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If Twitter dies - what next for the PR community?

13th October 2016


For the last seven and a half years, Twitter has been something of a school playground for me. I’ve learned the lay of the PR land, noted the Bigger Boys and Girls and worked out my place in the social order.

I’ve played, gossiped, been sporadically (ahem, comparatively) serious and made friends I’m sure I’ll have for life. If day-to-day work is the classroom, Twitter is the concrete expanse on which I both learn and let off a bit of steam.

Laboured metaphors aside, I’ve said and will continue to say that without Twitter, my career might well look very different.

It’s with a sense of inevitability we find ourselves talking about the future of the platform – after all, no social network barring (perhaps) Facebook has proved itself immune to the passing of time without suffering at least some wear.

As it stands

By many metrics, Twitter is struggling.

User growth is not where it needs to be, having barely shifted in the last year and a half:

Its own investors are suing, claiming to have been misled.

According to people ‘familiar with the situation’ and as reported by Bloomberg, the three companies weighing up an acquisition of Twitter (Disney, Google – well, parent company Alphabet – and Salesforce) had lost interest. This caused Twitter’s share price to drop dramatically from the 2016 high, caused itself by talks of an acquisition. (It’s worth mentioning that Salesforce might still be interested after all, but from what I understand, people in the company are advising against it, worried it’d damage Salesforce’s own value).

More anecdotally, many, myself included, have noticed a shift in the way Twitter ‘feels’ in the last year or two. Without getting into allegations of either free speech censorship or ‘troll’ lenience too heavily (depending on which side of the divide you fall), people I know have said they essentially check back in for lip service, and don’t enjoy it as much as they once did.

I’ve noticed the more serious thinkers are still around – the teachers and educators, if you will – it’s the fringe users that have perhaps grown up or got bored, and being honest, as much as I like to read, learn and consider the industry, they’re the bigger reason I kept coming back. This post was written by Lissted’s Adam Parker yesterday after I thought I was done with this piece, and everything from the word clouds of most-used terms to the ‘most featured accounts’ seems to agree.

Twitter will not disappear overnight, but it’s not the place it once was.

If not Twitter, then what?

It’d be churlish to think Twitter will last forever, both as a company and as the community it once was - especially based on the above evidence.

Public relations has benefited from it no end – but what happens as and when it’s clear that we’re shouting into the wind? I’ve felt a bit like that for a year or so with PRexamples posts on Twitter, with fewer visitor referrals from the network per post than ever before. This will sound needy, but I used to use that immediate feedback in terms of traffic and conversation to determine the direction of posts – now, it’s almost non-existent and I have to rely predominantly on post performance through search.

The obvious answer is to look for an alternative, while maintaining a presence (and nostalgic hope).

Facebook and Twitter have very different functions, but no amount of Zuckerborrowing, as with trending topics and live streaming, has done anything to make users feel differently. Facebook just doesn’t have the inclusive sense Twitter had – one of not just being OK with people you didn’t know replying to posts, but being happy that they would.

To LinkedIn, then – where there’s a civility of conversation but… perhaps too much so. I don’t use it for immediate or inane updates in the way I have with Twitter, but definitely see the benefit of it when I post articles in terms of reads and engagement with content. Let’s be honest, it’s not as fun though, is it? I spoke to somebody I met through Twitter recently and she actually mentioned that she’s adding people she likes on Twitter on LinkedIn, just ‘in case’.

Considering other popular networks, Instagram and Snapchat just aren’t built to facilitate a conversation in the same way. I like them both for different reasons, but they’re certainly a lot more push than pull. YouTube, too.

I’ve tried others too, having signed up to Gab the other day. If you haven’t heard of it, it claims to be the place for free speech – but has quickly become the opposite of the liberal bubble its users would claim Twitter to be. I won’t write it off, but I’m not sure I’ll stick around. Perhaps it’ll be a different place post-US election.

Is there an answer?

As with Russell Brand’s shot at political consciousness and revolution last election, I’m clueless. I almost didn’t write this because of my not having the answer, but thought it was worth at least considering the situation and starting a conversation with those left to have one with.

I’m not swearing Twitter off, but I’d be very surprised if the PR ‘community’ exists there in the coming years as it once did, and that’s a shame both for those of us that benefited and the students and younger PRs coming through. I hope I’m wrong, but fear I’m not.

Maybe, just maybe, the playground notion works again here – there comes a day when you have to leave school (and your teachers) behind, after all.

Now, if anybody needs me, I’ll be shuffling around Myspace.

Article written br Rich Leigh, founder of richleighandco.com


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