Twitter algorithm: How personalized content can actually hurt publishers

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July 31, 2017 update 

Twitter now allows users to mark specific tweets in their timeline as not relevant. Simply  click on the arrow top right of the tweet and that  gives you these options:

Marking a tweet as “I don’t like” reportedly helps Twitter serve you more relevant tweets. You can also unfollow, mute or follow people you don’t follow yet from this screen.

For publishers, as far as I can tell, there’s currently no way to tell what tweets caused muting by users.

In Twitter Analytics we can see a 28-day snapshot and the best performing tweets:

So publishers can see what is working but it’s not as easy to see what posts are causing negative reactions – yet! Useful tools for the users, though.

May 2017 post

In May 2017, Twitter updated its policies – including the serving of content to better personalize things. A good idea in theory. I’m all for being served more relevant things!

Here’s a quick overview of the email that Twitter sent me to explain:

Personalization is great when it works. Personalization that works is something we as the consumers don’t even notice. And sometimes personalization that we notice can be positive if it improves our user experience. For example, I’ve noticed that Twitter serves me some user’ content much more than it used to. When I love those users’ content I think it’s great and give Twitter five stars for the effort. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

But when I don’t love ❤️ the content it can lead to much quicker unfollows or even blocking of some accounts.

Why would I go so far and block a user just because of one piece of irrelevant content (aka one Tweet)? That’s a great question and it really seems overkill to block somebody just because I didn’t like one post. But here’s the problem I ran into after Twitter rolled out this policy and the implementation:

They were serving me a lot of posts from brands and accounts that I don’t follow. I scrolled through my timeline and I thought “why am I reading this?” and “why am I following them?”

So I moved to unfollow them. I clicked on the account’s tweet and was sent to their account homepage just to see that I didn’t even follow them.

I didn’t conduct an extensive multi-day study on this matter but I did notice this multiple times while checking my feed. At least half of tweets that I was going through were from accounts I didn’t even follow.

And the other problem-highly interesting to brand publishers I would think – is that I as the user couldn’t even tell that I wasn’t following them.

So while my reaction was negative towards their tweet and I was trying to unfollow them – let’s think about it the opposite way.

What if I enjoyed the tweet? I would never think about clicking on the tweet to follow them because I’m already following them in my mind because they’re showing up in my feed. ?

There’s no button that signals to me as the user that this is really a personalized tweet and that I likely would enjoy it and should consider following them.

Some of the tweets that I was served I understand. There were some from topics that I read about earlier and engaged with  and there were some from a conference I engaged with earlier.

So it makes sense to show some of those tweets to me and I have enjoyed seeing more relevant tweets from the people that I already follow.

But the way the program  seems to work it’s just not that great for the user and also the publisher. When posts are  not relevant, what are your options? Do you have to block that person to not see that post again or just ignore it? Or is me clicking on it counted as engaging with that post and now I see them over and over even though I really don’t want to?

No idea and will see how it all pans out.

For the publisher it’s not great because they won’t gain any followers this way unless Twitter adds some kind of follow now button directly in the feed. I actually thought they had something like that a couple years ago but I don’t remember if I took a screenshot and if I did where I would find it today.

It seems like I wasn’t the only one who has experienced this as I tweeted the following:

Dear Twitter, please stop showing me people’s tweets when I don’t follow them. I keep trying to unfollow people I don’t follow. Irrelevant.

So I like some of the updates I’ve seen and some of the personalization I’ve noticed. I’m all for websites and social media networks serving me more of the content I actually want to consume.  So I’m all for that.

What are your thoughts on the issue? Send me an email here and I might include your comments. ⬅️ CLICK TO MESSAGE ME ⬅️

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