Earlier this week, one of my clients brought to me a very harrowing concern for someone in her line of work. She brought to my attention the JetPack sharing buttons in the footers of some of her most popular content. The Twitter counts were gone. Admittedly, I had nothing. I pride myself on being able to get answers for my clients but this one was beyond me.
So I reached out to our friends at Automattic to see what they had to say. Being that it is they that have constructed the JetPack super plugin. Their response was thus:
Due to Twitter removing support for third party sharing counts, we needed to remove the option from our Twitter sharing buttons.
Twitter removed support for third party sharing counts? Say whaaaat?
Not wanting to report “No, I’m sorry, you can’t have that anymore!”, I pressed on to find a potential replacement for the social sharing function in JetPack. My client and I found a page (which will remain anonymous; no point outing someone else) where, in fact, there was still an actual share count above the Twitter share button. This was from an installation of the famous AddThis plugin. We tested that button out and found that, while it would certainly share, the counter was no longer counting shares. How long said counter has not been working is unknown.
So, yes, the Twitter share counters are dead. Extinct. Just for everyone in the cheap seats.
My contact at JetPack forwarded to me an October 6, 2015 article by Andrew Hutchinson of Social Media Today entitled Twitter Explains Why it’s Removing Share Counts From Tweet Buttons. That read highlighted, in basic language, what I just said: the share counts are gone and, while Twitter seems to have an explanation for it, not all of the web is convinced. Or content.
Twitter’s official stance on the subject? Twitter staff contributor Niall posted on September 22, 2015, in A New Design for Tweet and Follow Buttons, “We are simplifying the Tweet button by removing the share counter displayed alongside the button.” So it’s an aesthetic decision.
Or is it?
What it amounts to is the removal of a handy little metric that a large portion of the internet using public, most particularly members of the blogosphere and third party developers like AddThis and Automattic, has come to depend on. Twitter has become the go to platform for many social media mavens to stay relevant in a world of instant gratification and reduced attention spans (no judgement here, diagnosed with adult ADHD, I am). It is a tool that requires a heavy helping of strategy, planning, and implementation. And the payoff? That number next to a button showing how many people were hip enough to the finely honed insights in your article that they felt the rest of the world had to read it. It’s something many will refer to as “Social Proof”.
So no, Twitter, if you’re listening, your membership did not take especially kindly to your new development. As was at least partly covered in yet another article, by Don Sturgill of plugin developer Media Warfare, Is Twitter Seriously Removing Share Counts? Why Would They Do This? It’s a lengthy article that does well at asking that very poignant question. Why indeed would Twitter do this? Making the button more streamlined doesn’t fit because many other developers, like Automattic, have designed their own buttons to fit with a particular theme. The support is being extinguished for third party share counters as well, remember?
A look at the performance of Twitter Incorporated on the New York Stock Exchange might present a little clearer picture. If you’re inclined to lean that way (I am). The company has lost a full two thirds of its share value since its IPO almost two years ago and some will recall – from economics class, perhaps – that a publicly traded company has the legally binding responsibility to report a profit. So if Twitter is paying developers to run around and stay current with every third party supplier of a share counter that actually – by its design – drives user engagement away from the Twitter network itself, that could be seen as a gross misappropriation of share holders’ investment.
In all fairness, perhaps the buttons are not designed specifically to drive engagement away from Twitter, but that counter certainly doesn’t benefit Twitter. Not really at all. True, the company is still raking in some mad bank, but the investment in third party support to make a blogger feel better about himself? That does not appear to make a lot of business sense. Not when you consider the investment that comes with paying developers to stay on top of it.
Drawing a little more from Sturgill’s article at Media Warfare, there is some discussion about what little social proof these counters actually provide for the blogger or social media savvy business person. Just on the face of it, a counter next to a sharing button, regardless of whose logo is inscribed on it, simply indicates that the content was shared. If we were perfectly honest with ourselves, we would admit that this little slice of engagement does little to prove the quality of our content, much less the effect it had on the person who shared it. In conversations with others regarding shared content, I never did have to look very far to find someone who was hitting “share” just for the novelty of having done so. Many times, articles are never even read. Don’t take my word for it, ask around. I am more than willing to go public with an apology if I am widely off the rails here. In the absence of any objections to the contrary, it would seem that, many times, the most shared content appears to have adhered to the following criteria:
- Meaningful title (click bait);
- Featured image that resonates with a visitor;
- Already has a high number of shares*;
- People know the brand well already.
If you have any cognitive dissonance regarding item number 3 and its inclusion as a reason to share content, let’s remember why we have counters to begin with: to seem more credible as a source of information. If a piece has 1000 shares, it is much more likely to be shared again. If it has 4 shares, the conventional wisdom is that a visitor will breeze right past it on the path to finding something worthwhile to share. Because you don’t want to be caught sharing something nobody likes, right?
Further, let’s remember services like Fiverr. In principle, you have to hand it to these folks. It really is a novel idea. You can farm out practically any electronic work you need from graphic design to programming to social media metrics. Here is where some enterprising individual can make a little supplemental income (to be honest, many users of Fiverr and its contemporaries are probably using that income to feed their families) padding your Facebook page, tweet, or blog post with likes, follows, and shares, giving the illusion of engagement. Thus enticing organic visitors to share…
Because it’s a hot topic. A fad. A flash in the pan. Sorry, but as far as the fast and lean world of Twitter, that’s all much of our hard work amounts to. Especially in light of content has been curated for the purpose of getting shared on Twitter. Many of us that get really dedicated to our writing will lose out on making a difference, or changing a perspective, because of the prevalence of “Neat title! SHARE!”
Content First. Sharing Second.
So are we worse off because the Tweet share counters are gone? Have we been left adrift in the (social media) abyss again by a giant that wants to just bring in more profit? Well, I don’t want to disabuse people of their beliefs on the subject – much less the implications this particular subject has on their lives – so I will leave you to make your own conclusion. Personally, I like the quote in the Sturgill included in his article by copywriter Demain Farnworth:
Either the backlash will be so big Twitter retracts or someone else comes up with a better way to demonstrate social proof. I actually prefer the latter option.
I remember the articles that truly meant something to me. I do that, I read articles. The ones that weren’t worth finishing weren’t finished. I like good content. I like being entertained, to be told a story. Even if that story was written to send me down the sales funnel. It means that someone cares enough about my experience to polish up that article to a fine and mighty sheen. So I say let’s root for something better. Let’s pull up our socks, and our standards with them, and look for more meaningful ways to demonstrate the merit of our creations. If Twitter’s purposes are to move us into a realm where we’ll have to pay through the nose for those kinds of metrics if we want them, let’s thank Twitter for inspiring us to look for better options.
It might just keep some of our developer friends in work.