LONG READ: It’s time we talked about how Twitter is fading

Social platforms like old soldiers don’t die they just fade away.

We’re at the point where Twitter is fading and I’m not sure if the public sector has realised this.

If you want to talk to your audiences in 2020 you needs to wake-up to this and re-calibrate.

It’s been clear for years, the public sector has become too Twitter-focussed when people have quietly moved elsewhere.

Twitter’s first romance

Twitter has been the public sector platform of choice for a decade. It’s easy to see why. Brief. Concise. Good at breaking news and without the claustrophobic threads of the chatrooms that came before it.

When the penny dropped with me in 2008 with social media it dropped with Twitter first.

Twitter was where public sector people connected and shared ideas. Twitter was a magical garden where early events, ideas and connections were worked out. It allowed a junior person to talk to their senior person without having to go through the PA.

Liz Azyan’s research from 2008 is preserved online. It is a snapshot of where Twitter was in local government. St Helens Council were lauded as the first. Barnet Council had the most followers – 210. Twitter was the answer.

No wonder the public sector set-up Twitter accounts by the dozen.

Twitter’s honeymoon ends

As time went on, Twitter changed. The early hope was it would be a force for good faded.

Early Twitter advocate Steven Fry quit Twitter in 2016. ‘Too many people had peed in the pool,” he wrote in a valedictory on his blog. “Just one turd in a reservoir is enough to persuade one not to drink from it.”

Just this week a far right personality accused a critic of being a paedophile because he disagreed with him.

And Donald Trump.

At its worst, Twitter is a deeply unpleasant place. I’d call it a sewer but sewers are a Victorian invention to take away waste, prevent disease and recycle it so it becomes clean and pure again.

At its best, Twitter remains funny, witty and a place to organise. Just this week, Gay Twitter flooded the #proudboys hashtag with tweets of gay icons to undermine a far right group. There is still the light if you go looking for it.

Twitter has always withstood warnings of its imminent demise. I’m old enough to remember people forecasting it would die when it got rid of twitpic, moved beyond 140 characters and allowed threads.

Twitter remains good at some things.

It’s brilliant for breaking news in its first minutes, taking the temperature of opinion, for reaching journalists, stakeholders and there are communities of PR people and others.

After #commscampstayshome an eminent communicator told me how much he enjoyed the event and that it had pointed out new people to follow on Twitter. I stopped and thought. That’s just it. They’re not on Twitter or if they are they’re not sharing insight ideas and opinion on it in the way we did in the early days.

So, where are the interesting PR conversations?

They still exist but they’re on WhatsApp, LinkedIn or in Facebook groups.

This is fine. This is the evolution of change.

Today, when I want to hear from the newer voices like Lucy Salvage, Sara Hamilton, Cara Marchant, Leanne Hughes, Vicky Happer, Alex Thurley-Ratcliff, Will Lodge, Kate Pratt, Gemma Dawen, Benedict Wallis, Katherine Toms I turn to WhatsApp and Facebook groups.

It’s the same when I turn to more experienced voices like Mandy Pearse, Kerry Sheehan, Thom Burn, Giuseppina Valenza, David Grindlay, Carolyne Mitchell, Peter Holt, Naomi Smith, Abha Thakor, Steven Waddington, Patrick Fletcher, Al Smith, Andy Green, Sarah Waddington, Sarah Pinch, Karl Conner, Stuart Bruce, Ian Curwen, Bridget Aherne or Paul Compton.

The interesting comments those voices aren’t on Twitter so much but closed Facebook groups, WhatsApp chats or LinkedIn. Safer conversations in less public places is where the value is.

People don’t use it so much

Forget the PR bubble.

It’s what the public themselves are doing that’s really changed my ideas about Twitter.

The Ofcom communications market report for 2020 has Twitter in 6th place with 25 million users. Ahead of it are Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Messenger, WhatsApp. Twitter isn’t the favoured platform for any UK age group in the report. Adults think its the 7th best site at protecting children in the UK.

Twitter users spend four minutes a day on the platform lagging behind 43 minutes for YouTube, 30 minutes for Facebook and 18 minutes for Snapchat.

Let’s be clear. Twitter isn’t about to die but it is fading. If you are setting policy and direction as a communicator you need to know this and reflect this in the advice you are giving.

The default request ‘we need a Twitter account’ is as thoughtless as ‘we need a press release’ was back in the day.

You need to think if 20 Twitter accounts across the public sector organisation are the answer when other platforms are barely touched.

You need is to work out where our audience is and go and talk to them there.

If I wanted to reach younger people I’d be thinking YouTube or TikTok because more people from that demographic use those platforms.

Twitter has been an amazing place. So, if you go back far enough was Friends Reunited. As it fades there’s no need to feel sad that it no longer has all the answers. As I said, its good for journalists and breaking news.

As Socrates said, the secret of change is not to be concerned with fighting the old but building the new.

What your new looks like all depends on you being able to understand the changes and react.

Picture credit: Flickr / Documerica.

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