There’s a general consensus in the food blogging community that Twitter is an essential social media platform for improving a blog’s overall traffic and reputation. However, many of us have lingering doubts about Twitter’s true viability. While Twitter’s tweets most certainly gather the most headlines of any of the major social media networks, there has never been a proven correlation between this and increased web traffic. As I did with Instagram in a previous post, I decided to look further into web analytics data to see if Twitter is actually worth the average blogger’s investment of time.
Unlike Instagram, which provides no utility whatsoever, Twitter actually has some positive attributes. Unfortunately, most of the positives tend to not apply to the majority of its users. The negatives most certainly do, however. In my attempt to arrive at an objective conclusion regarding Twitter’s usefulness to the average blogger, I’ve compiled several qualitative and quantitative pros and cons.
Con: Twitter Is a Mass Communication App, Not a Blog Sharing App
Twitter was originally designed as a mass communication tool, similar to a CB radio. Its initial text limit was 140 characters, but that was eventually doubled to 280 in 2017 to address the growing number of users who were unhappy with the original limit’s constraints. Unlike other tech apps, and similar to a CB radio, Twitter’s technology was not designed to address a specific societal need. Rather, it was designed to allow instant, short, and frequent communication among users, mainly for the purposes of passing inconsequential information through casual conversation and pointless babble. Its developer’s were unsure of exactly what to use it for at the time of its creation.
With Twitter, one or more users can reach one or more recipients via a tweet. All tweets are defaulted to public, therefore all followers can see or have access to a user’s tweets, unless the user chooses to have a private account and protected tweets. A private account requires all prospective followers to be approved by the user, while protected tweets are only seen by the user’s followers, not the public.
I like to think of Twitter as a stadium filled with shouting people. Using “@” to tweet just one user would be like trying to have a conversation with just one person, in the middle of all of that noise and commotion. Using “@” to tweet multiple users would be like shouting at multiple people in the stadium, all while being shouted back at by one or more users. This would be in addition to the litany of conversations going on around you that didn’t actually involve you.
For all practical purposes, private conversation with Twitter is nearly impossible. This rules out one to one conversation. Twitter is most effective in communication sent from one user to multiple users. However, it’s generally ineffective in the opposite direction, in which multiple users communicate to one user. It’s even less effective with the last scenario: multiple users communicating with multiple users. So in three out of four instances, Twitter fails at it’s own defined mission: communication.
Understanding this dynamic, it’s easy to see what works and what doesn’t work with Twitter. The following user types follow the “one user to multiple users” communication formula, and are generally the most successful on Twitter:
- Established news organizations
- Official government agencies
- Politicians or prominent government figures
- Popular brands
- Established or well-known subject experts
- Popular non-profit organizations and charities
- Popular movements
- Popular services for the general public
- Popular mobile services such as food trucks
- Popular educational organizations
Unfortunately, the average blog is not anywhere on this list. Blogs simply don’t alert people to a physical happening such as a a traffic jam, concert, weather phenomena, etc. They’re also not well known or established enough to be considered an expert or authority on a subject (even if they actually are) by Twitter’s terms. While some relatively unknown blogs have actually gone on to become established, popular news sites, this is extremely rare, even more so now that Twitter is a known concept that’s been around for over a decade.
What does this all mean for blogging? It means that the average blogger on Twitter will have far less reach than the aforementioned user types. You’ll likely not have much back and forth interaction. Twitter’s design favors instant, short, and frequent communication. A blog is anything but that. Most blogs are written in long, detailed form to inform the reader in a way that likely wouldn’t be found elsewhere, showing up in long-tail keyword searches (the more detailed searches that fall outside of the most commonly searched 20% of keywords).
Many in the tech industry have labeled Twitter a microblogging platform, akin to Tumblr, but that claim is inaccurate. Blogging is decidedly a one way form of communication. We bloggers like it that way, as do our readers. We don’t write for the purpose of having instant, short, and frequent two-way communication with our readers, nor do they read our content for those reasons. Having such communication would be awkward for both blogger and reader, and take away time from actual writing and reading.
Twitter is a mass messaging platform that behaves like a social media network, due to the appearance of giving its average user perceived accessibility to well-known people, products, services, organizations, and so forth. It’s not a bogging platform in any sense of the word.
