Twitter was journalism’s beating heart. So what next?

Twitter has been the dominant social network for global news media for over a decade. But with the events of recent weeks, it faces the real possibility of going under.

I listened live to Elon Musk’s Q&A with partners and advertisers, as he tried to calm fears over the impact Twitter’s layoffs would have on keeping Twitter content safe. He talked about building new features quickly, and that user numbers on the social network are in fact rising. On the face of it, the average listener might have gone away thinking Twitter’s going to be fine. But Twitter’s burning.

Brand attacks

While Musk was addressing brands and marketers, his first new product was launching – the much-hyped pay-for-verification $8 blue tick. But it wasn’t turning out the way Musk had intended. Flanked on this live Twitter Q&A by his head of safety Yoel Roth, and head of ads Robin Wheeler, a vision of a safer Twitter was painted by the platform’s top team. Safety on the social network would be ensured because of this paid ‘verified account’ feature, because there’s no way that toxic content could appear if verified users are having to pay, Musk stated. How wrong he could have been.

The $8 blue tick system started rolling out, and brand attacks commenced almost immediately. Within 24 hours, we saw ‘fake’ accounts paying for verification then changing their names to brands, politicians and sports stars, causing all kinds of brand damage.

Fake news

LeBron James had to issue a statement that he wasn’t really leaving the Lakers, pharmaceuticals giant Eli Lilly’s brand team had to announce it wasn’t offering free insulin, and there were countless other examples. Twitter simply wasn’t able to move fast enough to remove fake brand attacks, all facilitated by the blue tick being made available to fake Twitter accounts for a tiny fee.

No community

To me, this is all about community, and right now the Twitter community is rocking. Launching new features to make money is all well and good, but there’s a reason this is normally done in a careful and considered way, instead of Musk’s super-fast rollouts. If the community is rocked, they turn on you, and they move elsewhere. It takes a lot less time to ruin a reputation than it does to build one, as Twitter watchers are seeing all too clearly.

Twitter alternatives

So what should brands do? Right now I’m advising them to watch closely and manage their social media reputation actively. That means tracking brand and spokesperson mentions on Twitter constantly, while also exploring alternative networks that could do what Twitter used to do so well. There are many established alternatives to reach your audience, depending on the community you’re after, including LinkedIn, Reddit, Instagram and TikTok.

But this is not just about brands engaging audiences. One of Twitter’s greatest features is that it has been the beating heart of the global media scene for over a decade. Many journalists and media outlets have come to rely on Twitter for research and publishing news. These journalists and media are already trying out alternatives to Twitter, with Mastodon emerging as the frontrunner to replace Twitter as the journalist’s best friend.

Mastodon looks and feels a lot like Twitter, and is already getting a huge amount of airtime on broadcast media. Growing at breakneck speed, it gives print media access to a captive audience, and provides broadcast media presenters with the ability to poll opinion live on air. It also enables them to delve deep into communities to research their stories. Like Twitter, it also gives PR professionals the ability to get involved in the media cycle directly. What’s not to love?

The future of Twitter appears to be hanging in the balance, but one thing’s for certain: journalists have seen the power of direct access to readers, listeners, viewers and brands. They will move to the best social networks that allow them to continue in Twitter’s footsteps, so it’s every PR person’s opportunity now to experiment early whilst new networks are innovating.

Written by Drew Benvie, founder and CEO of marketing agency Battenhall

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