In Social Media, Your Personality is the Silver Bullet

Have you noticed how many social media posts are actually just suggested content? Now that this feature has started disappearing, it is time to rethink social media and get personal again. This post shows you how!

When I logged into my Buffer account early on Tuesday last week to start my social media morning ritual, I was greeted with a small message, saying that Buffer will shut down their content recommendations bit by bit, completely discontinuing it by the end of August this year. While Buffer certainly is not the only company to provide content suggestions for Twitter and other social media channels (there are others such as e.g. Klout), it definitely is prominent and also a well-respected voice in social media in general. And therefore this move is noteworthy, especially since Buffer also offered an explanation for their decision here.

Content suggestions create peer pressure

While I have used content suggestions for multiple social media channels in the past, I was always aware that there was one primary reason why I did it: everyone else was doing it too. And by everyone I mean mostly people in digital marketing or the tech industry in general, because the content suggestions were mostly geared towards topics relevant for those people. So if work in one of those areas and didn’t want your Twitter or LinkedIn to appear empty compared to your peers, you probably also felt the urge to take advantage of a handy content suggestion tool and keep sharing away.

At this point I have a confession to make, and I do not like it: I did not read c. 80% of the suggested content I shared in the past – because I just did not have the time. I kept sharing it to make my account look more active and to tweet “smart stuff”. Why? Fishing for engagement (favourites and retweets) and new followers, of course. And this is not what social media should be all about – but nowadays often is.

Over time, as content suggestions gained more and more popularity, I observed bizarre phenomena: When checking my Twitter feed in the morning, I noticed how my friends’ Twitter feeds consisted solely of suggested content over night – when everyone was sleeping. So the algorithms were having a Tweet-fest during the small hours, and in the morning you were greeted by a large number of tweets which you could easily identify as scheduled content suggestions. Oh boy.

High-frequency posting ruins any social channel over time

If you now think that this is somewhat sad, I have to agree with you. And I would even take it one step further: The peer pressure to keep up with volume of posts is in fact capable of ruining not only your self-respect, but the entire culture of a social channel! Think about it: more content means less organic reach, less engagement, and ultimately less ROI on your social media posts and content marketing efforts. This means that marketers will eventually turn their backs on a channel, once profitability on organic posts approaches zero. This can of course happen for other reasons as well – for example, when a channel focuses more and more on paid content promotion, as it is the case with Facebook.

Facebook organic reach per fan
Facebook organic reach (data compiled by Socialbakers)

As a marketer you may now think that this does not really affect you, since you can simply keep doing it while it works – making hay while the sun shines. However, you would miss a very important point:

Using suggested content excessively will not do you much good – because it simply is not you posting!

Personality matters more than anything else

This is something many companies (and individuals) still do not understand: In today’s marketing world, users do not need simply more content, quite often they would like the opposite. A while ago I wrote a post on the problem of content overflow and how content marketers struggle with the ever increasing amount of available content and the resulting decline in user engagement. And my conclusion was (and still is) that users connect with truly personal communication, with a certain style they can recognise. This builds true loyalty, not just more volume.

And this is where suggested content fails to deliver:

Unless you add a personal touch to each tweet, each LinkedIn share and each Facebook post, your followers will simply not perceive it as coming from you.

It will be part of the white noise they hear all day. And which they have become really good at ignoring.

While you may not feel a direct penalty for using suggested content, you are missing out on the opportunity to build genuine, lasting relationships with your audience by being personal in your communication.

So when I learned that Buffer will shut down their content suggestions, it made a lot of sense to me, even before reading about their reasoning. In our age, and with the outlook of the internet growing by 600% until 2020, simply increasing the content volume and frequency on your marketing channels is not ineffective, but may in fact alienate your audience.

Instead, focus on being personal, on being human when interacting with your audience. Rather than flooding your audience’s news feeds with endless posts, try to inject the “human” back into your social media. Real connections are made through emotions, and if your social interactions have a personal touch, people are more likely to favour you over anyone who still tries to win the race simply by adding more volume.

