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Twitter’s New ‘Best Tweets’ Feature: What Brands Need To Know

Susan Etlinger
Official Twitter website.

This morning, following Buzzfeed’s Friday scoop about the introduction of an algorithmic timeline and hundreds of thousands of tweets from enraged and confused users, the company quietly announced a new feature. The headline, “Never miss important Tweets from people you follow,” is pretty clear about the tone they want to set: this is for you, and it’s going to make your Twitter life a lot better. But frankly the announcement feels rushed, squeezed as it is between the Buzzfeed scoop and earnings, which will be announced this afternoon. 

As I wrote yesterday, there are a lot of implications to such a shift. I’m not going to repeat my points from yesterday’s post in detail, but here they are in summary form, updated with what we’re able to glean from the brief announcement. Here’s what brands need to know and consider, at least at first: 

The basics:

  • Yes, it is opt-in. Twitter includes instructions to activate the new timeline feature: “To check it out now, just go into the timeline section of your settings and choose 'Show me the best Tweets first'. “
  • There is no word as to whether this is a trial period or whether it will at some point become permanent, but an article published this morning in the New York Times tips us that: “Users will initially have the option to switch on the new feature in the settings menu before it becomes a default setting.”
  • There is no information given on what drives the algorithm. In fact, no mention of an algorithm at all, but that’s what it is. More importantly, there is no description of what signals determine what those “best tweets” are. You’re going to have to test it for yourself.
  • Twitter has been quietly testing an algorithmic timeline for some time. The “While you were away” feature, which brings back older tweets you may have missed, is an example of this.

Implications for brands:

  1. Don't take organic reach for granted. While there is no word that this feature will become a default, caution dictates that brands need to start to plan for an algorithmic timeline. This means that organic reach may no longer be possible on Twitter in the future.
  2. Test it as best you can. Owners/administrators of brand accounts should start to test the new feature to the extent possible to try to determine what may be driving prominence in the algorithm. My top candidates would be, in no particular order, volume, recency, followers, keyword prominence, velocity. Of course, the devil is in the details, meaning that weighting influence over velocity would favor “top-down” popularity, while weighting keyword prominence and velocity would favor the grassroots.
  3. If you haven't already, benchmark key KPIs NOW. The more people use this new timeline, the more likely it is to become permanent. If you have a good baseline already for metrics such as reach and resonance, great. If you don't, establish them now so you can compare future changes against them.
  4. Don’t worry. Don’t put too much credence in users’ immediate reaction to set strategy (see every Facebook feature announcement ever). One of Twitter’s best assets is that people are passionate about it, but initial reaction may not be an indication of future behavior.

I’ll update this as more information becomes available. What do YOU think about this change?