Is Twitter still an important tool for publishers?

Seems like it’s all change at Twitter. Co-Founder Jack Dorsey is back at helm as CEO as well as running digital payments start-up Square Inc. Furthermore, there’s talk of ditching the 140 character limit for commercial partners, including publishers.

Meanwhile publishers continue to work ever more closely with social media networks to promote their content. For Facebook, Instant articles give some publishers the opportunity to promote their own content to a broader audience outside their own platform, while for those keen to reach a much younger audience there’s Snapchat Discover.

A handful of publishers, including The Huffington Post, Mic and Distractify have even replaced their Twitter and Facebook avatars with custom Snapchat QR codes.

Cheekily, users photograph the QR codes on Twitter/Facebook with their Snapchat apps, which signs them up as a follower of the publisher’s Snapchat story. Apparently Mic, which swapped out its Twitter avatar in August, has seen its new follower count quadruple as a result of the initiative though it’s not clear how much of an overlap there is between Twitter and Snapchat users. Twitter’s largest demographic is 25 to 34 year olds while 45 per cent of Snapchat’s users are aged between 18 and 24.

Of course, not that many publishers are using Twitter as a way to promote their content on Snapchat. Instead Twitter itself continues to be a great platform in its own right, despite only modest growth in the first quarter of this year from 302m to 304m active users worldwide.

Promoting Longform

Undoubtedly one of the best recent examples of a publisher using Twitter effectively to promote its content is US media giant, Bloomberg. Back in June it published a piece by Paul Ford called ‘What is Code’, a 38,000 word magnum opus all about software engineering which was something of a surprise hit. Not only was it tweeted 21,000 times in the space of a month, boosting Bloomberg into the Top 25 sites globally by Twitter Sharers (just behind the India Times and The Daily Mail), it also generated more traffic than any other article since the launch of Bloomberg’s business website. One writer Clinton Nguyen even called it Bloomberg’s “Snowfall moment,” referring to the 2012 New York Times interactive feature which garnered so much attention.

But while so much interest around long form written content remains unusual, images and video in particular do really help to drive engagement for those publishers using Twitter. For example, US sports publisher The Bleacher Report regularly appears in the World’s most Tweeted sites thanks largely to its video links to US football games and basketball with around 900,000 Tweets/Retweets each month according to The Whip.

Competitions and polls

As well as linking to image and video led content, another tactic that works well for publishers on Twitter are competitions (often you have to share these to enter) as well as polls which attract rival tribes to vote. For example in July, Billboard launched its Fan Army poll which sparked a major ‘war’ between rival fans of One Direction, T-ara and The Queens across social media. In total there were over 1 million shares on Twitter for the poll with rival fans of the bands launching their own combative hashtags such as #DirectionersFuneral and #kflop to slate the opposing bands.

But it isn’t just individual stunts like this which drive massive Twitter traffic. The truth is that this accounts for a small fraction compared to the larger news sites which continue to attract over 2m Tweets a month for their content – this despite increasing distractions in people’s Twitter timelines from promoted stories.

Perhaps not surprisingly leading the way thanks to the vast amount of content it produces each month (over 30,000 articles) is the BBC with over 3.5m Twitter shares, closely followed by The New York Times and Mashable with 2.5m and 2.3m respectively according to The Whip

It will be interesting to see how these publishers respond when proposed initiatives between Google and Twitter to keep users on the social media platform with extended content are rolled out. 

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