Organic reach zero: How a Twitter timeline shift would affect brands

With Twitter experimenting with curated timelines instead of showing every tweet to every user, brands are considering what impact that will have on the reach of their content.

In fact, some on Madison Avenue are already preparing for a Twitter ruled by an algorithm, just like Facebook where users are shown only what the social network calculates is the most relevant, best content.

“The fact that Twitter is moving toward an algorithmic model is not surprising and may actually help marketers in the long run,” said Orli LeWinter, vp of strategy and social marketing at 360i. “With the new model, high-engagement levels and relevancy will count.”

Twitter’s reps to the agency world have been telegraphing more changes to come, and, accordingly, some agencies already are warning brands that they will have to revise their strategies.

“We’ve been warned about relying on organic reach, and they’re starting to give us nudges about where we need to go,” said one digital agency executive.

Twitter has been experimenting with curation for much of the past year and has been offering different features that surface a sampling of tweets for users. Any selection process will boost some content and lower other posts.

“Organic reach will approach zero,” a report from Social@Ogilvy said last week, looking back on a prediction the agency made in its social media forecast for 2015. “And there will be greater pressure to deploy Twitter’s suite of paid products in support of branded content.”

This year, Twitter launched a Moments section, which is all about curated content, and it has a While You Were Away feature that highlights tweets a returning user might otherwise not have seen.

It’s important to note that any curation that Twitter offers will be optional and longtime users who like their timelines will be able to keep their timelines, according to sources familiar with Twitter’s experimentation.

Twitter declined to comment for this story.

The engagement rate on organic Twitter posts from brands is lower than other major social media sites, according to Forrester. Brand tweets see a .027 percent engagement rate, which is based on the number of followers they have and how many interactions their posts get.

“The problem is, brands are being lost in the noise,” said the digital agency executive.

On Instagram, the engagement rate is more than 4 percent, according to Forrester.

A little curation could wind up helping some brands, although there will be a “rich get richer effect,” said David Berkowitz, CMO of MRY.

“Marketers that already generate strong views and engagement should see their posts rise to the top in curated streams, while marketers whose posts flop will have fewer opportunities to get noticed and will have to pay even more for reach and engagement,” he said.

When Facebook first introduced its algorithm-driven News Feed, there also was a sense that it would help some top brands if they created high-quality posts. That was until Facebook required that branded content be sponsored to find an audience, no matter what.

Some think Twitter could evolve in the same way. For now, curation could be a boon, but marketers are prepared for anything, sources said. “If you’re on the brand or agency side, at this point you need to be jaded because Facebook trained us to be really jaded,” an agency source said.

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