The Rise and Fall of Social Media Platforms

Turn the sound off and drop the speed, and watch as the companies bounce up and then disappear.

In 2003 everyone was on Friendster, and back then “everyone” meant 3,5 million people. Their membership peaked at around 50 million, but by then Facebook had 120 million members. The company is “on a break“, and has been since 2005.

By 2005 everyone was on MySpace, but they were overtaken by YouTube in 2007 and had a peak user number of about 73 million in 2008 by which time Facebook had also overtaken them. MySpace still exists, and has tried to position itself as a platform for artists, it still has 50 million monthly active users.

By 2011 Facebook had overtaken and has remained in the top position ever since.

It’s interesting to see how the companies go up and down the charts, but I’m not sure exactly what it tells us – I think a social media platform can be financially successful serving a smaller audience. Linkedin no longer ranks in the tables, and it was purchased by Microsoft in 2016, but it’s a revenue generator for them because of it’s bespoke business tools, and the high level of influence the members have in the business world. The biggest option might not always suit your purpose. Making a profitable business out of a social media channel needs to be about more than ad revenue.

This was compiled by TNV, and they’ve sort of explained how they did it in an article, nowhere on the graphic or the article does it say what the measure is, it seems to be monthly active users (I compared published data from Weibo and Facebook), but I suspect that the Google Buzz figure is not accurate – it plateaus at 170 million, and then is overtaken by other platforms.

Their conclusion was

One thing’s for certain, judging by how many times the top spot changed hands over the past 16 years, none of the social media giants should be resting on their laurels. Really, anything can happen.

Not really. Only three companies held the top spot in the first 8 years; Friendster, MySpace and YouTube. In the last 8 years the top spot has been held by Facebook, and I expect it will take the top spot again this year. Given that “everybody” is now on Facebook it enjoys a position of being an entrenched network, the more people are on it the less likely people are to leave – even if some of us are reluctant users.

If a challenger comes for the top spot I suspect it will be from China, Sina Weibo sits in 7th spot on the 2018 data. They started out as a Chinese only, but now produce a site in both traditional and simplified Chinese to capture much of the Chinese diaspora, and have started to support other languages. Tencent has a billion users already, but is China only so was not included in the data.

Meanwhile I suspect that groups disillusioned with Facebook’s privacy and data practices will start smaller interest-based sites. I’m curious to see where this goes.

Just Stop It: Twitter Notifications

Just Stop it

Having used twitter for many years, on two personal accounts and one work one, I’ve been using it less lately. And there’s a simple reason – the icon is no longer on my phone’s home screen.

Most apps give you a notification count in a little circle on the app,twitter icon six notifications in the image to the right you see that I have six notifications on my twitter account. It tells you that six things have happened on my account since I last looked. It used to be six interactions; new followers, people commenting on my tweets, and retweets. But about two years ago Twitter added notifications about updates and interesting links to its notifications tabs, and I was really quickly overwhelmed. I wasn’t alone. It’s Twitter’s effort to soak up more of your attention and keep you on their platform longer, it hasn’t worked Twitter still lags behind Facebook by miles, with 2.7 minutes a day and 58 minutes a day respectively.

Here’s what twitter says it does:

Here’s what that means, Twitter recommended I’d be interested in tweets from these two gentlemen, you’ll note that I’m not following either of them. Mr Verbruggen’s tweet was in Dutch (I tweet in English) and mentioned him having a shower and a beer. I’m sure Mr Verbruggen is a perfectly nice man, I just don’t know why Twitter thinks I will be interested in his bathing habits. The other tweet was from Henry Winter, a sports writer. I am rubbish about sport, I only care about tennis and maybe the Silver Ferns when they play Australia I’m pretty sure I’ve never tweeted about football.  But Twitter thinks I might be interested in a book about English football?

There seemed to be no way to opt out of this nonsense, and the twitter “recommendations” quickly overwhelmed the genuine interactions.

I got fed up. I moved the Twitter icon off my home screen on my phone, my twitter interaction declined. I once used it every day, It used to be my news feed, I followed people in tech, NGOs, companies I like, people I’d met at conferences and comedians. I barely look at it now except when I make a blog post.

Twitter’s efforts to engage me on the platform have had exactly the opposite effect. I haven’t even added the app to my new phone.

Please Twitter, just stop it.

And would someone please notify me when this is fixed? Thanks.

