Twitter has long been one of the most useful and approachable platforms for businesses and personal brands to distribute content and engage an audience. Unfortunately, that might be about to change. Back in September, Twitter announced that it was going to unveil a new kind of tweet button. This alone didn’t make much news, since social apps update their image all the time, but the actual change to the tweet button has already begun to affect publishers.
The biggest change for the “new look” has been the removal of share counts from the button itself. What this means is that it’s no longer possible to, at a glance, see how many people have shared a specific piece of content on your site. Other competitors, like Facebook and LinkedIn, are still broadcasting the number of shares a piece has gotten on their respective share icons, but Twitter’s is no more (you may have noticed this already).
If you’re a content marketer, you’re probably thinking this sucks, but ultimately isn’t that big of a deal. The short version is, you’re right. The removal of share counts doesn’t mean those shares no longer exist—readers are still free to share your piece with their respective audiences, just as they always have. But there are two key drawbacks making this an impactful change.
First, the possibility for virality is somewhat reduced. As any content marketer will tell you, most viral pieces toward the middle stage of their life cycle start accumulating shares based only on the fact that they’ve already been shared thousands of times. New readers see the high share count and think “I want to be a part of this.” Without the share count, this tendency declines—readers can still share the piece and re-share it when they see it in their respective social newsfeeds, so it’s not the end of the world, but it still counts.
Second, publishers have reduced insight in the success of their onsite pieces. Share counts were a nice at-a-glance metric of a piece’s performance, and now those have been squashed. It’s still possible to run analytics metrics to monitor traffic and use social monitoring to find out what’s going on secondhand, but that metric was great for giving publishers immediate information.
These effects are significant, but aren’t game-changing or deal-breaking. So why the fuss? It’s more about the long-term trends this change could herald for social media marketing.
First, it’s important to realize that Twitter hasn’t stopped counting these shares. It still has this valuable information—it’s just no longer willing to give it up for free. When pressed for commentary about why share counts are no longer available, Twitter insisted that share counts were still available—except they’re only available through Grip, Twitter’s data business. If you want to learn the share counts for your posts, you’re going to have to pay for them.
Twitter saw an opportunity to make money on a service that they used to provide for free. Can you blame them? It makes business sense, but what does it mean for all the other free services they provide? And could this start a trend among all social media platforms?
Subtle plays toward maximizing profitability are nothing new. Facebook is open about the fact that it’s been slowly throttling organic visibility for business and company posts over the past several years. You may not have noticed due to its gradual nature, but today your posts show up in far fewer follower newsfeeds than they did just three years ago. Facebook claims this is all about relevance and user experience, but it’s not hard to see the bottom line for the company—fewer organic options means companies will be forced to pay to get the same level of exposure.
It’s a kind of “first taste is free” angle for social media companies. For more than a decade, they’ve allowed businesses to create accounts, post, reach audiences, and analyze metrics for free. Slowly, those free services are fading away. Companies are becoming more dependent on them, and social media platforms are becoming hungrier for profits.
Social platforms are afraid of stirring the pot too much or too quickly, especially with so much competition available for businesses. As a result, the decline in organic reach (and other free services) is going to remain at a slow and steady pace—at least until paying for everything on social becomes the new norm. Facebook and Twitter have started the trend innocuously, but as soon as they start making some major changes, it won’t be long before every social platform available adopts a similar strategy. That means you can say goodbye to your plans of getting free exposure for your content on social media (at least part of them).
It’s hard telling exactly how these changes will develop or how fast they’ll develop, but you know these platforms will start charging more for more services. It’s in your best interest to take advantage of the current state of social media while you still can, and hedge your bets by building a presence that doesn’t depend on social media for exposure. The more evenly distributed your strategy is, the less susceptible you’ll be to major shifts.