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3 reasons why Twitter's timeline algorithm doesn't change anything

Last week Twitter launched an algorithm to prioritise the 'best' Tweets at the top of each users timeline. This is controversial, but in reality changes very little. Here's why...

Twitter algorithm

In case you missed it, Twitter has finally implemented the long-anticipated change to how it's users timelines are prioritised. Formerly, Tweets would appear in strictly reverse chronological order; now, they will (optionally) be sorted according to there relevance or interest to the user.

Amid much gnashing of teeth and criticism of the 'Facebookification' of Twitter, I think some of us have lost sight of some of the simple facts of this story that make it less significant than it seems.

1) Twitter had already broken it's adherence to chronology

One of the key arguments against Twitter's new algorithm is that it removes the chronology of Tweets, which, in a 'live news' environment could be pretty disruptive. The problem with this is, most Twitter users already have a disrupted timeline.

The platform's 'while you were away' feature, launched in January 2015, fills your timeline with 'important' Tweets you might otherwise have missed when you next sign in. In many ways the new algorithm is really just an extension of this - so the original Twitter timeline, so loved by the Twitterati, was already corrupted.

At the moment, both features are optional and refreshing your timeline reverts it back to chronological order. That said, Twitter's own FAQ on how Tweets are organised in your timeline suggests it will become opt-out (rather than opt-in, as it is currently) in due course.

So, just for the record, what is an 'important' Tweet?

According to a post on Twitter's advertising blog, Twitter will now decide which Tweets in a user's timeline they deem 'important' by looking "at accounts they interact with, Tweets they usually engage with, interests, and what’s going on in their network." At least that's fairly clear, then.

2) Facebookification may not be a bad thing

Twitter is making this change to make the Tweets we see more relevant and valuable to us. If (like me) you did what was originally expected of you on Twitter and followed people back, you could be following thousands of people. That was nice of me, but it screwed up my timeline completely, meaning I rely heavily on Twitter Lists and searches to find what interests me. Having more relevant Tweets curated for me is already improving my user experience.

The new timeline change has been criticised by some as simply copying Facebook, which drove brands to advertise by launching it's own algorithm a few years ago. But, at least from a marketing perspective, the partial 'Facebookification' of Twitter wouldn't be a bad thing. According to Jerry Daykin, Global Digital Partner at Carat, quoted in The Drum: "Contrary to popular belief, Facebook’s own algorithm shows brand content to more people than would see it in a purely live timeline".

3) Good content will win anyway

Two people who's opinions on this I respect have both, separately, said the same thing: that regardless of what Twitter does, good content will always rise to the top, while 'me too' posts will flop like pancakes.

In his recent post, Brian Solis fist explained the pressure that Twitter is under from Wall Street to be something that it isn't (namely a social network), then expressed his belief that providing a platform that rewards good content is, fundamentally a good idea, saying "hopefully this algorithm inspires content creators to be more thoughtful"

Similarly, in The Drum piece mentioned above, James Whatley, Digital Director at Ogilvy & Mather is quoted as saying of the Twitter update: “These changes will have little to no impact. Ultimately the best content will shine through.”

These quotes pretty much sum up my view on the situation: if, as a marketer, you want to succeed on Twitter, or any social platform, you now need to earn your supper.

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