A few months ago, Jeni Hinojosa, a social media strategist at EMSI, a public relations firm in Tampa, FLA that represents authors and companies, started to notice that Twitter was changing some functions that affected her clients. “The changes appear designed to make Twitter more appealing to investors when the initial public offering is finally made,” she says. Twitter announced in a Tweet earlier this month that it plans to file for an IPO. It gave no time frame for the offering. My colleague Tomio Geron has written that secondary sales of the stock have valued the company at as much as $10 billion.
I’m not sure just how much these changes enhance the company, but I think they’re worth sharing. These are Hinojosa’s observations, including what she sees as pros and cons. Twitter did not answer my email query for confirmation and comment, presumably because it’s in a quiet period preceding the IPO.
1. No more “automatic follow-backs.”
This means the size of your following will grow more slowly. Hinojosa says this is important to her author clients, who want to be able to show potential agents and publishers that they have hundreds if not thousands of followers. One tactic was to use an automated system to get your Twitter account to automatically follow anyone who followed you, which would presumably have a ripple effect. Since there was no human oversight, the tactic resulted in users following fake or inactive accounts. (This piece in an online publication called Small Business Trends quotes a Twitter employee who posted a message in a forum, confirming the change.) The plus here is that Twitter is taking action to heighten the integrity of its networks. In other words, it’s weeding out spam. If an author wants to demonstrate a large following, the followers have to be real. Maybe that’s tough for authors but it’s good news for the rest of us and should increase the public’s trust in Twitter.
2. Users can’t remove fake or unwanted followers en masse.
Twitter has to draw the line somewhere. According to Hinojosa, it is now enforcing limits on how many followers each user can delete in one fell swoop. Services like ManageFlitter help users find and delete fake followers in large groups. I couldn’t find any other verification that users can no longer do this, but Hinojosa is sure that Twitter has blocked this function. “Now you have to go through your followers one by one to delete them,” she says. Like blocking automatic follow-backs, this seems to be another step Twitter is taking to prompt users to manage their accounts themselves, rather than relying on automated services.
Call me naïve, but I hadn’t realized that I could pay to get a mass of Twitter followers. One service, TwitCentre, charges $169 to drum up 10,000 “real Twitter followers.” That’s in contrast to the low-priced $40 package I can buy to acquire 10,000 “fast Twitter followers.” Hinojosa says authors sometimes use these services for a period of time, then when they no longer need all those followers, many of which are presumably fake, they dump them all at once. In preventing the mass dumping, Twitter is taking another step to ensure that when people say that they have 10,000 followers, that number is real.
3. Technical support has improved, sort of.
Again, I haven’t experienced this but I take Hinojosa’s word for it: Users who had trouble with their accounts used to have to go to a “help” page and fill out and submit a form describing their problem. Then they would have to wait up to 48 hours for a confirmation and reply in order for their issue to begin to be addressed. Now the help page is much more robust, with a “Troubleshooting” box that gives users dozens of options to ask frequently or not-so-frequently asked questions and get a quick pre-written response. If the canned answers don’t solve your problem you can still fill out a form with a specific question and submit it via email. Hinojosa says this system is better because of all the answers the site offers. But personally, when I’m having trouble with anything involving my computer, I want to be able to connect immediately with a human being. I know direct connections are a relic of the past and I should get used to automated answers. But I can still dream.
4. More ads
Again, no comment from Twitter. We know the company is set to beef up its advertising efforts. Evidence: its acquisition earlier this month of mobile advertising firm MoPub, for a reported $350 million. As my colleague Tomio reported, Twitter announced in a blog post that it hopes to use MoPub to build a real-time bidding platform for ads. Meantime, says Hinojosa, Twitter is offering existing advertisers the option to pay to make their ads more visible. The result is that users see posts at the top of their newsfeeds from companies like McDonald’s, advertising their new Mighty Wings chicken.
I’m not sure Hinojosa has this exactly right. Reading through Twitter’s own guidelines for advertisers, it seems that ads are never sent randomly to users. Twitter searches for keywords or a demonstrated interest by the user or users who follow related topics. “It’s important that the keywords you select are relevant to your Tweet copy,” admonishes Twitter’s website. The pros for the advertiser: Twitter is demonstrating more interest in boosting advertisers’ options. For users: At least Twitter is making some effort to impose only the ads on us that our tweeting history suggests we’d want to see.