Since its launch in 2007 as a novelty social media site, Twitter has since grown to be one of the most influential and popular news-sharing platforms in the world. As of 2022, the app now sits as the #1 download in the ‘News’ category on the app store.
Reports of Twitter’s decline in recent years has been driven primarily by the platform’s inability to capitalise on its large user base: from 2009 to 2018, Twitter was listing a net loss on the New York stock exchange. Despite having introduced several subscription-based features for top users, 85% of Twitter’s profits still come from ad revenue.
However, as a user base, Twitter is its own thriving ecosystem. It’s also now one of the most active social media sites in the world, with almost 230 million active monthly users.
But why is Twitter so popular, and why do traditional news sites find it difficult to compete?
Why is Twitter so popular?
While other social media sites such as Facebook (now Meta) and Instagram are constantly evolving to keep up with their competitors, Twitter remains as popular with users as ever, despite the original concept of the site remaining mostly unchanged. There are a few factors that can help explain Twitter’s popularity:
It’s free to use
It comes as a shock to nobody that the internet struck a massive blow to the traditional print news model. Newspaper circulation has been in steady decline for years, and even fell under 1 million in 2020. To combat financial losses – and in an attempt to “digitise” the traditional print model – many British newspapers decided to implement paywalls, where readers have to subscribe or pay one-off fees to access long-form articles.
As of 2022, over two-thirds of leading online newspapers across Europe and the US operate an online paywall, while Twitter remains free to use. Not only does Twitter remain free to use, but newspapers are present and active on the site, allowing users to access headlines and news without having to pay monthly fees to access content.
Most journalists use Twitter themselves
Another reason Twitter is treated like a news site: it is largely populated by newspaper accounts and journalists. A majority of journalists use the platform to share their content with their readers, turning the platform into a news sharing site by default.
Issues such as Brexit divided Brits into warring camps, and much of these political battles were played out – and continue to be played out – online, especially on Twitter. This leads us onto perhaps Twitter’s key USP as a news site: it allows users to curate their own newsfeeds according to their own political and social sensibilities.
What’s worse is that Twitter’s algorithm actively encourages users to create their own political echo chambers. As research by UK think tank Demos confirmed, Twitter’s algorithm is most likely to recommend users, tweets, and other content based on content you’ve already positively engaged with. While this might create a more user-friendly experience for individuals, it can amplify social and political tensions on a wider scale.
24 hours news cycle
In order to understand the breadth of Twitter’s influence, it’s important to first understand that the way we consume news has drastically evolved in the last fifteen to twenty years. In the pre-internet era, news stories typically broke in one of two ways: during TV or radio news bulletins, or on the front page of the daily newspaper.
Nowadays, internet users are bombarded with endless streams of information: news, current events, politics, scandals, and more. The online content-generation business is thriving, but what is often labelled as “news” isn’t actually newsworthy. In addition to this, Twitter even exists cross-platform: readers read tweeted news outside of Twitter; via Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites.
When trying to understand the Twitter phenomenon, it’s important not to leave out the commentary factor. Twitter isn’t just a platform for reading or sharing news, but a site where active commentary flourishes and thrives. Unlike your typical online newspaper comments section, Twitter users are able to debate and argue using fast technology, and are often rewarded with likes, retweets and followers for sharing their views.
Twitter creates something of a positive feedback loop, whereby users are more likely to engage with news stories in the hopes of kickstarting a debate, finding like-minded individuals or simply expressing their views and opinions. On Twitter, reading news isn’t a passive activity; it actively encourages users to engages and debate about current events and news.
While Twitter is a largely liberal social media website – in the sense that users can generally post what they wish – the platform carries a certain legitimacy and trust factor that its rival Facebook hasn’t yet managed to achieve. This can be perhaps explained by the presence of high-profile figures, newspapers, and institutions that use the site extensively; for politicians and celebrities, it’s stranger to not have a Twitter account than to be a known Tweeter. The second-last US President even preferred to consult his Twitter followers about policy decisions before his press team.
This trust factor is also due to Twitter taking misinformation perhaps more seriously than other social media sites. Twitter was the first social network to introduce fact-checking during the 2020 US Presidential election, and also implemented fact-checkers to monitor misinformation circulating around the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID-19 vaccines.
Perhaps one of the most significant decisions taken by the company was the suspension of sitting US President Donald Trump in January 2021. Following the January 6th storming of the US capitol building by protestors, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account after he appeared to condone the protests. By suspending the most influential and powerful of its users, Twitter sent a strong message to its critics: that nobody was exempt from adhering to their code of conduct policies.
Decisions like these – along with their attempts at moderating user content – has helped Twitter foster a reputation for trustworthiness that other social media sites have been unable to achieve.
Distrustful of mainstream media
With the liberalisation of information – thanks in large part to Twitter and the internet – the influence of alternative news sites and highly partisan reporting is increasingly wide-reaching.
This has contributed to a significant decrease in media trust amongst Brits, which in recent years hadn’t been particularly strong to begin with. For example, in 2015, only 51% of Brits claimed to have trust in the mainstream media. As of 2022, this figure has plummeted to just 34%. Divisive matters such as Brexit and Coronavirus have driven users to engage with content that corresponds to their personal beliefs; in turn, “balanced” reporting appears untrustworthy.
Do I need Twitter to grow my business?
While Twitter is now the most popular hub for news sharing, many advertisers are turning away from the site. For the most part, this is due to Twitter’s terrible pay-per-impression advertising model. When you advertise with Twitter, any interaction with a paid tweet – such as clicking the image or simply expanding the tweet – counts as an impression.
This flawed model can lead to high costs and a poor ROI rate, especially for new businesses. Plus, Twitter offers no real or concrete data about your campaign – you’ll be able to access data on impressions, but nothing else.
In 2022, the best way to grow your business online is via organic growth on Google. Not only is an SEO campaign more likely to help you reach your target audience, it’s the most viable long-term strategy for growth. Tweeting is fleeting; around 500 million tweets are posted per day on the app, making it easy for your campaign to get lost amongst the noise. With the help of an Ecommerce SEO agency London, you can achieve real-time growth and a long-term content strategy for your business.
Google Instant worked by offering popular search results to users based on their location and search history. For example, a user in France typing the letter ‘A’ into Google might be suggested the French health insurance service Amelie, while a user in the US might be suggested ‘Amazon.’ Again, these suggestions would depend on the user’s own search history and current trending topics.