(Note: This post first appeared on the Voce blog)
Last Friday news broke that Twitter was maybe considering introducing an algorithmic timeline, rearranging updates in a way that surfaces things in a way similar to Facebook. After some sort-of denials by Jack Dorsey, including assurances that no, an algorithmic timeline wasn’t coming this week, an algorithmic timeline has started rolling out today.
The change is being positioned as a way to help you catch up on Tweets from the people you follow. Right now it’s a setting you opt-in to and, if you do so, the updates Twitter thinks you’re most likely to care about will appear at the top of your timeline, with the “rest” appearing below. So it appears to be an expanded version of the “While You Were Away” feature that’s been in place for awhile now. For the moment this is opt-in but Twitter’s post says they’ll be turning it on for everyone in the coming weeks and it’s not clear how you’ll be able to turn it off.
Twitter touts the increased engagement they’ve seen among those who have been testing out this new format, which seems to be the point: That Twitter wants to generate more Retweets and conversations around the things that people are already talking about.
The issue with that approach is that those things people are already talking about tend to be…let’s just say they’re not always the most constructive or important matters. Yesterday, for example, you might have seen everyone reacting to Kanye’s meltdown but maybe not the results of the New Hampshire primaries.Think about how two years ago the unfiltered Twitter stream was all about the racial violence in Ferguson while Facebook was focused on the Ice Bucket Challenge. Engagement based feeds are fine, but they’re designed to show you the things you want to know about, not the things you need to know about.
For content marketers the implications are pretty substantial. If the posts you put up can’t reach whatever tipping point trips the algorithm they’ll be seen by an even lower percentage of your audience than you’re currently seeing. If it does clear that line it could, on the other hand, expose your message to many more than would have otherwise seen it. Engagement begets engagement.
All this reemphasizes how important it is to have sustainable strategies, even if the tactics change. It’s another feed to figure out for content marketers who now need to be at least conversant in SEO, Facebook’s feed, Pinterest influencers, how to convert on Instagram and more. But if the strategies are sound then the tactics that follow from them should be easy to adjust as you gather metrics and otherwise evaluate how the program is performing.
Twitter’s search for user growth, something it has struggled with to the dismay of shareholders and the detriment of its stock price, now stretches beyond more and different ad products – it introduced guaranteed top-of-feed placement just yesterday – into the core Twitter experience.