The Content Corner: Twitter, Apple News and the Importance of Our Websites

Oct 26, 2015

First, McDonald’s started serving breakfast all day. Now, Twitter announced it is dropping its 140 character limit for tweets. Black is white, up is down. Or is it really that big a deal? Is Twitter just keeping itself relevant in the battle for your content?

LinkedIn and Facebook were first with their strong push for organizations to stop linking to content on their platforms and actually generate original content there. And while items like Instant Articles have made headlines but have had a limited impact so far, sites like Medium only exist (and can raise $57 million in venture funding) for the creation of original content.

It Is All about Your Content
Internet content marketing sketch on blue background over notebook

I recently shared some of the pros and cons of generating content on social media platforms; however, their role in helping us reach more citizens on various levels is unmistakable. According to comScore, 60% of digital media time is now spent on a mobile device, which also lends itself to higher app usage as opposed to visiting .gov websites for example.

This all translates into social media being one of most direct ways to reach any of our audiences, but how much content should be posted only to a social media channel?

The move by Twitter signals that the value of using social media to share and link to your own site may be coming to an end. Many have interpreted this move as a means of removing a barrier to Twitter competing for original and longform content as Facebook and LinkedIn have done.

Twitter by its very nature is generally about limited interaction and the substantial value in a tweet relies (currently) on being able to send a person to another location whether it is to:

  • Read more information
  • Complete a form
  • Or even buy a product.

For Twitter to compete in a marketplace where original content has become the main currency, they had to remove that limitation. If you have ever read one of those nine-part tweets people send out sometimes, then you know what I mean.

Revisit Your Content Strategy

But, what does it mean for public sector digital communicators? One of the first things it will probably require is a re-examination of how Twitter fits into our overall content and social media strategy.

The 140 character limit was not so much a limit, in my opinion, but a protection against verbosity. It represented a built-in control for something the best content requires: simple, concise writing. Few, if any, other social media tools come with such a strong editorial aid built right in.

With this limit removed, we will now need to focus more on how our Twitter audiences differ from our Facebook audiences and other social media audiences. Is certain content, that we originally couldn’t post due to the character limit, now suddenly possible? Or do we now run the risk of simply duplicating every Facebook post verbatim? That is where the re-examination of our content strategy will be critical. The Internet certainly doesn’t need more noise or redundant content.

We also need to continue to examine the balance between how much content we want to devote to social media platforms, since Twitter’s role can now substantially change, and how much we want to keep on our own sites. It goes back to defining your core and the role your own site can play in your communication efforts.

As Twitter (and now Apple News) increases the pressure on content creators to devote their energies to developing content for their platforms, we have to be mindful of the value of our own sites.

We Lose Control
Social media logos and icons

This ongoing phenomenon of generating more and more content for other platforms has been called “digital sharecropping” by Nicholas Carr, meaning public and private sector organizations are creating a significant amount of value for social media platforms, but with no control. As Carr points out, this has been an ingenious formula for turning users into free labor.

And while this opens up a variety of issues about labor and perhaps socio-economic issues that Carr digs into in his blog, for us it returns us to issues related to how and where users interact with our content and brand.

When visitors are on Twitter or Facebook or other content platforms, they see what that platform wants them to see. We lose control of the visitor’s journey and our content normally becomes a “one and done” affair. But if visitors come to our own sites then it opens up greater opportunities for users to interact with our content. A user might find better answers to their questions, solutions to their problems and build a stronger relationship with our brand.

Private sector content marketers are struggling with the impact Facebook alone has had on their “brand reach”, but the public sector is not immune either. While we are not selling a product, the strength of our brand matters a great deal. We have to be able to nurture and maintain good relationships with our citizens and ensure we are trusted entities performing the services they expect.

Deep down I suspect many agencies will probably continue to use Twitter very much like they do today, as another way to draw your audience to your own site. I think that is a good thing and I hope many of us resist the temptation to turn Twitter into yet another beast that needs more content to be sated. We must also remember the value of our own sites, especially as current trends and popular platforms threaten their importance and role in our content strategy.