Short was Good

Back in 2010 twitter was taking off, and there was a real art to constructing a witty informative tweet in 140 characters. Part of that art was using URL shorteners. I wrote about them.

Pretty soon after I wrote about them companies started using them automatically, and there were URL unpackers – so you could see what you were clicking on and avoid clicking on a dodgy link. So twitter used t.co as a URL domain root, making life on twitter easier.

Last year Twitter doubled it’s character limit, and excluded URLs and Hashtags from the count.

URL shorteners still exist but they seem quaint now, I haven’t used one in years. It seems funny to think of the effort that went into some of those early tweets.


Short is good?

So you’ve only got 140 characters to write wittily and get your point across AND  you have to add a URL!? The simple answer is to use a URL shortener, but which one?

There are a lot to choose from, bit.ly, is.gd, tinyurl.com to name a few. Or perhaps you’d like to build your own as Coca Cola have done.

It needs to do more than give you short URLs, it needs to be fast and it needs to be reliable.

Now there’s a way to monitor which URL shortener is the most reliable thanks to Dutch company Watchmouse.

So far today all those monitored are operating normally, but in a full month’s analysis the company found that Facebook’s shortener was the slowest by far.

I use shorteners for posting on twitter, that last URL to lifehacker is 93 characters long, the one to Watchmouse’s blog is 111 characters, leave no room witty commentary in a twitter post. Is.gd took both to 18 characters leaving me 122 characters in a tweet.

However some people are bothered by shortened URL as you can’t see what the destination is and where the URL will take you. Which is smart security thinking. But there are tools for this as well, firefox offers several add-ons, but if you’re not on firefox or you’re behind a firewall that won’t allow you to install the add-on then there’s a site that will expand the URL, called “untiny.me

Using a URL shortener saves 93 characters
display the original URL from a shortened URL

images: shorts, skirt Eurobike 2009 | babes / CC BY 2.0

 

Social Media Fail – How to Lose a Job in Two Tweets

Woman gets great internship at NASA.

Woman loses great internship in two tweets.

NASA withdrew their internship offer.

Ooops.

It’s the second tweet posted by Naomi that’s problematic. Because Homer Hickam isn’t kidding around, and he’s properly famous with a wiki page, an amazon page, and an IMDB entry.

There’s an almost-happy ending to this, apparently Naomi has apologised and Homer is trying to help her find a role in the aerospace industry. I’m betting she dials back on the sweary tweeting.

This isn’t the first time a celebratory social media post has cost someone their job, there was the day care worker in 2015, and the Cisco new hire in 2009.

How is this still happening?

I think there’s a trend that our work and private lives are blending, mobile phones have freed us from the office desk meaning that we are always contactable. I am contactable on a company mobile phone but I also have access to personal social media accounts on the same device. Work itself is less hierarchical and more informal. When one of my 20-something-year-old colleagues made a significant error on social media, the reaction of my boss was that he “wasn’t fully socialised yet”. She might be on to something. For anyone entering the workforce now there’s a period of adjustment and that might be getting harder to negotiate as the gap between popular or youth culture and work culture grows.

I’m quite bad at swearing, as in I rarely do it, but I recognise the cathartic effect it has, the great release of tension following a good swear. But it’s not what I want to hear at work, especially not directed at me.

If you talk about the company who just hired you on social media, you are in some way representing them to your followers. Three tips to avoid this;

  1. Celebrate on social media – and try to sound like you want to work there
  2. Imagine the CEO of the company reading your post – before you post
  3. Save the rants, expressing your fears, and the swearing for private channels.

Maybe as a forth tip: use Google to check who someone is before telling them to suck any part of your anatomy.

Everyone looking for jobs/internships works really hard to get through the process, so this must be hugely disappointing. One day our work culture might be closer to the social media culture and all of this might be accepted, until then play nice and remember what you post online is permanent and public.

Twitter Basics; Part Five

As with any other community on or offline Twitter has its share of malevolent members. Some are merely irritating, some are more distressing and some pose a danger to your reputation.

In this post I’m going to talk about ways to spot some of the fakers, trolls, hackers and scammers, why they exist, and what you can do about them (if anything!)