Managing your social media in 5 steps

But how can you manage to be both personal and still active enough on social media? Here are 5 steps you can follow to manage your social media accounts every day:

  1. Have your hotlist of great sources you skim every morning at breakfast, and select 3–4 posts you really find interesting — that’s your personality talking
  2. Schedule them during the day using scheduling tools like Buffer or Hootsuite, including obviously some of your own content. Again, three tweets is enough
  3. Use Twitter saved searches (doing a search and then clicking “save”) to follow certain hashtags or keywords, and then jump into a few of those conversations, adding your opinion
  4. Be reactive — if people like your tweets, they will reply or retweet, and that’s a chance for you to be human and reply to them to build true relationships
  5. Retweet a few more interesting things you see in passing to show appreciation and make your feed more diverse

And there you go: This brings you to about 7 of your own tweets, plus some retweets and replies — which is great! And it makes you come across like a person, not like a bot. This is how you will win in social media in the long run.

What are your thoughts on content suggestions? Do you have any other ideas for being personal on social media? Leave a comment!

Twitter – Sleeping Giant or Sitting Duck?

In this post I will look at Twitter as a business, identify some of its biggest challenges, add my own experience as a user and draw a conclusion about the future direction of the company.

My relationship with Twitter – it’s complicated

People who follow me on Twitter probably know that I am quite active and that I like engaging with others on a number of topics, usually connected to entrepreneurship and startups. However, very few of you know that I actually only started doing this in January 2015! Before that, I had my account idly sitting there, not doing much at all. Then, I decided to give it a go and engage with people properly, and voila: from 80 followers to currently c. 2,500 in just over five months – without any aggressive following, I usually just follow back. So yes, you could say Twitter works for me, and I do enjoy sharing with and learning from others. Also, my Twitter presence has proven really valuable in both content distribution and content discovery.

So why, I hear you asking, do you feel you have a complicated relationship with Twitter? And why do you think Twitter, a platform with such a massive and active user base, is facing serious challenges?

Surprisingly enough, I have more than just one axe to grind with the old blue bird…and I am going to tell you why!

The Product – Twitter is not really evolving

Let’s get straight to the point: Yes, Twitter have worked on some features here and there over the past few years. They redesigned the profile quite a bit, for example, and built some really helpful analytics. From my point of view, however, not much has really happened to the core product. This becomes especially apparent when you compare it with two other companies who have undergone significant product updates, and even evolutions, in the meantime: Facebook and LinkedIn.

Please note: I do not suggest product updates for the sake of just doing them; they should add tangible value for the user. In Twitter’s case, however, there are many opportunities to even just iron out some glaring flaws – and yet nothing much happens. Here is my personal hotlist of significant UX improvements:

        • Abolish automated tweets: “Hey Matthias (+15 more people), thanks for following me!” Services such as IFTTT (otherwise a really great tool) have made it possible to send new followers impersonal, meaningless welcome tweets – for what purpose? Is it meant to make me feel welcome and appreciated when some algorithm tweets to me? I get why people want to do it, but Twitter really should think what kind of automation it wants to allow via its API to avoid spam.
        • Abolish automated Direct Messages: See above – just that it is even worse! “Thanks for following me, please also like my Facebook page!” Are you mad?! You just got something (a follower) and you immediately want more? The spirit of Direct Messages should be a very personal, private interaction – and yet automation has managed to completely ruin that feature. Again, why is Twitter tolerating this spammy behaviour.
        • Fix disappearing Notifications: Has it ever happened to you that months worth of Notifications simply disappeared? Sometimes they come back, sometimes they do not. While this may not be crucial to some users, I find it disturbing that such a basic, basic product feature has such obvious flaws!

This list is not exhaustive, and I am sure other people can tell you a lot more examples of low-hanging fruit improvements Twitter could make (hint: leave a comment!). To me, policing spammy user behaviour is particularly important as it can easily make or break a service in the eyes of its community. Other companies like LinkedIn should also work on issues such as spammy pictures in their news feed, but that is a story for another blog post.

Community management – if only!

There are a couple of things a company should do to be successful in the long run. While a lot of them are related to its inner workings (e.g. growing a solid culture to support organisational growth and preserve integrity), there is one essential factor no company can ever ignore: the voices of its customers and users.

In Twitter’s case, customers are advertisers, and users are people like you and me. I honestly do not know how well Twitter takes care of their paying customers, but if their handling of users is any indication, I would not get my hopes up.

In short:

Customer care and community management at Twitter are the worst I have experienced in any sizeable tech company!

I am the type of user who sends messages to customer support if I find something not working the way I believe it should, or if I think something could be improved. Why? Simply because I want to help companies I interact with understand what their users think. I have sent quite a few tweets to companies like LinkedIn or Buffer, and I was amazed by the speed and dedication with which they replied and often even followed up.

