Putting the me back in social media

Social media is about open, unfiltered ideas being sent across the web to anyone in the world willing to listen. Platforms like Twitter are called that because they give users a literal platform to speak from, voice their opinions and engage with others. Over time, this idea has been refined, creating essentially chambers within Twitter that collate like-minded thinkers.

Outwards, not inwards

The most obvious version of this is following a different user. Suddenly, your feed is filled with the thoughts and ideas from that person – follow enough people, and you’ve got a mini ecosystem of your own values, morals and thoughts, bounced back at you ad nauseam. These are accurately called echo chambers, and little pockets exists all across Twitter.

And it makes sense that these chambers exist. 192 million people use Twitter every day. Without the tools Twitter provides to ferry those ideas into appropriate areas, it would be simply chaos to navigate the maelstrom of Tweets coming from every direction. No one needs to hear about John’s new podcast with Jacob from down the street, discussing a new road sign that may or may not be offensive towards the local duck population. Although, that actually sounds interesting, but you get my point. John and Jacob will post their new podcast, and if it’s good, their immediate circle will share it with their immediate circle, and it will spread, in a viral fashion we’re all too familiar with these days, until all who would be interested in it, see it.

Sidestepping this is easy enough – paid social allows you to reach the people you need, where they are, no matter who they are following, and have total control over who these people are. Age, job title, interests, engagement with previous content, you name it, you can probably target accordingly. This allows people to step out of their little ecosystems and engage the wider net of Twitter, but still super targeted, because targeting all of Twitter is just not a good idea.

Inwards, not outwards

Let’s turn this on its head. Instead of trying to reach as many people as you want, or increase the content you engage with by following different people, how can you limit the users that see your content? Well, you can block them. That’s step one, but it lacks a certain finesse and is a very blunt tool.

Instead, Twitter introduced options for who can reply to a post late last year. Users posting a Tweet can decide whether everyone can reply, people you follow can reply or only people you mention in the Tweet. What this does is narrow the ecosystem even more, creating a miniaturised, but still public, conversation. Q&As, one on one conversations and even debates can all be done this way with ease.

A more recent example is the announcement of Twitter ‘Communities’. It’s a new, groups-like option that enables Twitter users to share their Tweets within selected sub-groups of users, as opposed to sharing with everybody. An ecosystem in a more literal, secretive sense. It allows users to engage certain followers with topics they know they will like, without boring others, but it could also mean that users can play to multiple sides. I’ll be interested to see how this is used by political accounts speaking to different follower groups, for example.

In any case, it seems that Twitter is going beyond simple follower ecosystems, giving everyday users the same tools packaged in a different way that paid users currently enjoy and allowing them to target their posts to the most relevant party. While it would be nice to think that social posts are being broadcasted to everyone, the reality is that we are all subject to our own little follower groups, the what’s happening column on the right-hand side of Twitter is curated for us specifically according to an algorithm, and paid content is shown to us because of our past behaviour. This compartmentalisation is only going to increase as the platform’s user base keeps on growing, and it makes sense – Twitter is massive. Millions massive. There is no other way than to compartmentalise. Hooray.

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