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Twitter users around the world reacted strongly to speculation that a new Twitter algorithm was unfolding, one that would turn our timelines into something more like Facebook. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)
Twitter users around the world reacted strongly to speculation that a new Twitter algorithm was unfolding, one that would turn our timelines into something more like Facebook. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

AMBER CRAIG

Twitter’s new algorithm: Company should innovate, not imitate Add to ...

Amber Craig is CEO and head “idea person” at Bamboo Creative Inc., a creative marketing agency based in Calgary. She is also a non-profit founder, online marketer, blogger and professional writer.

Twitter users around the world reacted strongly to speculation that a new Twitter algorithm was unfolding, one that would turn our timelines into something more like Facebook.

The debacle began on Feb. 5, when BuzzFeed published a story saying that Twitter was working on releasing an algorithmic approach to its timeline that would essentially elevate popular content.

“Twitter has been testing the algorithmic timeline with a small group of users,” Buzzfeed reported. “It appears the test went well enough to roll it out more broadly.”

A social-media storm quickly ensued, and #RIPTwitter trended worldwide for more than 24 hours. Clearly, many people were not on board with the changes, which rolled out last week. But before you get out the pitchforks, let’s separate fact from fiction. The reality is that this isn’t a new idea from Twitter and it won’t bother most users.

This algorithmic approach is actually an expansion of a feature introduced by Twitter back in January of 2015, called While you were away. This function is a recap of the top tweets you may have missed from accounts you follow. The idea was to help Twitter users see tweets they missed between logins – a valid concern, considering that 500-million tweets are sent on the platform every day. The problem is that Twitter decides what “top tweets” are based on engagement numbers, so for those of us who use the platform for business, and are on it often, we will likely see a lot of repeats.

Twitter’s stance at that time was to simply add an additional feature to appease more casual users, while keeping the real-time timeline for more active users. It’s important to remember that you can opt out of the function.

“Our goal is to help you keep up – or catch up – with your world, no matter how much time you spend on Twitter. With a few improvements to the home timeline, we think we can do a better job of delivering on that promise without compromising the real-time nature of Twitter,” the company said.

And with the reports of Twitter expanding on this algorithm feature, the company still maintains that it’s keeping real-time feeds available. In response to #RIPTwitter, Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, tried to dispel some of the myths or misunderstandings, sort of. He tweeted the following responses:

  • “Twitter is live. Twitter is real-time. Twitter is about who & what you follow. And Twitter is here to stay! By becoming more Twitter-y.” (Feb. 6)
  • “Look at ‘while you were away’ at the top of your TL. Tweets you missed from people you follow. Pull to refresh to go back to real-time.” (Same day)

While he didn’t technically deny the truth of the BuzzFeed report, he did try to put active Twitter users at ease about what this change means for us.

So what does this mean for people who use Twitter for business? This change is going to add an extra step for us and annoy us. More importantly, it might prevent our audiences from seeing what we post if they don’t opt out of the new feed.

This new way of sorting tweets really gets in the way of the real-time updates, which is the bread and butter of social marketing and communication these days. Twitter has become an asset for many businesses because of the instant fashion in which they can both take in and relay information. Because “top tweets” will be sorted by popularity, engagement is going to become increasingly more important for brands, which means more work.

At the end of the day, Twitter users can opt out of the new feed, and they should. However, out of the 320-million Twitter users, just 31 per cent of them actually log in on a daily basis. So from Twitter’s business perspective, this move makes sense – the company needs to make the majority of its users happy, too.

Because in truth, many users weren’t happy with the current state of Twitter, as we found out last week when the company released its fourth-quarter numbers from 2015. Twitter lost two million users in the last three months of 2015, with shares dropping 12 per cent, and these drops came before this major algorithm introduction, so it seems pretty clear that Twitter is trying to innovate to appease the masses. (Don’t forget, the biggest change Twitter had previously made in a long time was changing “favourites” to “likes.”)

Twitter has to evolve and innovate to keep up with the rest of the social landscape. Its rival, Facebook, is constantly changing the way it operates and shares information with its users, which is why Facebook continues to dominate the social sector.

But real-time information is what set Twitter apart in the first place, and it’s why brands and users alike fell in love with it. The goal of all companies should be to innovate, not imitate – we live in hope that Twitter can keep its identity without stealing Facebook’s.

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