In the news this week, fake followers on social media are under the microscope after an investigation by the New York Times found minor celebrities, media figures and even a Twitter board member had bought followers to boost their influence. Google started testing a new app called Bulletin that allows people to post photos and stories about their community that come up in Google Search and Google News. Will it help coverage or lead to more fake news? And streaming video companies made a big push to grab sports TV rights, but had a win and a loss this past week. Our Metric of the Week is Podcast Metrics, and our special guests are Izzie Lerer & YuJung Kim of The Dodo, a viral video site featuring animals that wants to make an impact with animal rights, too. Don’t have a lot of time to spare, but still want to
This article was originally published on Medium.
The most important word in that headline is “media.” This isn’t a content marketing post on 11 ways to monetize trending topics. It isn’t for someone selling clothes or beans or clothes made from beans. I’m focusing solely on the needs of digital media—nurturing engagement and building followers — through Twitter’s realtime stream of information. Twitter is both conversation and service.
Now we at the Chicago Tribune have had a nice run on Twitter, as regional media go.
Happy half-a-million day cake.
Our @chicagotribune account has grown from fewer than 100,000 followers in late 2012 to more than 500,000 at the end of 2015. And we’ve done it without gross things like promoting posts.
What follows are the official newsroom guidelines for the team running some institutional accounts at the Chicago Tribune, primarily but not limited to @chicagotribune. Part of this has
The photo + caption combination seems to work particularly well on Tumblr (and Lolcats) but you can get a pretty good sense of what’s going on via a few samples below. But for my money the best stuff is also the stuff that makes good use of the f-bomb, so you’ll want to see those on the site itself.
What’s great about TRPDSAA, IMHO, is that while a lot of this stuff is inside baseball, you should still be able to appreciate it without knowing what, say, “call to action” is supposed to mean. It’s clearly the product of someone who loves advertising and hates it, too.
And that person works in advertising, of course. Here’s a brief email interview I conducted with 27-year-old E.B. Davis III, a copywriter at Washington, D.C.-based GMMB:
Peter Kafka: Looks like you just started the Tumblr now. Why?
E. B. Davis III: For fun. To take the piss out. Advertising can be a lot of fun, but we get caught up in minutiae and nitpicking and buzzwords. We tend to forget we’re talking to people who don’t really want to talk to us.
Kafka: What provoked it, and what are you trying to do?
Davis: I made some pictures, put them on a blog, and showed two or three people, hoping they would laugh. I expected that to be the end of it. Tumblr only allowed 15 posts on the front page, so I only made 13 pictures, because I didn’t expect people to want to even bother going to a second page. Quick, easy, in and out. Now there are 29 posts (the rest from other people), with 300 submissions I need to find the time to post.
Kafka: Given that you’re satirizing advertising but work in advertising, should we assume you want to be doing something else?
Davis: I am satirizing advertising, and I work in advertising, but I don’t think we should assume I want to be doing something else. Advertising got great potential to be an idea factory. I think we’ve got the potential to make short movies, full-length movies, music videos, and a lot of cool other shit. I work at a social-good marketing agency, and I think advertising has taken a huge step forward over the past couple of years in connecting buying things to doing good. Easy charity. I was already going to buy that Coca-Cola anyway, and now it’s helping to help someone else. Awesome. We get free radio and free television because of advertising. It’s not the worst industry in the world. I have great hope for what advertising can do. It’s just, you know, we mostly end up making a print ad.
At the same time, I’m learning that I don’t need advertising to do what I want. I can make stuff without them. Hence this blog, among other things.
Kafka: How much of the site is you, and how much of it comes from contributors? And do contributors send in art and text, or just text? How much traffic are you getting now?
Davis: [I made] 13 original posts, and now people are making the content (mostly unasked). I’m assuming they’re mostly advertising folk, and I worry that the thing’s too insider-y for anyone else to really care about it. Not that they should care about it. It is a Stupid Thing. My favorite contributors do the work of putting their words on a picture for me, but some just send headlines and I have to put them together.
I have no idea how much traffic I’m getting. I’ve got about 3,000 followers and a lot of tweets and shit.
Kafka: What happens now?
