If you are a business, blogger, or marketer and did not know Twitter (Twitter, Inc. 18,23 +0,28 +1,56%) was discontinuing their share count feature, you know now. Friday, Twitter discontinued share counts in their JSON endpoint. This means we will no longer see the number of times that people shared specific content on social media site. Take a look at the social buttons on the side and bottom of this page. Shares for Twitter are no longer shown.
Some may see discontinuing share count as harmless, but this is a big change for content marketing, and could have a huge negative impact on Twitter’s revenue. Investors need to understand the concept of social proof, and how a share count enters into that equation. Only then can we understand how eliminating share count data will impact the company’s revenue.
Let’s break all this down. What is social proof? How do developers, businesses, and marketers make use of Twitter’s share count? How will this change impact Twitter’s revenue going forward?
What Is Social Proof?
Businesses and marketers use social proof to drive traffic and sales. It works on the psychological phenomenon in which people, in order to determine the right choice, or what is good, will look to others for the correct action. In real life, social proof is a person unfamiliar with formal dining rituals watching those around him/her to determine which is the correct salad fork. It is a natural assumption that others know more, and then following their perceived collective behavior.
There are many examples of this in social media marketing. A restaurant or hair salon with many positive reviews on Yelp can expect more business, because potential customers trust the comments and expect to have a good experience. A Facebook Fan Page with many “Likes” will find it easier to gain even more fans as people assume to content is good. The more a piece of content is shared, the more one perceives it as authoritative, funny, or whatever, and will share themselves.
This psychological game has been played for a long time, and is not exclusive to social media. Think about television sitcoms and laugh tracks. Television networks know jokes go off much better if they have some laughs to finish the punchline. Positive reactions create positive reactions. However, negative reactions can also create negative reactions, such as booing. Make sense?
Using Twitter Share Counts
Twitter share counts on websites, product pages, and blogs have been used for years by businesses, bloggers, and marketers as social proof that their product or content has value. It is not a good matrix for a company to determine if their social media marketing has been effective, but is it a visual cue to site visitors, leads, and potential customers that specific content or product is popular, authoritative, funny, etc.
Over the years, developers have created website plugins and apps that pull data from sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn showing the number of times content is shared. As you can see from this site, those share counts are connected to share buttons, with links for visitors to share the content themselves. The assumption is if you are creating good content this motivates sharing. However, the higher the share count, the more a person will interpret content as good enough to share with their networks. See how that works?
The removal of share counts disrupts and diminishes the work done by thousands of businesses, marketers, and bloggers to promote their content. Moreover, certain content works better on Twitter than other social media sites. Those that have creating content specifically for Twitter have just had their work devalued almost overnight.
How This Should Concern Investors
I have been writing about the struggles of Twitter for a while. Their stock price has taken a hit as they have had problems attracting new users, and just recently announced they will miss revenue projections for the fourth quarter. Investors should be concerned with Twitter no longer providing share count data because this will impact revenue.
Businesses spend millions on Twitter Advertising, specifically to encourage content being shared, for the purpose of creating social proof. If Twitter is no longer part of the group of social media networks provided share counts, those advertising dollars will go to Facebook, LinkedIn, and others that will. Twitter states that these share counts were never “public,” and cites engineering costs for doing away with them. In my opinion, it is the cost of doing business if you want to attract advertising dollars.
The other issue is that Twitter is content driven, content created by others. Even those who are not spending advertising dollars with Twitter, want to gain the social proof from share counts. There is now less value in creating content for Twitter, and may cause less overall activity. The social media company has decided to bite off their nose to spite their face.
Twitter is on the path to becoming a second tier social media site. They continually turn their back on content creators and developers, those who made the social media company popular. They have also open the door for alternative micro-blogging sites to emerge, and possibly for a Facebook or Google takeover as the stock continues to decline.
As I have said in the past, Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-creator and CEO, does not understand his own creation. He is a brilliant developer, but he does not possess the insight into and understanding of his audience or customers. Twitter is on the path to fail the way so many other popular social media sites have failed. Myspace… what is Myspace?