Pro: Unlike Instagram, Twitter Allows All Accounts to Add Links to Posts
While this isn’t a massive, universal advantage, given that almost all social media platforms other than Instagram allow you ad links to posts, it’s still a positive. Unlike with Instagram, a user doesn’t have to reach 10,000 or more followers, or be confirmed as an account that “is the authentic presence of the public figure, celebrity or global brand it represents.” You can post links to any post, without restriction, which means you don’t have to resort to awkwardly copying and pasting links to the comments section of posts or creating videos with directions on how to get to your website.
Pro: Organic Reach Isn’t Suppressed to the Degree of Facebook and Instagram
Twitter’s algorithm isn’t as badly rigged as Instagram and Facebook’s algorithms. Whereas my blog’s respective accounts have around 5% or less reachability on Facebook and Instagram, my average Twitter post generates four to five times the reachability, with many more interactions. With Facebook and Instagram, you’d have to attempt to buy your way out of low reachability via boosts or ads, which are both ultimately ineffective. Count this as a small positive for Twitter.
Con: Twitter Followers and Likes Do Not Equate to Referrals to Your Website
Much like with Instagram and Facebook, having followers and receiving many likes on Twitter does not directly correlate to referral traffic to your blog’s website. While Twitter doesn’t punish the reachability of posts containing offsite links as harshly as Facebook and Instagram, allowing for more organic interaction, the end result is nearly the same. Twitter impressions simply don’t translate to click-throughs to your website’s content.
There are several reasons for this. The first being that Twitter is a communication platform moonlighting as a social media platform, which we established earlier as its first con. Followers aren’t using Twitter to read. They want to communicate, not have random links thrown at them. It doesn’t matter if links come from accounts that users follow, or if those links lead to high quality content, Twitter’s users generally do not want to see them while they’re communicating. They want to find what they’re looking for on their own, not have it suggested to them.
Bots are another serious problem plaguing Twitter. Just like with Instagram, many, if not most Twitter followers these days can be bots or burner accounts that operate as ghost followers, providing no interaction whatsoever. They inflate an account’s follower count, which may look good on the initial superficial inspection, but ends up ultimately hurting the account’s bottom line in the end, as none of these ghost followers actually click on their links.
I created my Twitter account for the sole purpose of testing to see if Twitter could send me a sizable percentage of referral traffic via my tweets. The results have been unimpressive so far. During my entire two-year span on Twitter, I’ve had only nine actual referrals to my blog. While this is technically a better return than Instagram, which netted me only two referrals during the same interval, it’s an abysmal return on my investment of time and patience.
Borderless Food Guide isn’t the only website that I operate, so I tested others to see if my results would be better. They weren’t. Even looking at the Twitter account for a fairly popular product website, with far more notoriety than Borderless Food Guide, the number of actual clicks was disappointingly low. Though it had a far higher number of impressions and user engagements within Twitter, that specific account yielded only twice the referral numbers, giving it a ratio of impressions to click-throughs even lower than Borderless Food Guide’s.
I mentioned that Twitter outperforms Facebook and Instagram in terms of organic reach, but reach is only worthwhile if it can convert to actual referrals. While my average Twitter post does generate comparatively more reachability and interactions, those interactions lead to an average referral rate of only .2%, which is absurdly low. I get a good amount of of retweets and shares, even some follows, but yet very few actual click-throughs to my website. There is no evidence that Twitter interactions translate to more blog visits.
Con: The Few Referrals You Actually Get Will Be of the Lowest Quality
All of the effort involved with building a following, interacting with followers, and tweeting links to your content is put towards the reward of just a few referrals to your website. More disappointing than the low number of referrals is the quality of those referrals. The average Twitter referral isn’t likely to spend much time on your site, visit multiple pages within your site, add your site to their favorites list, or subscribe to your site’s email list.
In a comparison of average session duration (total time spent viewing a website) among referrals from social media platforms, Pinterest, at six minutes and two seconds, is the only solid performer. Every other platform’s referrals spent little time on my website. Facebook averages 35 Seconds, Twitter averages 15 seconds, and Instagram somehow clocks in at 0 seconds.
While 15 seconds is slightly better than 0 seconds, it’s most certainly not enough time to read one of my blog’s articles, let alone one of its paragraphs. Whether these referrals are bots (definitely the case in durations of 0 seconds), referral spam, or even an accidental click, they are nowhere near two to three minutes, which is considered a good average session duration by industry standards.
