Yet another media outlet with a piece that bashes Twitter? Actually, this is more of a love story that ends well… for at least one of our main characters. Because after two years at the former blue bird site, amassing thousands of posts and followers, we’ve decided to continue our social conversation elsewhere.
Here’s what led to that decision, and why other businesses and creators should consider following suit.
Twitter was a beloved staple of internet culture
I’m not a Twitter veteran by any account, having only used the platform off and on since the early 2010’s, with consistent usage during the last five years. But unlike other platforms that I frequented in the interim, what kept drawing me back to Twitter was the sense of “real-time” information, buzz and info-central that the site offered.
Let me unpack that.
Obviously, Twitter wasn’t akin to Twitch in terms of streaming content (outside of the occasional trending event that was broadcast on the platform, and their failed Periscope live-streaming service). But what it did provide was a steady stream of world news and contributions from the world’s leading journalists and industry professionals.
If you were interested in news, online media or just wanted to keep up to date with the latest happenings in your niche of choice via short-form content, links and resources, Twitter was the place to be. Unlike YouTube or Instagram, where content was carefully curated and thus slower to surface, Twitter was serving up information at a faster cadence, and from known commodities. No Reddit-style anonymity here, especially as many of the sources of said info were verified by the platform – but more on that a bit later.
It was also relatively easy to interact with the brands and people behind the news, who’d often encourage engagement through open-ended questions or polls. True, things could get a little dicey here (depending on the topic of conversation), but there were always content moderation controls and user policies to fall back on to ensure things stayed civil.
So, after a love affair of several years (and owing to my familiarity with the platform), Twitter became the de facto social media choice when we launched AMR back in 2021. It also made sense from the perspective of the platform having many vibrant health, tech and sustainability communities, along with notable brands and pretty much every industry journalist you could think of already on the platform and posting on the regular.
Over the next two years we amassed some five thousand posts, sharing content from our site, engaging with the communities, brands and personalities that formed around our niches, and built an audience of several thousand likeminded individuals. We connected with companies, forged business relationships and carved out a spot on one of the world’s most well-known social platforms.
At our peak we were pulling in six-figure engagement metrics per month, and were well on the way to one million. Had nothing changed, our trajectory dictated that we would have crossed the ten thousand follower mark in the next two years. But change did happen, and not for the best.
Something(s) began to change
Throughout 2022 there were some rumblings that Elon Musk might be interested in purchasing Twitter. At the time, the tech media were reporting on the increasing oddball happenings of Mr Musk, so many of us played it off as just another crazy rumour. But then it actually happened. And after some $44 billion dollars changed hands, the company formerly known as Twitter sold to the tech titan. Rumour became reality when Musk entered the Twitter offices carrying a kitchen sink. Little did we know that this would only be the start of the wild ride that has seen billions of dollars in valuation wiped from the company, and sent advertisers, brands and users fleeing to other platforms.
The takeover timeline is littered with bizarre decisions, with more making headlines as recently as a few days ago, so I won’t even attempt to thoroughly list everything that has gone down since that fateful day in October 2022.
Brands want to conduct business in non-vitriolic spaces.
First came the multiple rounds of mass firings that has left the company operating with a skeleton crew and increases in platform instability, then the decision to allow anyone to become verified for a monthly fee which led to rampant impersonation and has allowed misinformation to propagate with ease. Accounts which had violated the companies TOS (including hate speech) were reinstated, verified accounts (those paying a fee) had their content boosted, whilst those who had earned verification but were unwilling to pay were stripped of their verified status.
Brands want to conduct business in non-vitriolic spaces, yet the new Twitter seemed hell bent on taking its infamous “social cesspool” reputation (which previously only lived in the depths of inflammatory topics) to a whole new level of awful. Is it any surprise that many were beginning to slow down their content output, pause their advertising, or leave altogether?
If you disented from the vision of Twitter 2.0, or simply existed as a rival service, you were squarely in the crosshairs Musk. Links to Substack were blocked after they announced a Twitter-like feature on their blogging platform, as were links to social platform Mastodon. Others, like Instagram and Blue Sky had their links throttled, with delays added that would slow access to their sites, sometimes displaying a blank page before eventually connecting. The same thing happened to the New York Times and Reuters, publications that have previously published stories that were critical of Elon Musk. That matters when you are trying to share content from multiple channels or sources that may have been whimsically added to the naughty list, making for a poor experience for your audience and once again supressing the reach of your account by association.
