Digital & Social Media

Twitter’s Thin Blue Line — And More

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What Happened: Twitter shook up the social world by potentially changing the way we share content. With a looming IPO, Twitter wants to boost its audience numbers with new features that encourage more tweets and new users.

In a deal with The New York Times, Twitter enabled users to click on a highlighted sentence and tweet it out directly, instead of tweeting out a headline. Readers who see the tweet are brought to the selected section of the article, rather than to the beginning as a headline tweet would. The idea was tested on a piece about what it is like to audition for Saturday Night Live, and the story was tweeted 11 times more frequently than the average Times article. Twitter also launched a new timeline feature aimed at making it easier to find and follow conversations. When someone you follow tweets and you reply, Twitter will connect the conversations with a blue line. The new feature means tweets will get pushed up in your timeline depending on whether they are blue-lined. These blue-lined tweets will be given priority and appear out of chronological order. The update addresses a fundamental problem: New users find the platform confusing.

What This Means for Brands:  Both Twitter features up the ante on quality content and make more traditional advertising less effective. Landmark banner ads typically appear at the top of stories, but with the new sentence tweet readers will be brought to the middle of articles, not the beginning. It will be up to them whether they want to scroll up, thus making banner ads less effective. For brands this means to engage your audience you may need to put more emphasis on content. Simultaneously the blue-lining also signals to brands that stories that generate buzz and discussion are going to be pushed higher. Bromide press release-type comment is unlikely to cut it in a blue-lined world. On the plus side when you have a hot topic—like Microsoft’s recent Nokia deal—you can expect more sharing and more shelf life for meaningful content. Finally, by highlighting conversation threads with blue lines, Twitter seeks to challenge brands and community managers to engage their audiences, create shareable content that people want to react to in real-time. Will brands start to be judged by how many blue lines they have? A new metric may have been born.

Contributing to TRENDING this week are Lucy Arnold, Jenna Carter, Abby Ray and Torrey Vaughan. Edited by Pat Wechsler.