Fakers

How to spot them

  • incomplete profile, or random statements (see image below)
  • “women in bikini” avatars
  • profile goes somewhere strange
  • ratio of followers to following is less than 1
  • repeat tweets of the same content
  • promises to get you more followers

Here are more signs that an account is fake, and some tools to help you test whether your followers are fake. Unfortunately the creation of these accounts is getting smarter, and the bots behind the accounts have got better at mimicking human behaviour, even twitter can’t always spot them.

Why they exist

The accounts are most likely spam accounts, if you check the profile and the tweets all links published connect to the same marketing site.

It’s possible to buy followers on Twitter, it goes against the terms and conditions of using Twitter, but it’s possible. There’s even a site dedicated to reviewing the various services on offer.

The services are sold as social media marketing; which makes no sense if you’re building an audience of bots. The other sales rationale is that it boosts your online credibility. Well, perhaps, temporarily. Companies doing this often follow genuine accounts in the hope of follow backs to increase their credibility.

What to do

There’s no real risk with these accounts, your follower count is higher and if you follow back your stream has some pointless posts in it. So you can just ignore the accounts. I don’t follow back if an account looks like a spam account. If you sign up to Manage Flitter they identify fake accounts you’re following and allow you to unfollow, the paid subscription allows you to identify fake accounts following you

Trolls

How to spot them

An internet troll has been defined as “an abusive or obnoxious user who uses shock value to promote arguments and disharmony in online communities”. You can spot them by their consistently mean and abusive comments, and their failure to back down or apologise when called on it.

Why they exist

A failure of evolution? The online world reflects the offline world, there are nasty people offline, you can expect them to also be online. Where anonymity is possible online some trolls use it as a shield to hide behind while they post abuse. Some platforms and some subjects are more famous for attracting abusive comments.

What to do

You have four options;

1 Ignore; Trolls thrive on your outrage, if you don’t provide it there’s a chance they’ll go away.

2 Respond; You can respond, challenging the person. It’s unlikely to change their mind or elicit an apology. It’s more like to earn you further abuse and others may join in, escalating it in round after round of competitive abuse.

3 Block; Twitter offers the option to block users, this means you will no longer see their content including tweets those which @ your handle.

4 Report; You can also report users to Twitter if you think their behaviour is abusive or threatening. If you think a threat of violence is credible you should contact your local police. In the UK this has led to arrest and prosecution.

Hackers

How to spot them

The scary thing is you might not know until it’s too late, be alert to any strange activity on your account including multiple password resets.

I spotted a hack going on with tweetdeck one day some years ago. I noticed two very strange tweets, supposedly retweets by me, containing a script which mentioned tweetdeck.

I checked whether anyone else had seen this error and there were already a few tweets reporting a problem with tweetdeck, including one linking to a Mashable article. The good thing about sites like Mashable or Techcrunch is they will report real time on attacks and they have the expertise to analyse the problem and tell you what to do. At that point they were saying there’s been a hack on tweetdeck and advising users to logout. I did, reverting to using twitter through the twitter site, where I checked the tweetdeck twitter account. They were already reporting on the issue.

Why they exist

The hackers want to steal your money, your identity or destroy your reputation. Alternatively they want to blackmail you. Sometimes they want to cause damage a the company by stealing data, and you have the bad luck to hold an account there. Or they could be looking to blackmail a company.

What to do

What you can do comes down to prevention and staying alert.

Prevention; secure your accounts with strong passwords, use different passwords for each site, and use two factor authentication whenever possible. Here are more tips to protect yourself (although there’s debate on whether changing your password really does help).

Stay alert; follow the twitter accounts of the tools you use, if you have doubts check reliable sources such as Mashable, TechCrunch and NakedSecurity. If you are attacked your actions depend on the attack. In the example I gave above from tweetdeck the advice was to log out of everything, when returning Tweetdeck advised a password change.

Scams

How to spot them

There are the usual scams that promise easy money via work from home schemes, and there are those connected to phishing scams, there are those that spread malware.

They’ll often send you a tweet or a direct message with just a link, or they’ll make an outrageous claim in the tweet, “someone is spreading rumours about you” was around a couple of years ago.

Why they exist

The people behind them want to steal your money, your identity or destroy your reputation.

What to do

Don’t click on links in messages or DMs that you’re uncertain about. Don’t fill in any passwords ever unless the URL of the site in the top bar is what you expect, so https://twitter.com/ for twitter. There are more suggestions on protecting yourself here.

As for the hackers stay alert, pay attention to credible warnings.