Twitter referrals tend to have a high bounce rate. Bounce rate is the number of single page sessions divided by the number of total page sessions in the whole website. A rate of 100% means that every visitor that clicks on a specific page, only sees that page, then clicks on an external link to another website, clicks the back button, or closes the browser. A high bounce rate is not inherently a bad thing. For example, viewers could be bouncing to an advertiser’s link on a very popular page.
However, for the majority of blogs, particularly those that rely heavily on detailed writing, a high bounce rate would be considered a bad thing. It means that visitors are just looking at this one page (the landing page they were referred to from another site, such as Twitter), even though the site has similar pages covering topics within the same niche. These visitors are viewing one page, and then leaving, which means a lack of interest in the rest of the site.
In a comparison of each social media platform’s bounce rate, the only solid performer is once again Pinterest, at 39.4%. Facebook is in second at 88.9%, while Twitter is in third with 87.7%, and Instagram is again dead last with a 100% bounce rate. This means that 87.7% of all referrals to my site from Twitter only viewed the page that they were referred to and subsequently bounced.
If these bouncing visitors also have a low average session duration (below two minutes), then this is a sign that you’re not getting meaningful referrals. They may be spambots sending referral spam (messing up your analytics data) or just uninterested Twitter users from the wrong target audience. With an average session duration of 15 seconds and a 87.7% bounce rate, it’s safe to say that my Twitter referrals are not meaningful.
Since Twitter followers are less likely to subscribe to a blog’s email list or add it to their favorite’s list, you’ll have to continue to use Twitter as their sole connection to your blog. However, unlike your email list, which allows you to reach 100% of your subscribers, Twitter has a limited reach. While it may not be as bad as Facebook and Instagram’s rigged algorithms, it still has a hard limit in terms of reachability, that falls well short of the 100% reachability that your email list would have.
Con: You Can’t Get Much Deep Thought or Reading Out of 280 Characters
In business, you want to market yourself through the proper channels so that you can connect with the right people. If you sell surfboards, you’ll want to target surfers. If you sell your blog’s content, you need to sell to readers of that content. Twitter doesn’t simply doesn’t connect you to the right people in that sense. Its users are not geared towards long reading, which my food blog is.
I previously mention in another article that Instagram’s users had the shortest attention spans out of any of the major social media platforms. While Twitter may not be the worst offender, it’s not too far behind. Very few Twitter users actually go onto twitter seeking legitimate news and information found in longer reads, as most of that can be found with a simple google search or by heading to a user’s favorite news site. This means that my target viewer pretty much bypasses Twitter altogether. Most twitter users have an account for the purpose of communication, as mentioned before. While unlike Instagram’s users, they’re not diametrically opposed to reading, Twitter users still prefer instant, short, and frequent communication.
A substantial chunk of Twitter’s users want to communicate with well-known entities and popular figures that they never would have had access to in the past. I liken this behavior to a child with a CB radio that’s just figured out how to prank random truck drivers. Trying to tweet informative posts with links to my blog would be akin to NPR reading its articles over a CB radio to those truckers, or even the children pranking them. Whether they’re legitimately using twitter for communication (like the truckers in my example) or they’re simply there for the novelty of it (like the children in my example) the average Twitter user’s attention span is simply not there.
Twitter’s general audience should not be a blogger’s target audience, as most of that audience is clearly not there to read (particularly about food, in my case). As is the case with Facebook, a large percentage of Twitter users mostly tweet about mundane things in their daily life. This is the equivalent of bringing a megaphone to the dinner table, classroom, or workplace.
No one wants to watch normal people doing normal things. We shouldn’t be posting every minute of our normal, mundane lives. That’s not the reason for media of any kind. Would you watch television to see people living everyday, normal, boring lives? Of course not. Nor would an advertiser be willing to pay for it. This is where the problem with social media lies, particularly in the case of Twitter.
Since no one wants to see normal, boring lives, people script all of their posts into something fantastically unattainable or share only the most sensational, clickbaitish headlines. This is the best way to stand out in a sea of mediocrity. It perpetuates a vicious cycle based off of a flawed reward system, and it’s a death sentence for the average, honest blog.
Because Twitter focuses only on hyperbole and extreme headlines, the average blogger’s article titles and tweets are often viewed as “too good to click” by users. This is because the honest, straightforward, conclusive summaries given in these article titles and tweets are not clickbaitish enough. Clickbaitish headlines are rewarded in Twitter, while honest, conclusive titles aren’t. This simple formula is yet another argument against Twitter being good at driving outbound traffic to your blog.