The Trust and Safety team were summarily dismissed (amid a HR nightmare and veiled attacks from Elon himself), and a new “free speech” edict became law of the land. Except, in the new era of Twitter, the world “responsible” was missing from that decree. People could seemingly say anything, including hate speech and misinformation, without repercussion. Soon the “recommended” tab was filled with vile content, as was the “trending” section. It became harder to sort through (and ignore) the clutter that was stacking up.
Before the Musk takeover, Twitter was a true “global townsquare”, where you’d see a healthy mix of commercial brands, regular folk, journalists academics and activitsts across the entire spectrum of viewpoints and industries. The frequent changes, growing personal attacks and overall instability on the platform led to an exodus of science, environment and social-values led contributors, meaning that there was no counterforce to misinformation among those topics. Unfortunately, this resulted in the remaining voices in the room becoming louder, which only further weakened the appeal for sticking with a social space that was increasingly uncomfortable (and unreliable) to use on a regular basis.
But the now skewed algorithm and lack of content moderation were just the start of a growing list of frustrations that made the platform less appealing by the day.
Now it’s pay-to-play
We opted out of the blue.
As a business, we rely on both organic traffic and paid advertising to help our content reach a larger audience, something that is true of both startups, solopreneurs and enterprises. One of the most frustrating changes that occurred was the inability to access the Twitter ad platform without having first pay for verification. This was something that was communicated to us out of the blue via an email one morning. Subscribe to Twitter Blue (their re-launched premium subscription service) or else lose access to the Twitter Ads platform.
In short, pay up for the ability to pay for ads. After a few months, we opted out of the blue, too.
Originally Twitter’s paid tier didn’t offer much in the way of user or business features, other than access to longer Tweets and some formatting options, which is probably why they struggled pre-Musk to monetise with an admittedly weak value proposition. But it was the shift toward a punitive, rather than benefit driven play here that rubbed many the wrong way.
Pay or your content won’t be visible, pay or you won’t be verified, pay or you won’t get access to advertising, pay or you won’t be able to… you get the idea.
It seems so obvious as to where this was all headed. Back in May, I predicted that Musk would soon require users to pay just to be able to post. This was off the back of their decision to lock down the site and not allow users to view content unless they were logged in and their similar decision to add limits to what non-premium members could view each day. Sure enough, Musk has begun talking about charging users a monthly fee just to access the platform.
Sure, Elon saw some value in the site formerly known as Twitter, otherwise why would he pay tens of billions of dollars to acquire it, entering into loan agreements and seeking funding from a cohort of outside capalists to fund this adventure? Putting aside the idea that he is purposely tanking it as a means of revenge against those critical of him, or seeking to decrease its value so that banks offload the debt back to him at a lower rate (which one could argue is successfull, now that it is only worth approximately half of what he paid for it), what’s left? Who is the new target audience? And why would anyone pay to use a dying platform?
The next logical question then is, why use Twitter at all?
A personality crisis makes for a great exit
We aren’t the only ones who are abandoning ship. Despite words to the contrary by their new CEO during an awkward and at times contentious interview during the recent Code Conference, Twitter is not in good shape by any metric. Advertising is declining, users are fleeing the platform and the company’s traffic is slowing down.
As the months rolled by and things became crazier, it in turn became easier not to post on the platform. I found myself opening the app or browsing to the site less and less, choosing to conduct research, engage with our audience and foster new connections elsewhere.
The rebrand to “X” felt like the final admission that the site we all knew and loved was indeed no more. In place of that friendly, icon blue bird logo, was a cold and sterile “X”, a symbol with no personality that was crowdsourced on yet another whim.
In the last few weeks there’s been talk of X becoming a banking site, dating platform, and everything in between. Some of these have been confirmed by Musk as on the roadmap to achieving his vision of X as an “everything app“. Now, Elon is rightly or wrongly (depending on who you ask) associated with innovative and groundbreaking companies, but this is where he might face some very stiff competition.
Whilst all-encompassing services like WeChat already exist in China, Western countries are far less likely to greenlight these ambitions due to antitrust and privacy regulations. It’s why we have entire suites of software from tech giants like Adobe, Google, Meta and Microsoft, instead of everything rolled into one big super-app. And why every time these companies even think of consolidating feature sets, they face widespread scrutiny from policy makers and regulatory bodies.
