The premature predictions of Twitter’s death probably have a lot of digital marketers sighing in relief: “Oh thank god, we don’t have to try and be funny anymore.
Twitter has always been problematic for cultural organisations. We all know it’s important, that important people are on it, and that a lot of important news, memes and debate start on it. But we’re also aware that it drives very few clicks, that it’s difficult to stand out, and that it often takes a lot of effort for very little return.
Perhaps more than any other social media platform (except TikTok), Twitter and its users require you to play by their rules to succeed - and those rules are set by the community as much as Twitter itself. You need to know what’s trending, you need to have a compelling voice and you need to have conversations, not just post adverts. When you get it right, it’s incredibly powerful.
It’s why individuals have usually fared better on the platform, for whom Twitter has become an invaluable tool for making your voice heard, for building a professional network and for finding inspiration, knowledge, and friends within the sector. These are the people mourning what isn’t a hell site, but a hell home.
So, as Elon Musk fires critical staff, bullies the ones who are left and drives advertisers away, what exactly is happening? What is likely to happen? How we might we fill the void Twitter’s destruction leaves... And do we need to?
What is happening?
First of all, I don’t think Twitter will die. It may suffer downtime, it will undoubtedly become more toxic (in the name of freeze peach) and it will become more monetised, but it will be the people and communities who decide whether Twitter lives by voting with their feet.
While we’ve seen competitors like Hive and Mastodon hoover up new users, people are still using Twitter as they wait and see what happens. It’s hard to abandon a platform that you've invested years of your life into.
That said, we should still plan for the worst and hope for the best. Regardless of whether Twitter is imploding or not, it’s good practice to:
- Claim your handles on emerging social media platforms in case anyone nabs them first.
- Download your Twitter archive (though at the time of writing it’s taking a few days for this to come through).
- Download your following/follower list using a free trial of Phantom, or something similar.
Should we quit Twitter?
Another point of best practice is to have an exit strategy. It will prevent panic when/if the dung hits the fan.
The question you need to be asking yourself is: what it would take for you to abandon Twitter?
There’s still a chance this decision will be made for us by Twitter going down, but otherwise it will come down to a question of values and practicality.
In terms of values, the significant risks are, of course, Elon Musk himself, but also what he permits to happen on Twitter. Nazis have always existed on the platform, but what if relaxed rules on disinformation and hate speech result in a powerful Twitter user inspiring an act of harm, such as a terrorist attack? What if an election is won through disinformation promoted through Twitter (again)? What if using Twitter begins to feel like an endorsement of Elon Musk himself, a man who is openly anti-trans, anti-BLM and reinstates fascist accounts?
Twitter, however, has also allowed marginalised communities to find their space and boost their voices. Do we have a responsibility to stay on Twitter to fight for our values, rather than abandon it to the Nazis?
The more mercenary decision will come down to return on investment. We use Twitter to engage audiences, but if your followers start dropping and your engagement dips, is it worth the time you’re dedicating to stay on the platform?
- You should keep posting but keep an eye out for controversies you might fall foul of.
- Listen to what your followers and communities are saying to gauge whether the mood is shifting, what people need to hear from you and when to ramp up your contingency plans.
- If you leave Twitter don’t delete your account but leave a final post/s explaining your reasons and where people can find you on other channels.
What are the alternatives?
“Babe, are you okay? You've barely touched the 5 social media sites you signed up for last week...”
The alternative Twitter sites are not true alternatives while Twitter chugs on. Either Twitter becomes so toxic that the trickle becomes a flood and Twitter turns into another Parler, or Twitter dies and we have no choice.
Until either of those things happen, I doubt any of us have the time to maintain Twitter and another platform doing the exact same thing.
Nevertheless, there are options.
The most obvious is Mastodon. It looks a lot like Twitter and does a lot of the same things, but is part of the Fediverse: “an ensemble of federated servers that are used for web publishing and file hosting, but which, while independently hosted, can communicate with each other.”
What this means for you is that there are different servers you can join on Mastodon, focused on everything from just being social to special interest groups. Everyone can see your posts regardless of which server you join, you can change servers afterwards and you can block messages from entire servers if you want. Each server is self-moderating, which could be a can of worms depending on the dedication of moderators and the rules of each server.
If you’re thinking of joining Mastodon, here is a good introduction.
Hive has also emerged as a contender, promising a purely chronological feed with no algorithmic boosting, and allows a mixture of GIFs, polls, video, image and text posts. It’s only available on iOs at the moment, with an Android app in development and currently no desktop option.
There are, of course, the old reliables of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and others. They don’t replace what Twitter can do, but you may decide to invest your efforts there while things play out. It’s also a timely reminder of the importance of owned channels, and an opportunity to spend time on improving your website SEO, newsletters and articles.
So what now?
These are the five things that I would get cracking with right now:
- Start managing your risks. Download your Twitter archive, reserve handles on emerging social media platforms and keep a close eye on developments.
- Ask yourselves what your red lines are for using Twitter and any other social media platform. Where do ethics, privacy concerns, reputational damage and return on investment come into it?
- If you leave Twitter, don’t delete your account and tell people where you’re going in a sign off post.
- Re-evaluate what you’re trying to achieve. Where else can you form and maintain networks? Can you invest more in your owned channels by improving SEO and newsletters?
- Enjoy everyone making fun of Elon Musk while the circus lasts.
Do you have thoughts about what Twitter's future means for cultural organisations? Let us know on... you guessed it!
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