Con: Follow/Unfollow Is Still Alive and Well
Twitter has tried to crack down on the the follow/unfollow method of gathering followers, but with little success. Limits have been put in place so that accounts can only follow/unfollow a certain amount of people per hour and day, but follow/unfollow still exists, and it’s still one of the most popular tactics used to gain followers. There are still plenty of ways to get around these weak measures. People still buy followers from third parties who run hundreds, if not thousands of bots set within Twitter’s hourly and daily follow/unfollow limits.
This means that there are few people actually growing their following organically, and the likelihood of ghost followers is extremely high. Furthermore, your followers may also be follow/unfollowing your account, meaning they’re only following your account so that you’ll follow theirs, and will eventually unfollow yours once their account reaches a certain follower count.
Pro: You Can Track Who Follows You Among Those You Follow
Unlike Instagram, which doesn’t allow you to track who has unfollowed you, Twitter highlights who does and doesn’t follow you within the people you follow. This makes policing the practice of follow/unfollow somewhat easier to enforce from a single account perspective.
Con: Twitter Is Infested With Bots
Much like Instagram, Twitter has a huge bot problem. A 2017 study by USC and the University of Indiana found that up to 15% of all Twitter users are actually bots. It has been estimated that half of all tweets are automatically generated. Several popular Twitter accounts, including notable celebrities and politicians, have been found to have thousands of fake followers that were actually bots. Bot farms around the world control hordes of bots that can generate the appearance of popularity and activity, push foreign agendas, spread misinformation and hate speech, and so forth.
Bots have historically thrived within Twitter due to its lax policy regarding automation. Access to its development API has always been fairly open. Only recently was it changed so that developers would have to undergo a thorough vetting process to gain API access. Twitter allows bots so long as they are deemed “helpful” to users. This is somewhat vague. While there are no doubt some useful, time-saving bots, the vast majority are downright annoying, if not malicious.
With no outright ban on bots or on automated tweets, Twitter has become the digital Wild West. Legions of bot armies wage open war on one another, as well as innocent user accounts. These bots inflate the actual number of followers, shares, and likes. Some of the larger blogs even have bots of their own to flood twitter with their content at an unnatural rate. The average blogger doesn’t stand a chance in this hostile environment.
Con: Twitter Usage Is in Slow Decline
According to Forbes.com, Twitter has been in a slow decline for the past six years. Retweets are almost 59% of all tweets. Verified tweets (from more popular accounts) and their repeats comprise 10% of all tweets.
Only 22% of Americans actually use Twitter, a decrease from Twitter’s 2016 high of 24%, according to a study by Pew Research. The median user tweets just twice a month. The top 10% of users who are most active in terms of tweeting are responsible for 80% of all tweets created by U.S. users. The bottom 90% of users who are least active in terms of tweeting are responsible for just 20% of all tweets created by U.S. Users.
Twitter has a disproportionately small minority of users that is responsible for the majority of tweets, meaning that the vast majority of its users are apathetic and unlikely to engage, particularly in reading your tweets and accompanying blog posts. Twitter also has an extremely low user retention rate. It’s been estimated that anywhere between 30 to 50% of all Twitter users quit within the first month. This means that even if you do gather a decent quantity of Twitter followers, on top of most of them being generally inactive, many of them will end up quitting the social media platform altogether.
Regardless of the reasons, Twitter’s user base is shrinking, which means that maintaining a Twitter account and spending your time and labor on posting tweets is likely giving you diminishing returns. Social Media is a notoriously fickle market. Once users become aware of the ship possibly sinking, they jump ship before it capsizes. One only has to look at Friendster and MySpace for evidence.
Con: Even with a Non-Personal Account, There are Huge Security Concerns
Twitter has a spotty security record, at best. It’s been breached several times over the past decade, with one breach so significant that it required Twitter to recommend that its users change their passwords due to their mass exposure to hackers. High profile user accounts are frequently hacked and taken over remotely. User locations have been shared to the public unwillingly.
Even in the case of a business account or a non-personal Twitter account, just by virtue of its invasive phone app, Twitter has a user’s contact list and access to related metadata. It also tracks a user’s offsite habits through cookies. Allowing Twitter such privacy access, in light of its poor record on security, is a risky business proposition.
Con: Twitter Is a Communication App With All of the Pitfalls of Social Media.
