Twitter, Inc. has changed the rules of the game for organizations seeking to keep their messages – or those of their brands – at the top of users’ feeds after applying a long-awaited (or not) Facebook-style update to its timeline today.

The changes, which use an expanded version of the company’s “While you were away…” algorithm to display the tweets that users are most likely to be interested in at the top of their feeds, followed by the remainder of their timelines in reverse chronological order, were accompanied by a set of guidelines for marketers who want to make sure their messages stay in the first group.

In a Feb. 10 blog post, Twitter product marketing manager Eric Farkas addressed brands directly, promising that whether it came from a small business, large brand, consumer, or celebrity, the “best content” would shine through – though he did not specify what the algorithm would consider “best.”

“We use a person’s past Twitter activity to predict which tweets they might like to see most,” he wrote. “We look at accounts they interact with, tweets they usually engage with, interests, and what’s going on in their network.”

As for what is most likely to engage audiences, both Farkas and Twitter’s “best practices” guidelines emphasize the importance of creating “organic” content that provides users with valuable information about products and services in an engaging way.

The guidelines break the process further down into three steps:

  1. Plan
    • Clarify your brand’s goal by defining the product and/or service it delivers, and make sure that goal is consistently incorporated into all of your messages;
    • Use Twitter’s audience insight tools to identify your followers’ interests and demographic, and develop key content around those insights;
    • Identify personal moments to connect with your brand, such as exercise or coffee breaks, or larger cultural events that your brand can authentically join.
  2. Create
    • Use videos, GIFs, photos, and emojis to draw in consumers – the company notes that video- and photo-based tweets have an engagement rate more than three times higher than tweets which are text-only;
    • With videos, use a variety of formats including television commercials, short-form stories that are around 15 seconds long, or video sharing apps like Vine and Periscope; include visual cues or subtitles so that mobile viewers with their sound turned off will be able to follow; and add “big” elements such as people and celebrities to the first few frames to double engagement;
    • Unify your brand’s hashtags to make content searchable, and incorporate viral hashtags when organically possible to react to events or topics like #motivationmonday.
  3. Publish
    • Tweet three times per day to optimize your brand’s organic reach – and keep in mind that while corporate businesses usually shut down on the weekends, consumers are always on;
    • The shorter, the sweeter – tweets with fewer than 100 characters have significantly higher rates of engagement than tweets with more than 100;
    • Bad customer service has long represented some of Twitter’s most infamous content, and with its viral potential only likely to grow under the new algorithm, brands should be responsive to consumer’s questions, comments and criticism – and direct unhappy customers to a private resolution;
    • On the other side of the coin, respond to consumer advocates through mentions or 

While testing the new algorithm, Twitter found that users with the new timeline option were more likely to tweet and retweet, Farkas noted.

“We believe this means that brands can reach a more engaged potential audience,” he wrote.

Promoted tweets and accounts will continue working as they had before and are not affected by the timeline changes, Farkas wrote, and users convinced the timeline changes have killed Twitter by turning it into Facebook can turn the update off in their settings.

Meanwhile, Twitter itself has provided an example of its own content guidelines: a 19-second video explaining the new timeline, embedded below.

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