On its “What’s a Twitter timeline?” page in the Help Center, the network now explicitly says that its members may sometimes see tweets from accounts other than those they are following. “When we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline,” the company states. The methodology for choosing those outside posts seems to be vague at this point: “We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it.”
With the information we have, what does this change mean for brands?
Know What’s Public
The important detail in this change is the degree of visibility people’s actions will have on the network. Your favorites have never been a secret. Anybody who was curious could view all of your favorited tweets from your profile page. It’s the same with replies; they may not appear in a person’s main timeline but they’re hardly a secret. So the difference is just that a handful of those actions could now wind up visible in your followers’ timelines and vice versa.
Although the change has been officially codified in Twitter’s own language, the feature seems to still be on a slow rollout, so it’s hard to gauge just how obvious or intrusive the network’s members will find it. Making any outside tweets seem like a natural fit for any given person’s timeline will likely be the top challenge for Twitter with this new policy.
On the positive side, this feature could just be a riff on the retweet. After all, if many of a person’s followers have favorited or replied to a particular post, it’s a good bet that he or she would be at least a little interested in it as well. This is especially useful given Twitter’s prevalence among journalists and the general public’s use of the network to share breaking news and emergencies.
For the Brands
It all boils down to engagement. Twitter wants more people to take more actions on the network. If the company can execute this change without alienating its members, then it could end up being a win for just about anybody using the platform.
The change is in an early enough stage that we can’t pinpoint any trends of what tweets will get the extra boost. Hopefully this won’t be the sort of calculation that could be gamed by unorthodox means, such as using spam accounts to create false interest around a post. Whatever Twitter’s methods are, though, brands should understand that this isn’t a marketing-focused tool. Brands should just treat this as a possible perk if their content performs especially well.
Plus, seeing what most excites the accounts you follow could provide useful insight. If you’re following customers and fans, then pay extra attention to the characteristics of what they engage with the most. Don’t try to fake a Twitter voice that isn’t true to your social media style, but take notes on what you observe. You may get new ideas or notice the trends Twitter is emphasizing.
Twitter Is Not Facebook
Many Twitter fans have voiced concerns that this shift is making the network more like Facebook by giving extra signal boost to the tweets that are already proving very popular to others in your network. Despite these apparent similarities, brands need to remember that Twitter is still not Facebook. There isn’t a public timeline of all the actions a given profile takes. Even though Twitter does support visuals, it still thrives on intelligent, snappy text.
Finally, there isn’t an algorithm game. Sure, you can pay for Promoted Tweets and you may see posts from accounts that your brand isn’t following. But those are occasionally sprinkled into your timeline, which will still consist of a timestamped list of every post from the accounts you follow.
In other words, while Twitter’s change is not a small one, it shouldn’t cause any major changes in your current social strategy. Your brand should already be deploying the Favorite and Retweet buttons with the knowledge that those actions can be traced. Plus, the changes made at either network won’t do much to alter their core audiences. For now, stick with your existing plans and think of this change as the cherry on the sundae. It’s occasional, unexpected exposure and information, but not cause for a strategy shift.