How Twitter’s Algorithmic Timeline Affects Social Media Marketers

by Marko Saric February 20, 2016
February 20, 2016

Twitter is in trouble if you consider its ambitions to compete with Facebook and conquer the social media world. It’s under pressure to boost the growth and engagement on the platform.

The growth has stalled with the monthly active users flat at 320 million.

Twitter knows that they have a problem. They are attempting to address it by isolating signal from the noise and help people manage thousands of tweets scrolling by in their feeds.

Welcome the new algorithmic timeline.

How Twitter’s Algorithmic Timeline Affects Social Media Marketers

Twitter’s new algorithmic timeline and fear of the power users

The twittersphere freaked out when BuzzFeed revealed that Twitter is about to introduce an algorithmic timeline. Jack Dorsey, the CEO, addressed the outcry with a tweetstorm:

Despite all that Twitter has now introduced the new algorithmic timeline. It orders tweets according to what the algorithm thinks you want to see, versus the reverse chronological order.

The company seems to be a bit wary of their power users, so the new feature is off by default. We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Twitter algorithmic timeline

Engagement on Twitter is 411.11% lower than on Facebook and 955.56% lower than on Instagram

Too much noise on Twitter makes it difficult for brands and other users to break through. Content you post on Twitter gets less reach and engagement compared to content you post on Instagram and Facebook.

An average tweet from 2,500 profiles we looked at in January 2016 got engagement from 0.09% of all followers. An average post on Facebook engaged 0.46% of all page likes, which is 411.11% higher than Twitter. An average post on Instagram engaged 0.95% of all followers, which is 955.56% higher than Twitter.

The new algorithm prioritizes the best content and surfaces it to more users. It could extend your content reach and lead to a boost in engagement.

According to Twitter’s Ameet Ranadive: “The best content, whether it’s from a celebrity, another user or a brand, is always going to be what rises to the top.”

Twitter has done some tests on the new algorithmic timeline. The engagement results were affected positively. People posted more often and interacted more often. “We saw that across the board engagement on organic brand content went up significantly”.

Twitter engagement

Factors that determine which tweets the algorithm surfaces

What do we know about how Twitter algorithm decides which tweets to surface? It’s still very early days to get the complete picture, but here’s the information we gathered from statements of different Twitter employees:

  • Tweets from the accounts that a person already follows are displayed only
  • Tweets are ranked based on organic engagement only
  • Any paid engagement a tweet receives will not factor in the algorithm
  • Advertising is displayed within the new timeline too

Some factors that help decide which content to feature:

  • The accounts a user typically interacts with
  • The types of tweets a user most often engages with
  • The interests of a user
  • Trending topics and tweets among the people a user follows
  • The behavior of other Twitter users with similar interests
  • The number of retweets, likes and comments a tweet has received

We are looking forward to learning more about and studying the impact of the new algorithmic timeline. Keep an eye on the blog.

The impact in the early days will be minimal

The problem is that Twitter didn’t introduce the algorithmic timeline on by default. It’s off by default and hidden within “Account” -> “Content” section of your settings.

What do we know about performance of features people actively need to opt-in for? Majority of them will never do it. Outside of journalists and marketers only a few users will actually know that there’s this new option and even fewer will actually go into settings to turn it on. Especially not those new and confused by the platform.

This means that right now the new algorithmic timeline will have no impact on your impressions and engagement at all. The hope is that after further testing Twitter will turn the algorithm on to everyone by default.

The algorithmic timeline could be a smart move for Twitter

Twitter does need to introduce the algorithmic timeline to everyone. It’s a smart move and is one of our social media trends to watch for in 2016. They do need to help people discover and catch up on the most interesting, most relevant and best content. This will improve the user experience and make the platform more approachable.

The platform is confusing to new users and Twitter knows it. They’ve also announced efforts to address the “.@name syntax and @reply rules” and the character limit. All this, including the algorithmic timeline, will help get the users spend more time on the platform. Browsing tweets, posting tweets, interacting with tweets and looking at advertising.

The new algorithm timeline is actually very subtle and not an earth-shattering feature that power users may have feared. It’s just a supplement to the traditional experience rather than a replacement. It’s not compromising the live real-time nature of the platform. It’s not a Facebook-style news feed. Tweets Twitter recommends are recapped on top of your feed. You scroll to the top and refresh the feed to go back to the live, traditional view.

“While You Were Away” doesn’t work

My guess is that the plan was to introduce the new timeline to everyone, upgrading the “While You Were Away” feature, but backpedaled when they saw the #RIPTwitter outcry.

The new algorithm is just an extension of the “While You Were Away” feature they introduced in January 2015. Hopefully the algorithm behind it is better and more personalised than the one behind “While You Were Away”. I constantly get tweets from the same few people.

Most of the tweets featured are not that important either. In few cases I unfollowed people to stop them from always being on top of my feed, but that didn’t help much. And I’m not the only one with the same problem.

Twitter While You Were Away

Nuzzel and “Highlights” help get more out of Twitter

Twitter feed is broken. There’s too much stuff happening all the time and signal is lost in the noise. The “Moments” feature has been well covered in the media but it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s not personalized. It’s like trying to read a newspaper you’re not interested in.

For years I used to curate my Twitter lists. I used to scroll through their timelines constantly to make sure I didn’t miss any of the popular and interesting tweets.

This was very time-consuming and I stopped when I discovered Nuzzel. Nuzzel is now my favorite tool for news and content consumption. It simply displays links people I follow tweet. It ranks them by number of people who have tweeted the specific link. Simple, useful and powerful way to never miss on any important stories shared by your network.

What Nuzzel lacks are tweets without links. These are also an important part of the Twitter experience. I tend to check Twitter’s “Highlights” feature on the mobile app to catch up on some of these. “Highlights” are actually much more relevant and personalised than “While You Were Away”. I tend to check them several times per day. Twitter should improve the “Highlights” algorithm and put that on top of the timeline.

Nuzzel and twitter highlights

3 action points for social media marketers

So what should the social media marketers do with regards to the new Twitter algorithmic timeline?

  • Not much at the moment. Only a few normal users will take their time to enable the feature. The impact will be minimal in the early days, but Twitter may choose to introduce the new timeline to everyone by default. Stay tuned and work on growing your audience in the meanwhile.
  • Continue with the focus on great content. Great content will get a boost. The algorithm will reward the best and most engaging tweets. Posting great content is also the only organic way you can reach and engage more people right now.
  • Compare your own performance to 2,500 other profiles with our free Twitter Analyser tool. It can help you identify where you stand in terms of growth and engagement. It will help you understand what you need to do in order to improve your efforts.

All Your Social Media Analytics and Reporting in One Place.

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