Even if you’re not involved with producing your association’s social media content, chances are pretty good you’ve at least heard that things have been a little — ah — interesting at Twitter headquarters in the past few months.
If not, here’s a quick catch-up: Entrepreneur and social lightning rod Elon Musk infamously purchased the social media juggernaut for $44 billion in fall 2022 after completing a deal that played out in messy and ultimately wildly entertaining fashion. While the unraveling was absolutely worthy of every one of your favorite popcorn-chomping memes, it was also something of a nightmare for the thousands of employees who either walked out or were laid off in the wake of the sale.
Meanwhile, the social ecosystem that comprised one of social media’s biggest virtual neighborhoods seems to have changed almost overnight. As Musk’s first ideas and policies were enacted, Twitter lost hundreds of thousands (and maybe more) of users, upending the platform’s digital social fabric.
For many organizations, however, the decision not to engage isn’t made quite so easily. So how should associations look at the platform as they consider social media practices in 2023 and beyond? What are the alternatives, and where can an association best engage its audience? Put simply: Does Twitter even matter?
It’s a little tough to peg exactly what the Musk purchase has done to Twitter’s engagement numbers. Though some estimates suggest the platform lost more than a million users, including some of its most prolific tweeters, the platform has also ostensibly been pushing to remove bots and abandoned accounts. Regardless of how big the drop was, it’s accurate to say there was a drop. Still, the platform remains one of the largest in social media, so it’s hardly dropped to D-list status.
Nailing down today’s Twitter engagement numbers — that is to say, how many people are actively tweeting, what audiences are more or less active today vs. this time last year, and global changes in responses, likes and reactions — is a challenge, though The Atlantic reports engagement is in decline.
It’s now been weeks since some of the dust has settled on the purchase, and Musk has announced he’ll step down as CEO once a replacement can be found. That news likely comes as a relief to anyone in Twitter’s advertising department, which has suffered significantly thanks to Musk’s erratic online presence and social commentary.
In that time, some big name advertisers pulled back on their Twitter spend, either partially or completely, including, according to The Atlantic, Chevrolet, Ford, Jeep, BlackRock, Citigroup, Chanel, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Merck, Verizon and Wells Fargo.
But business is business, and if the platform stabilizes, let alone grows, in the coming months, it’s not unlikely advertisers will return. According to the Business of Apps, Twitter’s audience remains in the top 10 social media platforms, if you exclude messaging apps like WhatsApp.
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Indeed, the vacuum left behind created some interesting ground for social media experimentation, which we did at Sidecar, boosting some posts just to see what the engagement numbers were like. (Full disclosure: It felt impossible to believe the data on these experiments, with engagement numbers in the tens of thousands, despite small traffic bumps reported on Google Analytics.)
Other social media managers could also use this moment in Twitter history to try some experiments of their own, identifying possible audience growth opportunities while advertising on the platform is more cost-effective.
Conversely, there were certainly valid reasons for these big name advertisers to pull back, and values alignment matters greatly for associations, and most organizations will want to make sure they’re comfortable with spending money in these circumstances.
Ultimately, however, the key question social media managers should ask themselves is, where is my audience going for information, and how can I best provide needed information? Social media is a tough game, especially because it puts so much power in the hands of just a few companies, and content providers are essentially at the whims of their algorithms. It can feel like a losing battle to constantly create new content for platforms you don’t own, which is why it can be so valuable to foster your own association community. But the fact is simple: Every audience can be found on social media.
Today, for example, many associations have major Twitter audiences. Consider just a few examples of these association Twitter follow counts:
Simply abandoning these audiences would be foolhardy at best, so it’s best to monitor the goings-on at Twitter HQ, even while experimenting with audience growth and focusing on what really matters — providing key information to your association stakeholders.
Twitter’s ease of use and massive audience base would be impossible to replace overnight, but it’s important to note just how quickly other platforms have surged past Twitter’s audience. TikTok, for example, began expanding globally beyond China in 2018 and was due to hit 1.8 billion users by the end of 2022. Still, not every platform is made for every organization, let alone for every audience demographic, so it’s important to consider multiple alternatives to Twitter. Even if your organization isn’t looking to throw in the Twitter towel, it’s important to stay ahead of the game and be ready to jump in wherever your audience heads next.
Perhaps the most notable Twitter alternative is Mastodon, a non-profit micro-blogging platform that allows users to sign up within specific servers even while interacting with the larger network. (Think of it like this: You can sign up for an email account with Yahoo, but that doesn’t stop you from emailing someone on Outlook.) Some servers do block others, so that’s something to take into consideration. (In our email example, it would be like if Yahoo and Outlook banned Gmail from interacting with it; on Mastodon, a server manager might make this decision if another server becomes known for hate speech, for example.)
For associations, it’s worth having a few staffers on the platform just to begin experimenting and seeing how conversations that might be valuable to your stakeholders shape up. It also might be worth backing your own server as a way of hosting conversations amongst your members, but it’s important to understand the significant lift involved in that kind of commitment.
Look, let’s be real: If you’d asked at the start of 2022 if a highly-successful entrepreneur would have drastically overpaid for a social network that’s only drawn a profit a couple of the last several years, I probably would have said there’s no chance. I would have laughed first, but I still would have said no. And yet, here we are.
That said, it’s hard to know for certain what the future looks like for Twitter. A lot will depend on the next CEO’s plans for steadying the ship and re-growing its audience, not to mention elevating the conversation already happening on the platform.
But is it time for your association to cut ties and abandon ship? Not remotely. Instead, recommit to exploring potential audience growth opportunities — but make sure you do so both on and off the platform.
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Chelsea Brasted is the general manager at Sidecar. She joined the team as content manager in 2019 and has been looking for ways to help association professionals grow by getting connected with great ideas ever since. In previous roles, she worked at The Times-Picayune newspaper in her native New Orleans, where she still lives with her husband and two rescue dogs.
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