Paying to Shout When Twitter Mutes

For those of you who missed the news, Twitter is rolling out a new feature called Mute:

Today we’re beginning to introduce a new account feature called mute to people who use our iPhone and Android apps and Mute gives you even more control over the content you see on Twitter by letting you remove a user’s content from key parts of your Twitter experience.

Sounds like a great addition, but there may be consequences for brands:

In the same way you can turn on device notifications so you never miss a Tweet from your favorite users, you can now mute users you’d like to hear from less. Muting a user on Twitter means their Tweets and Retweets will no longer be visible in your home timeline, and you will no longer receive push or SMS notifications from that user. The muted user will still be able to favorite, reply to and retweet your Tweets; you just won’t see any of that activity in your timeline. The muted user will not know that you’ve muted him/her, and of course you can unmute at any time.

This seems totally fair and innocent, but it very well could be a Trojan Horse. Call me crazy, but here’s what’s coming down the pike:

  1. Twitter, unlike Facebook, has no algorithm that delivers “the sticky content” lovingly crafted to make you stay on the page. As such, it has never throttled access to a following.
  2. After Mute goes into production, Twitter will really sell this hard to the userbase, as a way to control what you see. It will be laughed at as the Poor Man’s Block, or the Passive-Aggressive Unfollow.
  3. Accounts that are Muted will not get a notification, which brings into question at some point “How many of my followers could even see this? What is my real potential reach?”
  4. Once Mute has an impact, Twitter will offer to sell analytics indicating what you reach truly is.
  5. Twitter will also make it possible through Promoted Tweets to bypass Mute, and get at those users. Twitter audiences are now, for all intents and purposes, Pay to Play.
  6. Brands begin to abandon Twitter as a messaging channel, because the Reach rates aren’t worth it. Those engaged in direct B-to-C funnel activity will still have a play, they are hyper-specific about measurement — and it will remain a viable channel for customer service. But casual messaging and brand awareness are done.

I write this with sadness, because the platform held better promise. But it went public too early, and the growth is in visual networks like Instagram and Pinterest. Ergo, the monetization of ads. But you can’t really get brands to pony up until you have a scarcity. Lacking an algorithm, Twitter turns to Mute.

Mute is Twitter’s “passive-aggressive” way of throttling reach without being blamed. “If only you were more engaging, more social,” they will say.

Yet cutting us off from users who’ve chosen to follow us without letting us know who isn’t listening is bizarre. It’s like paying for a mailing list that never culls bounce backs.

And if you think about it, Promoted Accounts/Trends/Tweets have all been built on audience growth — that’s one of the things you pay for in clicks. What’s my incentive to grow an audience? So that later I can pay to find out who Muted me? Pay again to override the Mute?

There will be value in listening.

There will be some value in engaging… but not in a way that easily scales.

There might be little value in branding… unless you’ve got the budget to know your real reach.

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