mission may or may not be more humanitarian, the business model to get him there is clear and highly, highly, effective. It is focused on harvesting this type of personal data, and as advertisers we’re writing the checks. The more data available, the better ads perform. The better ads perform, the more advertising dollars get allocated to Facebook. For those keeping score at home, that puts advertisers firmly on the team of “People Who Should Reflect On Their Actions.”
In his testimony, Zuckerberg referenced the balancing act between security and profit: “I’ve directed our teams to invest so much in security — on top of the other investments we’re making — that it will significantly impact our profitability going forward. But I want to be clear about what our priority is: protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”
Zuckerberg says Facebook will work with Congress to fix these issues, but won’t wait for legislation to act. He then lays out a list of things Facebook is doing now, unilaterally, to address problems that have been brought to light over the last 18 months. And as advertisers, we can take the same approach: we don’t have to wait for Facebook to remove targeting criteria that makes us feel like we’re invading people’s privacy. We can just stop using those criteria.
There is an often-quoted adage about free apps like Facebook: “If you’re not paying, you’re the product.” While Zuckerberg and Congress can debate that fact, another way we should be thinking about this issue is: If you are paying, they’re making it for you.