With Twitter, not so much: I do not remember ever receiving just one response to a tweet when I pointed out an issue or suggested an improvement. Other Twitter users I spoke to made the same experience, and I wonder why a social network thinks it is a great idea to be anti-social on their own platform? Should a company not be happy if their user base cares about the product? It is a strong connection which is easily weakened, if not destroyed, by a lack of responsiveness – because it sends a simple message: “We do not really give a f*** what you think!”

It honestly puzzles me as I simply refuse to believe that the people at Twitter do not understand this very simple truth – so why on Earth are they trying so hard to alienate loyal and caring users? If anyone has an insight, do let me know please.

One thing is certain though: Ignoring your users will lead you to disaster.

Twitter’s Business model – quo vadis?

Looking at Twitter’s business model again brings up the inevitable comparison with other social networks such as Facebook or career networks like LinkedIn. All three of them have an advertising-driven business model (although LinkedIn also heavily monetises their talent solutions and premium paid account models).

Comparing Twitter’s financial success to both Facebook and LinkedIn, established companies which have also been around for a few years, make Twitter look like a dwarf.

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook: Revenue and Net Profit Margin
Data Source: Google Finance

While both Facebook and LinkedIn have shown not only impressive revenue growth over the past few years, but also managed to break even some time ago (LinkedIn dipped back into the red last year due to some big investments), Twitter has achieved neither.

Personally I am a big supporter of delaying profitability in the interest of fuelling growth: companies such as Amazon took a very long time to become profitable, and even nowadays reinvest almost all of their profits in order to further develop their product portfolio. However, Twitter’s situation is completely different: the company is not incurring losses caused by tremendous growth, but because the business model simply does not carry itself!

I have yet to understand how Twitter plans to ever drive significant revenue from their advertising business. Consider this:

  • According to numbers from Buffer, the average life time of a tweet is 18 minutes – very short compared to 90 minutes for a Facebook post, which is bad news for advertisers on Twitter
  • User’s attention span on Twitter, given the nature of the Twitter Home Feed, is very short (hint: this is where most of the ads appear in the form of sponsored tweets)
  • Recently Twitter started including sponsored tweets on user profiles as well – personally I find this is getting really spammy, and I am not sure how well it actually works

In a nutshell, I fail to understand how Twitter will be able to drive enough engagement to their paid ads to generate significant revenue going forward. Historic revenue is lagging behind that of its peers, and while you may argue that Facebook or LinkedIn are somewhat different products, Twitter’s valuation of currently $24.5BN, almost identical to LinkedIn’s $24.4BN, sounds very optimistic.

Unless there is a new monetisation strategy about to be launched which will be a game changer? If anyone has any insights on Twitter’s monetisation strategy and disagrees with what I wrote, please comment on this post as I would really like to hear about it!

The verdict

When reading this article you may think that I really hate Twitter. Not true. As I said earlier, I really love using the product, and it has been a tremendously helpful platform for me. In fact, this is the only reason why I wrote this fairly long post.There was a story the other day about Yelp being up for sale, and I never thought about writing about it, although Yelp is also facing considerable challenges. Unlike with Twitter, I do not feel a connection with their product.

So the reason why I wrote this post is because I wanted to share my point of view on a company which managed to build a really great product – and is now facing some big challenges in succeeding as a business.

Some of those challenges Twitter cannot necessarily control, such as their competitive environment. What they can (and should) improve, though, is their way of interacting with users and how they portray themselves. From my experience, Twitter is not seen as particularly progressive and innovative these days – something Facebook, for example, is a lot better at.

And finally, Twitter needs to come up with a completely new way of generating revenue. The nature of its product (very short half life of tweets, combined with extremely short user attention span) are a terrible combination. Unfortunately I do not have a perfect answer on which ad formate would work better on Twitter, but my instinct would tell me to look into other revenue channels, such as monetising access to user data a bit more. However, I still believe the big break through is somewhere else.

Personally, I do hope that Twitter takes a turn for the better. It is such an essential platform and one of the pillars of digital interaction – if anyone at Twitter is reading this, please know that your users care, and maybe you should do the same when it comes to them – it would be a really great, first step.

Got any comments, good or bad? Please tell me what you think, and what other thoughts and ideas you have on how to make Twitter better!