Davis: I have no plans for what’s next. Keep making posts until people run out of interest. I don’t think these types of sites really lead to anything. They’re fun for a minute and then you move on. I don’t want to make any more of it than that. I’m ready to start working on new ideas, but I don’t plan to use the blog to promote it. I don’t want this to become a ‘self-promotion’ thing. I didn’t really have my name attached to it in the beginning, but some people found out it was me, so my name’s out there, but it wasn’t my intention.
Want more people reading your tweets? Twitter may offer you a hand–for a price.
People familiar with the company’s plans say it has been discussing yet another revenue generator: Think of it as a “Promoted Tweeter” product, which highlights specific user accounts, designed to bump up follower counts.
My sources weren’t sure about the business model behind the product, which may be because Twitter itself doesn’t know yet. Some obvious possibilities: Twitter could charge users based on the number of followers they acquired, or simply based on the exposure their Twitter accounts received.
Twitter wouldn’t acknowledge plans for the product at all. Here’s spokesman Sean Garrett, via email: “We will eventually have full suites of both promoted and commercial products. All the components of these two buckets of product have yet to be determined. Some are currently being tested publicly now. Some will be tested soon. Some are just ideas that we are broaching externally for feedback.”
My sources say Twitter has discussed using the yet-to-be-named product both on its own Web site as well as third party clients. That would track with other Twitter revenue projects, like “Promoted Tweets,” its play on Google’s (GOOG) AdWords, and “Promoted Trends,” which it just recently launched on its own site but plans on moving to third-party apps as well.
The biggest question: What, exactly, is the value of a Twitter follower?
Twitter’s original “suggested user list” effectively granted a select group of users with follower counts of a million or more. But it’s clear that the majority of those followers, who signed up when they opened accounts, tend not to pay much attention. A smaller, but much more engaged, audience of Twitter readers can be much more valuable. But figuring out how to price that will be a work in progress.
What happens when a really popular person posts a Web link on Twitter? They make a lot of traffic! So what happens when LeBron James posts a Web link on Twitter?
He makes a lot of traffic–and that traffic doesn’t go away.
While some of you (all of you?) wait for James’s ESPN non-news conference tonight, here’s some data to chew on, courtesy of bit.ly, the Web link shortening folks, and betaworks, bit.ly’s Web incubator parent.
Betaworks’ Isaac Greenbaum has spent the past day analyzing this bit.ly link–http://bit.ly/apxlxx–that James posted yesterday via Twitter. Here’s what the traffic from that link, which takes you to James’s personal Web site, looked like in the first hour after he posted it (click image to enlarge):
The big spike isn’t unusual for a popular bit.ly link. The impressive part, Greenbaum says, is how much traffic the link continued to generate after the first rush. Even now, he says, a day after the posting, the link is generating some 50 clicks a minute. That’s a torrent for a day-old link.
More data (click to enlarge):
What’s really interesting here is that while James is big on Twitter, he isn’t that big–he’s just under 320,000 followers for now. That’s in part because he just went on a couple of days ago, and in part because he never got the “Suggested User List” nod from Twitter that generates those crazy one million-plus follower numbers.
Twitter gets described as a conversation or a cocktail party, but it’s really more like a stage play. A few people do all the talking, and everyone else watches and listens.
But that’s changing, a bit, as the service grows.
Barracuda Labs, a security company that says it has surveyed 19 million Twitter accounts, reports that 73 percent of Twitter users have tweeted 10 or fewer times. And 34 percent of users have never tweeted at all.
That’s a lot of quiet users, but it’s less than before: Barracuda says those numbers are down from 79 percent and 37.1 percent, respectively, in June of last year.
Barracuda also notes that Twitter had a huge surge in growth from November 2008 through April 2009, when there was a rush of publicity about celebrities who tweet (Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN, etc.). The company claims that nearly half of all Twitter accounts were created in that period.
But even high-profile Twitterers don’t tweet that much. Most of the messaging on the service, Barracuda says, comes from users with about 1,000 followers (see chart below; click to enlarge).
All of this makes for fun data points to snack on. But for Twitter’s managers and investors, the usage numbers underscore a key question the company needs to resolve: Is it a communications utility a la Facebook or is it a media company?
The Twitter guys have resisted the second notion, but that’s sure what the company looks like from the outside–because it distributes content created by a small number of people for a large number of people.
If done right, that can still be a very good business, especially if you don’t have to pay anyone to create the content.