 

Twitter Basics; Part Four

There are lots of tools for using twitter, some for tweeting and scheduling tweets, some add greatly to existing twitter functionality, others help you manage your followers, and some focus on data visualisation based on twitter’s data.

In generally they are using twitter’s API to pull publicly available data from twitter and presenting it to you in more useful ways. There are loads of tools out there that are lots of fun to play with, in researching this I found this list of 93 free (or freemium) tools. and this list of 21 must-have tools for twitter. Be warned though, things change quickly in the twitterverse and some tools may already be dead (RIP Storify).

I’ve tried a lot of tools over the years I’ve been using twitter and these are my favourites. PS They’re all free, or have free versions.

1 Tools for using Twitter

I am a fan of TweetDeck, I can manage multiple accounts from it, across multiple devices, and it provides multiple columns which is handy for specific searches and for any tweetchats that you join.

It will also let me schedule tweets. There are social media experts out there who say you shouldn’t schedule tweets, and there are examples where it has gone wrong. But it’s a practical way of managing your account.

Twitter now allows scheduling from company accounts, and their are other tools out there, Hootsuite is probably the most popular and it has the added advantage of giving you some analytics, although the most interesting data is only available for paid accounts. (See the advantages and disadvantages of Hootsuite).

2 Analysing Twitter

engagement statistic twitterI use twitter’s own analytics tool, just go to https://analytics.twitter.com/ while you’re logged in to twitter and you’ll see basic analytics data for your twitter account.

Twitter’s analytics tool provides decent reports on your follower growth, overall tweet performance, and performance per tweet. The downside is that only 5 months of data are held, if you want to use more you need to download your data regularly. Oh yeah, it’s free.

FollowerWonk works on a freemium model but gives in depth analysis of your followers and who you follow, it has all sorts of neat tricks from suggesting the best time to tweet, to the “Social Authority” of your followers, to their activity.

This graph shows when my followers are most active – it makes sense to tweet more in periods of high activity.

3 Managing Followers

I use Status Brew to track my followers. I’ll generally follow back if the account looks like a real person who is tweeting genuine content, this tool helps me identify fake or inactive accounts. It also shows me who has followed or unfollowed me recently and lets me follow back (or unfollow) from within their application. Manage Filter offers similar options. Both companies work on a freemium model, for individual use the free tools are already pretty helpful.

There’s another tool around that will validate followers for you called truetwit. I haven’t used it but have been asked to validate my account by people who are using it. Most days I only get a few new followers so it’s easy enough to validate them myself, but I can imagine for those on very popular accounts who want to ensure their followers are real, this would be a time saver.

4 Visualising Data From Twitter

MentionMapp, shows you the relationship between hashtags and people. I’ve used this to find relevant hashtags for posts, and to find people who are currently tweeting about a subject, the presentation is dynamic, and you can click on any hashtag or person and the graph rebuilds.

One Million Tweet Map shows you local clusters or a heat map of where subjects are being discussed based on a hashtag search. 

5 Hashtag This

If you want to know the trending hashtags around the world Trends24 lists them all with a national and city breakdown. Just for fun I made a comparison of what LA and NYC are tweeting about. Apparently there’s a thing called The Bachelor that’s the most interesting.

 

6 In App Tools

There are a few things you can do on the twitter app that you can’t do in the web version of Twitter.

Tweet Thread

Twitter was tricky to use for long form conversations in it’s original incarnation. Each tweet was only 140 characters and that included hashtags and URLs, writing tweets was almost an art form. It’s improved the character count to 280 which excludes hashtags and links. But still people needed more and came up with a work around, breaking your long story into a tweetstorm, a series of tweets, and using a numbering convention to help the reader; (1/4) at the end of a tweet indicated that this was the first of a four tweet series.

Last year Twitter introduced threading and you can just add a tweet to thread and they will be presented together. Much easier for the reader. This is only available on the phone apps at this stage and it’s really easy to use.

Bookmarks

The latest feature rolled out from Twitter is a real bookmark option, you are now able to save tweets to read later in a private list. There’s now a share button below each tweet, clicking on it reveals a short menu, click on “Add Tweet to Bookmarks”.

You can find your bookmarks saved under your profile and all bookmarks will be there.  They’re not visible on the desktop version, yet.

I’ve got one more post in this series – around etiquette and things that can go wrong in Twitter. I’ll publish that next Tuesday.