/ Learning stuff

I wrangled with Twitter Promote, and got less than I bargained for.

Social media is noisy. Content, once considered “king” by self-proclaimed digital know-it-alls, now seems to be embroiled in an epic Game of Thrones type battle for the eyes and ears of the masses. Only the worthy - or well funded - can get close to the iron throne. The iron throne, in this case, is your attention.

Ok, so the analogy falls apart a little toward the end, but you get the point. Social media is oversaturated as thousands of “content creators”, myself included, battle for the attention and praise of peers.

So when a platform like Twitter promises you special access to get your content onto the news feed of the unreached masses, it’s a tempting offer. I’m trying to think of a way to shoehorn a Game of Thrones metaphor into this, but it’s not quite flying. I’m sure it’ll come to me at some point.

For me, Twitter promote mode was that promise. It offered a way to place your content into the news feed of your target audience, and there was nothing they could do about it. There are some caveats, of course. The major one being that you can’t actually choose what Twitter promotes.

If that seems illogical to you, it’s because it is, and you’ll find out why later (ooh cryptic! TL; DR - nobody wants to see inane crap promoted into their feed, no matter how engaging Twitter thinks it might be).

I’d recently decided to try and improve my presence on Twitter, for reasons no more complex than the simple benefits of networking. I work remotely, and having an online network of people to shoot the shit with is always interesting. I wasn’t particularly bothered about selling anything - though of course, it couldn’t hurt to have a few extra eyes looking at my work-based tweets - and I don’t really care for “building a personal brand”. So, Promote seemed like an easy and obvious way for me to drop my oh-so-witty, wry, and intellectual commentary in front of people who would appreciate them most, and might engage in conversation.

Before we go any further, I should point out that I didn’t go into this “test” with a clear methodology beyond “let it run, be a little more active, and see what happens”. This is not a Buffer blog post. It is not informed by hefty amounts of data and a deep hypothesis. My Twitter activity and engagement had been pretty dire for a while. I wanted to see what happened, at a basic anecdotal level, if I used Promote in conjunction with a slight increase in posting.

As a side hope, I figured it would be good to understand if Promote benefits the layperson with nothing to sell, who is just looking to be “social” on social media. For that, I didn’t need to dig any deeper than “am I having an increased number of valuable conversations”.

If the value of Promote wasn’t easy to spot anecdotally, I wasn’t about to waste my time trying to sell myself on it. I had no “goal” beyond increasing engagement and opening the door to more conversations. My basic hypothesis was “paying Twitter to be valuable must make Twitter valuable”.

My first hurdle, given that I am an individual not looking to promote a personal brand, was defining my target audience.

In Promote, Twitter allows you to select your target audience by category or location. As I wasn't too fussed about where people are from, and tend to be free-form with my commentary, I was happy to select from the very broad categories. After a little thought I settled on targeting categories: Travel, Hobbies and interests, Technology and computing, Movies and television, Food and drink.

  • Travel - because I’m interested in the nomad lifestyle.
  • Hobbies and interests - because it’s broad as all hell.
  • Technology and computing - because Matt loves geeking out.
  • Movies and television - see above.
  • And Food and drink - because Matt loves to eat.

I saved my settings and set my campaign live. That was it. I was being promoted. Easy! And I would soon see why.

Promote is a very strange beast. As I mentioned, you don’t get to choose what posts are promoted into the news feeds of the people you’re trying to impress.

My first promoted tweet was posted on December the 7th:

Twitter tells me it got 957 impressions and 603 of those came from promotion. It also got 303 media views, with 223 coming from promotion and while my Analytics shows me it had 3 likes, it is currently only showing 1. A discrepancy, but I’m not too bothered about vanity metrics anyway. What I was looking for was a conversation, which hadn’t come. But it was early days.

The next few tweets followed suit. An increase in impressions, and a couple of token likes. Oddly, the only promoted tweet that resulted in anything resembling a conversation was a customer service post to Enterprise car rental.

