Twitter recently added fuel to the native content fire with its announcement that the long-rumored 10,000-character Tweet is imminent. Last month, we examined what that length could mean for enterprises that have Twitter content strategies. This time, we look at whether this format change has fully initiated a publishers’ race to the bottom—where media outlets are pitted against one another in a high-stakes game of chicken. As everyone waits in the wings and wonders who will be the first to publish feature-length articles on Twitter, I discussed the upcoming changes with content publishers to determine who should be afraid of the upcoming changes: content publishers or Twitter.
The biggest question mark for publishers is what feature-length Tweets will do to click-through strategies. Now that they can paste full article text into Twitter instead of clickbait titles with links, will users expect them to? And if so, can they still make money? The biggest rumor is a revenue-sharing ad platform that will encourage publishers to collaborate with Twitter to place content for free under the auspice that they’ll generate substantial ad revenue on the platform. The potential benefit is less work for content producers and free, traffic-generating content for Twitter. The main risk is that moving away from controlling every aspect of the sales and publication funnel could shave already thin margins and rob brands of their key selling points. Will publishers be willing to take that risk?
So many media outlets are only just now recovering from the prolonged decline of print-based revenue that it’s hard to imagine jumping feet-first into another new publishing revenue stream. But, as all social networks continue to ramp up native content strategies, it’s only a matter of time before publishers will be forced to take a chance on one of them.
The chief concern that’s been echoed across the Internet is that by choosing to directly engage Facebook’s mission to “absorb the Internet,” Twitter is moving away from what makes it unique. Pawan Pawaar, CEO of Alpha Information Systems remarks, “When Twitter was launched they called themselves a micro-blogging platform, not a social network.” That has historically been what makes Twitter work. The same character limit that’s viewed by many as a limitation is also viewed as its greatest asset. It encourages creativity and brevity and allows users to rapidly consume mass amounts of information from a wide variety of sources. When curiosity is piqued, topics can be investigated in depth. Derek Gleason of Workshop Digital reminds us that Twitter has played a key role in the evolution of Internet media. “Getting a click with 160 characters is hard, and in many ways, already initiated a race-to-the-bottom with click-bait headlines.” Clickbait is now a core tenet of the largest content publishers on the Internet. But the new paradigm may remove the need for clickthroughs in favor of simply getting users to click “Read More.”
“Allowing long-form content,” Gleason continues, “doesn’t mean allowing long-form UX.” Just because Twitter can allow its users to write lengthy diatribe in the formerly-terse boxes doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. “Will users want to sift through 10,000 characters, presumably on their mobile devices?”
Twitter has an extremely mobile-heavy user base; 86 percent of time spent on the network happens on mobile devices, versus 68 percent for Facebook. The native content war might be going too far if all platforms decide to converge upon the integrated long-form content target. In seeking business transformation, Twitter will lose its differentiating qualities and publishers may well balk at the lack of traffic to their sites and the UX challenges associated with delivering quality content on Twitter. It also loses its value proposition as a micro-blogging, mobile-heavy app if it becomes Facebook with fewer pictures and even less clarity about its central mission.
Is long-form the Hail Mary Twitter needs? Alex Filazzola, co-founder of Socialize, thinks so. “Twitter is trying to keep users on their website for longer, rather than have them leave to follow a link,” she says. “Is it a gamble? For sure! This has the potential to make or break Twitter’s future.”
Native content intrigues every media platform precisely because it increases the amount of time users spend within their app or site. Those metrics are directly correlated to the value of a brand, which explains why Twitter is interested in following Facebook’s lead. That may not be all bad. But does this come at a cost to the value of media brands?
Frank Klesitz, CEO of Vyral Marketing, says that Twitter’s character limit historically has made it unappealing for his business, “We have ignored Twitter for this reason, but with the change to longer updates, we will now be focusing more on it. People want all the information to solve their problems, and now we have the space to give it to them. Long-copy, boosted posts on Facebook work the best for us, and now we can essentially do the same on Twitter.” For media publishers, Twitter enabling longer posts gives them the opportunity to meet users where they are, rather than adapting their strategy through business transformation or desperately trying to lure them to third-party sites.
Of course, this creates the question of value for publishers; do they gain anything from unpaid eyeballs on the Twitter feed? Will users be willing to read feature-length articles on Twitter instead of on the sites they’re used to visiting for such content? Are all readers created equal? Limited partnerships between publishers and social networks could have the potential to increase readership and brand awareness, but they would also require media outlets to double down on one player in the content game. Just as The New York Times allows a certain number of free monthly articles online before it prompts you to subscribe, long-form Twitter content could be seen as a bridge to the gap between clickbait headlines and clicking out of the trusted feed in favor of a publisher’s website. Expanding a headline to even a couple of paragraphs could allow feed-crazy, attention-lacking mobile users the opportunity to test the waters before opening a Web page outside of the app. This puts pressure on publishers, but that pressure already exists elsewhere on the Internet with the likes of Facebook and Apple News. Next we have to wonder where the ad revenue would come in; publishers will demand recompense for content delivered natively, but the structure of such deals is in the hands of the gatekeepers.
Twitter is following in Facebook’s footsteps, which was inevitable as the platforms compete for users and time spent in apps. Adarsh Thampy, CEO of LeadFerry, saw this one coming. “It’s no surprise, given Twitter’s co-founder Evan Williams (founder of Medium) proclaims that independent publishers will no longer exist in the future.”
Medium has long been the quirky, independent publisher of long-form content on the Web, and it appears that Williams wants to bring the power of his indie side project to the user base of his mainstream superstar. Based on the trend toward integrated content, Twitter had to do this. Whether the move pays off or flops, it’s definitely a sign of the times. Long form content is king, and we’ll be watching where it works best.
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