Will you swipe left on breaking news, or right on a potential date?
Beside the obvious legal challenges, businesses have to ask themselves if they want to remain on a platform that is dating, or personal finance focused. Do academics envision posting their peer-reviewed paper next to someone’s bank balance? Will climate activists be cool with contributing content alongside climate-warming crypto activity? And will you swipe left on breaking news, or right on a potential date?
The site formerly known as Twitter isn’t just figuratively changed, it literally is no more. But fortunately, there are other options for those looking for a new social home.
Twitter alternatives that make sense (and cents)
It’s one thing to crap on what the platform has become, but that doesn’t solve the problem facing those who are considering, or who have already left the platform. So, where are we all supposed to go?
The answer depends on what you want to get out of using a social media platform. As Elon himself loves to do, let’s take things back to first principles. What is the purpose of building an audience on a social platform? Is that even your intended goal? Or are you more of a consumer of content?
If you find yourself in the latter camp, you are spoilt for choice. Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are solid bets – mature, largescale, stable platforms which are not likely to shake things up any time soon. Sit back, search and scroll to your hearts content. That said, some people are looking for a direct replacement for Twitter, and that’s where things get a bit trickier.
So, where are we all supposed to go?
Several companies have emerged as contenders to the once dominant micro-blogging platform. Bluesky, Mastodon and Threads (owned by Meta) are the three with the most buzz, yet all have failed to replicate the feel and feature set of Twitter. Each are missing that X-factor (and no, I’m not talking about hate speech), be it discoverability, trending news, the network effect and missing functionality that you’d expect to see, like the ability to direct message other users.
I’d theorised that the next evolution of social media would be a return to smaller and more intimate communities, a new era I’m coining Web 4.0, one that appears to be playing out for the upcoming generation of social platforms. Discord and private chats, Patreon, Reddit, Slack and other messaging groups have us coming together, forming communities around topics or personalities in much the same way that the early age of the internet did via bulletin boards and UseNet. Only now, these private spaces are packed with much richer features including voice, video and collaborative functionality.
And then there are those who are looking to build a business through social. Again, there are options here, and ones that might actually be much better suited to this economic function. Substack, Post, Medium and LinkedIn are all great alternatives to Twitter, ones that allow you to not only gather a following but also monetise your content.
Earlier this year I spoke with Noam Bardin, CEO of Post, and he underscored the point that what we thought of as “social networking” and “social media” will never exist in quite the same way again. His thinking was that Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Friendster all came along at a unique point in time when we were still figuring out this thing called the internet. Noam’s big bet is a repositioning of social, would becoming a feature of platforms, not the main focus, and that bet appears to be paying off for his company, with a host of publishers, creators and users flocking to the Post platform.
For us, there is no direct replacement for Twitter, but that’s okay. In its place we’ve developed a multi-channel content strategy that will allow us to grow our audience and connect with communities who care about our content. The only catch involves tailoring our output to the specific platform of focus. That’s why we’ve pivoted to publish our long-form content on Post, Substack and LinkedIn, with our multimedia efforts going toward Spotify and TikTok (with the occasional cross-platform conversion and a healthy dose of self-promotion for our own website).
And it appears to be working. Views are up 400%, site traffic is 3x over the last 60 days our audience continues to grow and we’ve booked in several guests for our audio show, none of which we connected with over Twitter.
Now, if we had to give just one recommendation for your average business, LinkedIn would be our pick of platforms. It’s the only place that you can build an audience, publish multimedia content, foster business relationships, be recognised as a thought leader, enjoy open access to a powerful advertising engine and effectively drive sales to your core business. Academics, journalists and content creators all appear to be jumping on board as well, with LinkedIn emerging as one of the new homes for those types of social users. Colour me unsurprised, as LinkedIn was built as a business-centric platform right from the start, with content moderation, trust and user safety baked into its DNA.
All this is to say, whilst it is hard to walk away from an audience you’ve established on a dying platform, it is also quite liberating. Expanding your horizons allows for even more opportunities and connections with people who value your contributions, both on a personal and commercial level.
If you are struggling with staying on Twitter, my advice is to free yourself, not from the platform, but from the notion that it even exists anymore, because it doesn’t. And there are plenty of great alternatives that are packed with people, brands and creators who would love to connect with you. Your future community is just waiting for you to show up.
So get out there and be social.