Where’d the numbers go?
Legions of bloggers and website publishers will log on November 21 and discover that the familiar digits displaying the number of Twitter shares on their content have disappeared.
Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and all the street numbers had been washed away. For bloggers, that’s not an overly dramatic comparison, as the Twitter share count has been used as talisman of “social proof” since Twitter became de rigueur as a content sharing platform and sites started baking sharing icons into their pages. Now, POOF, it’s gone.
Why would Twitter do this? Why would they unilaterally remove a beloved (and theoretically useful) feature, when other social platforms – including their nemesis, Facebook – continue to provide share counts in their API, and thus in their icons? What’s the upside?
The outward absurdity of this move has been commented upon my many in the social media sphere, perhaps best epitomized by my friend and collaborator Mark Schaefer, who groused incredulously (on Facebook, perhaps ironically):
“This is a really dumb decision on their part because sometimes a business decision cannot be made because of ROI. It has to be made based on RELEVANCE.
Twitter is overlooking the fact that they are going to look stupid when Facebook and LinkedIn have working buttons on every piece of content in the world and they don’t. It is one in a long line of examples where the Silicon Valley stars favor engineering decisions instead of marketing decisions and it is getting really tiresome.”
I understand the frustration. It’s annoying for anyone that runs a blog, including the team here at Convince & Convert. In a blog post they were forced to write after the social media community grabbed pitchforks after the initial announcement was made without explanation, Twitter said they were killing the Twitter share button counts because of a core change to their development framework, and corresponding API schemas. And further, that the share counts aren’t that accurate anyway.
I’m sure this is true.
Twitter is struggling to find a workable business model. Even cursory glances at their stock price, layoffs, and boardroom dramas show this to be the case. To date, one of their big ideas seems to be “do whatever Facebook does” and I’ve written extensively on the folly of this “monkey see, monkey do” approach to product development.
This Does Not Feel Like the Very First Time
Twitter’s other business strategy seems to be centered on turning the company into a big data analytics powerhouse with a consumer sentiment overlay. The Nielsen for a new age, if Nielsen were real-time and had unfathomable depths of information about individual’s reactions to topics ranging from terrorism to Kardashians.
Here’s the thing. Having access to unprecedented data has no net present value. You have to convince people to actually pay for that data and/or convince people to pay you to do something for them based on the strength of that data.
And that’s their play here. Twitter wants to own all the data (not just share counts) because once they do, they can compel you to either pay them for the data, or restrict the availability of that data to their own platform.
The death of the Twitter share button counts are reminiscent of the company’s move earlier this year to eliminate all firehose partners except for Gnip, which is now owned by Twitter. Firehose partners have full-scale access to all Twitter data, and historically resold it to developers who baked it into the social media tools you know and love.
Read Steven Willmot’s coverage of that move here, and you’ll start to see this pattern emerging. If they own all the data, every developer and enterprise company that wants full-scale access now has to buy it from Twitter directly.
How This Pays Off for Twitter
I don’t think Twitter can convince bloggers to pay for sharing data directly. But what if Twitter announces – and I’m telling you right now to expect this – that sharing counts are only available on the Twitter Analytics dashboard? In truth, the data available there is already pretty sweet, and if Twitter put sharing data exclusively in that dashboard, what will happen? A LOT MORE people will log on to that dashboard, slavishly scanning the numbers for their daily dose of social proof.
How does that scenario help Twitter? Well, guess what else is featured on the analytics dashboard? If you guessed “Twitter ad options” you win! If you’re reading this blog, you are in the top 1% of experienced social media and digital marketing practitioners in the world. Yet, do you really understand Twitter’s ad options? I barely understand it, and I’ve bought a bunch of ads from Twitter, and am messing around in there all the time.
Now imagine Twitter has the ability to educate you and promote those ad options to you every time you log in to see the share count data they stripped away.
(Here’s the video version of my take on this, also ironically created on Facebook.)