(I was looking to rent a car for the weekend, and their promo code hadn’t worked. It doesn’t matter, but I feel like I should clarify).

No valuable conversations, but I was only a couple of days in. I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. So I let it roll on.

I held out some hope for the next couple of tweets. As a bit of a Gary Vaynerchuck fanboy, I’d tagged him in a couple of tweets about having his podcasts to keep me company on a long drive across the country. Prime promotion material in my eyes. Get my name in front of a big name and said big names millions of followers. To my dismay, they weren’t eligible.

To this day I’m not sure how the process of choosing promoted tweets works. Or why Promote decided to promote a tweet tagging Enterprise car rentals over one tagging Gary Vaynerchuck. It seems highly illogical, though perhaps something to do with the "travel" category.

Looking back, there doesn’t seem to be much logic behind which tweets were promoted and which tweets weren’t. None had got me any closer to increasing number of conversations I had on the platform. That is, until I posted this:

An inane anecdote from my day. No link, no tag, no image. Just a few lines of pointless text. Be that as it may, it turned out to be the best tweet for starting a conversation, for all the wrong reasons.

The responses focused on the fact that the tweet was promoted. An interesting thought in and of itself, “How dare you promote a tweet that isn’t trying to sell me something I don’t need”. A bit of a contrast to the usual complaints of “how dare you promote a tweet trying to sell me something even if I’ve expressed an interest in it”.

Amusing as the thought of being angry about not being sold to was, I could kind of see their point. It got me questioning why Twitter would even promote something that was clearly not intended to be promotional.

I engaged with the respondents and tried to explain that I was testing promote mode. One was gracious enough to have a brief discussion about trialling things like purchasing followers, but it wasn’t a valuable conversation in the sense that there was a benefit for either party.

That seemed to be the tone for the rest of my test as the same thing happened a couple more times. I won’t go through every promoted tweet, but the only conversations that came from Promote mode were complaints about promoted tweets. By the third complaint, I’d decided enough was enough and cancelled the campaign. It had been running for just over a month.

It’s interesting to go back to the data. Here are the basic stats from my Twitter analytics before, during, and since.

Prior to promote, between 1st and 30th November:
Following: ~ 2100
Engagement: 0.8%
Tweets: 18
Clicks: 4
RT: 2
Likes: 27
Replies: 9

During promote mode, between 1st and 31st December:

  • Following: ~ 2100
  • Engagement: 0.8%
  • Tweets: 39
  • Clicks: 18
  • RT: 16
  • Likes: 176
  • Replies: 31

During promote mode, between 1st and 11th January:

  • Following: ~ 2100
  • Engagement: 1%
  • Tweets: 10
  • Clicks: 4
  • RT: 2
  • Likes: 72
  • Replies: 26

January after 11th (no Promote mode):

  • Following: ~ 2100
  • Engagement: 1.5%
  • Tweets: 16
  • Clicks: 11
  • RT: 11
  • Likes: 135
  • Replies: 55

The interesting thing to me isn't that using Promote mode encouraged others to engage with me, but that it encouraged me to tweet more and engage others more. Perhaps in an attempt to have it prove it's worth. The irony is that has proven to be much more efficient in terms of returning valuable conversations, if only anecdotally. I could have saved myself a little cash, had I not been lazy, and just put the time in initially.

What's also interesting, and something I’d like to research more - with greater accuracy and detail - is how promoted posts are received. These early indicators seem to suggest the average user prefers promoted posts with an agenda - a clear call to action or product promotion. Moreover, without an agenda, it’s possible a post will be seen in a negative light.

In my opinion, Twitter promote was not worth paying for, for the simple fact I had no control over what was promoted. While I'm sure their algorithms will eventually pick up on the most engaging content, not having the ability to overrule - be it veto or suggesting a tweet to promote - makes the Twitter Promote mode useless and irritating.

That said, it has raised an interesting question about what is acceptable promotion. At the end of it all, I'm left wondering, is a blatant intrusion from an individual less excusable than that of a faceless corporation?