Bots, trolling, abuse, misinformation, and threats are all pitfalls common with social media. Twitter is no exception. It’s a hostile environment in which the majority of its users hide behind a cloak of anonymity or in the case of bots, don’t have a human identity. It all makes for a frustrating user experience, which you’ll constantly have to deal with as you maintain an account and post links to your articles via your tweets. This is a huge negative in terms of using Twitter to promote a blog.
Con: The Brand Awareness Associated With Twitter Is Meaningless for Blogs
Countless bloggers and internet marketing strategists continue to pump out “brand awareness,” as a defense to Twitter’s poor referral rates, low average session durations, and high bounce rates. If you sell a well-known product or service such as Nike shoes, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or GEICO car insurance, brand awareness is quite useful. Because of the notoriety of these products and services, and the gigantic economies of scale of the companies that make them, these products and services can be bought virtually anywhere. People have to buy car insurance and shoes, so brand awareness is extremely helpful in getting a potential customer at the point of sale.
Blogs don’t operate this way. They offer information found only on the web, not in books. There is no physical product to be sold. Blogs aren’t stocked on millions of store shelves worldwide. They don’t sell a service either. Blogs are not a paid subscription service like a newsletter or online magazine.
A blog’s product consists of the articles that it posts at regular intervals. It provides free information. You can’t brand that. You could take out thousands of dollars in Instagram ads to promote a blog, but you won’t get much yield from it, because a blog is quite possibly the most intangible thing that you could ever sell on the internet, especially when it’s free.
The only way that you can successfully market a blog is by having great writing on pertinent subject matter that’s easily indexed by search engines such as Google. Effective search engine optimization is how you get your viewers to your blog. Great writing and quality content are how you keep them there. Most successful blogs operate this way and proportionately speaking, very little of their overall traffic is driven from social media, particularly Twitter.
Con: Twitter Handles Haven’t Replaced Business Cards, but Domain Names Can
When I meet restaurant owners or other bloggers in the real world, I’m still asked for business cards, or at the very least, my domain name, not an Twitter handle. Calling yourself a writer and referencing your Twitter handle more than the actual name of your website is the small business equivalent of having a company email without its own domain name. When I meet a business owner, particularly one who utilizes the internet, that has “firstname.lastname@example.org” instead of “email@example.com,” it’s very hard for me to take this person seriously. The same goes for a Twitter handle in place of an actual domain name or a business card with a domain name on it.
Most of my real world contacts want a business card with legitimate contact information on it, including my domain name. The reports of the business card’s death are greatly exaggerated. When people occasionally don’t want a physical card, they ask for my domain name. I’ve never been asked for my Twitter handle, ever. This is just something that internet marketing consultants and bloggers have been pushing from the comfort of their desks, without any field data to back it up.
The Verdict: Bloggers Do Not Need Twitter To Be Successful
Your time is money, and Twitter takes far too much of it. Given that posting content on Twitter equates to giving away free content and viewers, while simultaneously providing unpaid labor and advertising to Twitter, you’re time is better spent doing something else. With no positive payoff in terms of referral traffic, average session duration, or bounce rate, Twitter is a money pit that’s simply bad for business. Worse yet, it’s a money pit whose audience is shrinking as we read this, meaning it’s become less relevant buy the minute. My verdict is that the average blogger does not need Twitter to be successful.
Great Content Writing and Meaningful SEO Are the Way to Grow Your Blog
The hours that you save by not posting and interacting on Twitter should be applied to writing, first and foremost. Writing great content is essential to any successful blog. By writing detailed content that targets a specific audience, you’ll be able to reach far more viewers than you would via Twitter.
Focusing on optimizing your content for long-tail keyword searches, you can improve your search engine optimization results drastically. It’s not something that will happen overnight. This is why cranking out a high volume of quality content toward a targeted audience is so important. In the long run, it’s far more sustainable and much less fickle than dealing with a volatile trickle of social media traffic, particularly Twitter’s.
I Deleted My Twitter and You Can Too
Deleting your Twitter is not just a sentimentally great feeling. It’s likely to improve your blog’s search engine optimization performance as well. Ditching Twitter will free up more time to devote to writing great content and focusing on getting it to where it needs to be.
The quantitative and qualitative data clearly back up the case for dropping Twitter. With Twitter’s referral traffic and quality at all-time lows, and a declining user base, there is no better time than now to break free and leave the hostile, bot infested world of Twitter and move on to better things. You owe it to yourself.