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For the past two years, Twitter has been under mounting pressure to solve problems on its social network, ranging from hate speech and bullying to fake news and misinformation. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been re-thinking some of the core features of the social media platform, including the “like” button and the “follower count” metric. The fact that Twitter could be ready to abandon some of the key features that helped to make the social media platform into what it is today should be a wake-up call for marketers.
Why would Twitter abandon its core features?
The new goal of Twitter, says Dorsey, is to incentivize healthy conversations. As a result, the company has started to examine which features might be leading to some of the unhealthy conversations taking place on Twitter today. In a perfect world, of course, all discourse on Twitter would be civil, and all conversations would be informative and helpful. Instead, Twitter has become a place where trolls and bullies thrive, and where hateful and abusive comments are the norm, rather than the exception.
One big reason for that could be the incentives that Twitter unwittingly built into the system from the very beginning. At a fireside chat in India, for example, Dorsey recently lamented the “follower count” metric. When Twitter introduced the feature, Dorsey said, he had no idea that it would turn Twitter into a massive popularity contest. Instead of encouraging thoughtful discussion and dialogue, this “popularity contest” mentality encouraged a race to the bottom. Everything became about getting more views and more followers.
How will digital marketers react?
In hindsight, of course, many of Dorsey’s comments make a lot of sense. Even his idea of abandoning the “like” button has a certain amount of logic to it. If the goal of Twitter is to avoid the whole “look at me, I have 100,000 followers” mentality, then everything that encourages popularity (including likes) should be up for review.
But digital marketers are far less likely to take a positive view of Dorsey’s commentary about the new Twitter. After all, they have presumably spent tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) growing their follower count and taking every step possible to show how popular and influential they are on Twitter. And now Twitter wants them to stop?
The fundamental logic of Twitter was one that brands themselves already embraced – especially the big consumer-facing brands where popularity was hardwired into their marketing DNA. If you are the No. 1 soft drinks company in the country, then doesn’t it make sense that you should also have more followers on Twitter than anyone else as well? It just made too much sense from the perspective of brands to treat Twitter as a giant popularity contest. (Aren’t brands themselves just a form of popularity contest?)
Moreover, think about the way any marketing agency is compensated. Ultimately, they are paid for performance, and one of the easiest ways to keep track of performance is by keeping a constant eye on the follower count metric. If you are doing a good job, the thinking goes, that number will continue to rise. Who wants to tell a client that they couldn’t boost their follower count each month? So the follower count metric became an easy way to prove performance.
The future of Twitter
Obviously, Twitter is now experiencing a “bet the company” type of moment. It can either double down on what has worked for the past decade, or it can radically transform itself in ways that might alienate its core users and advertisers. If Jack Dorsey is really serious about changing Twitter, he might have to opt for the latter.