A couple of months ago, our lead social media strategist at EMSI Public Relations started noticing interesting changes involving the Twitter accounts we manage for clients. Tools were suddenly disabled. Twitter's technical support, which hadn't been good, improved.
So when news broke in late September that Twitter had already formally taken steps toward going public back in mid-July, Jeni Hinojosa, a social media strategist at EMSI, wasn't surprised.
"The changes appear designed to make Twitter more appealing to investors when the initial public offering is finally made," Hinojosa says. "In some ways, they're also improving the experience for users. But in other ways, some users will be disappointed."
Overall, Hinojosa says, Twitter will likely remain one of the most effective social media platforms for connecting with both individuals and large corporations. That's because it's less personal than, say, Facebook, and - this is the biggie - it's quick and easy to have a conversation with posts of 140 characters or less.
What are some of the changes Hinojosa has seen on Twitter and how might they affect you? She shares four:
• No more "automatic follow-backs" means the size of your following will grow more slowly. Some applications, such as HootSuite and ManageFlitter, allowed Twitter users to set up their accounts to automatically become a follower of anyone who first followed them. That allowed audiences to quickly swell - but it also removed human oversight. The result: Some of your followers, and some accounts you followed, would be fake, inactive, or otherwise non-genuine connections.
"I believe Twitter's shutting down the ways huge audiences of fakes can grow so that they can be properly valued for the IPO," says Hinojosa.
While that's generally good for users, people who want to build a large following quickly may be disappointed. One such group is authors trying to get literary agents or book deals, she says.
"Agents and publishers want authors who have a strong base of potential fans, and one way to demonstrate that is to get big followings on social media," Hinojosa says. "Authors may be unhappy that their following grows more slowly, but it's better in the long run - it's not hard to tell when someone has a mostly fake following."
• You can no longer remove fake or unwanted followers en masse. Twitter enforces limits on how many accounts you can proactively follow, so it's important to periodically clear out the fakes, inactive accounts, and other unhelpful followers.
SocialOomph and Manage Flitter allowed users to detect and delete these followers in large bunches, which saved time, Hinojosa says. "That function is no longer available," she says. "Now you have to go through your followers one by one to delete them."
• Improved technical support - in some ways. Before the recent changes, if you ran into a problem with your Twitter account, you went to a 'help' web page, filled out a form describing the problem, and submitted it. Then you had to watch your email for a confirmation and reply to the confirmation within 48 hours in order for your 'case' to move forward.
"While that pesky process still exists, the 'help' page now offers troubleshooting, which makes it easier to fix some problems," Hinojosa says. The downside? You're forced to click through multiple steps and take certain actions before Twitter agrees that you have a problem and allows you to send a request for support. The help page is support.twitter.com.
• More advertisements. As Facebook did when it went public, Twitter is now offering users the option to pay for their posts to achieve more visibility. So now you may find a post from an account that you don't follow appearing at the top of your news feed.
"Most recently, I've been getting posts about McDonald's new Mighty Wings," Hinojosa says. "It's mildly annoying if it's something you have no interest in, but it can also get confusing. You may see it and think, 'Did I follow McDonald's?' and check to see whether you did or not, especially if you're close to your limit on followers."
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