Understanding the Twitter Algorithm to Reach More People and Sell More Books

Twitter has been around for over a decade now. And every so often you'll read an article saying that Twitter is dead or dying. That couldn't be further from the truth. Twitter is a growing social media network with over 134 million daily active users, a growth of over 11.6% from the previous year. And what’s really amazing about the channel is how many tweets are sent a dayover 500 million of them. That’s 6,000 tweets every second! 

Twitter is a truly unique social media channel for a variety of reasons, but one interesting way is how it impacts businesses (of which I regularly argue that being a writer is your own self-employed business). Twitter conducted a study of its audience, and it turns out that Twitter users are more likely to discover new things, are more open-minded, and are early adopters of all kinds of products and services. That’s great news for authors looking to connect with new readers. 

There are a few more reasons why Twitter still matters. Let's walk through them.

  1. There’s a reason that Twitter is the 7th most visited website in the world. First of all, Twitter can't be beat for real-time news. Whether it's millions watching a television show together, an earthquake in China, or a new product being announced in Silicon Valley, Twitter is the place to find out what’s happening in the moment.
    2. It’s an international network, with 80% of its audience outside of the United States. But that said, 46 percent of American Twitter users visit the site at least once a day. A fun fact—Twitter is the number-one social network in Japan, with 64% of its social media users on the platform.
    3. It’s a racially diverse audience. For example, more than a quarter (26%) of U.S adults who identify as black use Twitter, while 24% of white-identified and 20% of Hispanic-identified U.S. adults use Twitter. And while 40% of the U.S. audience is under the age of 30, marketers will still find big swaths of the population in the Gen-X crowd, as well as some of the Boomers. Compared with other platforms, Twitter’s audience is well-educated and somewhat more affluent.
    4. According to Twitter, 74% of people who follow a brand on Twitter do so to get product updates, and 77 percent of Twitter users feel more positive about a brand when their Tweet has been replied to by that brand. That's pretty significant. It means that your brand needs to be on Twitter to be able to reply to people who have questions or want to have a conversation about your products. It also means that important industry-related conversations are taking place on Twitter (with or without you).
    5. And finally one of the other great reasons that you should think about using Twitter (if you aren't already) is that people increasingly distrust Facebook. As more and more people begin to use Facebook less, they are turning to alternative channels outside the Facebook network. That makes Twitter one of the best places to connect with your audience.

I see the same thingbusinesses using Twitter as a channel to push information at people rather than having a conversation. You should be exploring a robust mix of content that includes text posts, images, video, and most importantly, direct conversation with your customers. But you also want to be sure that you understand how Twitter works so that you can maximize those options to reach the right audience for your product and services.

If you aren't already on Twitter and need to know how to use it, the easiest way to understand the platform is to jump right in and get started. In the resources section you'll find a comprehensive guide to help you set up your Twitter account and learn the basics. 

For both beginners and advanced Twitter users, understanding the Twitter algorithm is key to developing a great strategy. Let’s break down the components that make up what, how, and when users see content on the channel—essentially, everything the algorithm affects.

When you first go to Twitter, you’ll see your news feed that includes your top tweets or latest tweets. This is a chronological feed of tweets from people that you follow. If you are on mobile, you can easily switch them back and forth using the little stars in the corner of the app. If you are on a desktop, you can choose to organize your feed to top or “best” tweets with the little stars above the spot where you make a post.

What are top tweets? This is your feed ranked by the algorithm, based on the users and topics you most engage with. This may sometimes feature content from other accounts. Users can choose to “show less often” on any content that doesn’t resonate with them. This helps the algorithm to re-rank based on the user’s interests.

The latest tweets is simply a reverse chronological feed of tweets from users you follow without any ranking.

Next is the ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) section, which will only appear if you haven’t been in your Twitter feed for awhile. This is a couple of the top tweets that the algorithm has determined you might care most about. If you are on Twitter often you may not see this appear.

When something big is happening, such as a major speech in your country, weather disasters, or something else of importance, you may see events featured at the top of your timeline labeled as Happening Now. Often, these are live video streams.

The Trending Topics feed is an algorithm-driven module that appears on desktop alongside your feed, or on the search tab of the mobile app. This feed highlights what topics and hashtags people are talking about. You can personalize this content based on location, or you can choose Trends for You, which takes location into consideration but also what is trending among like-minded people that you follow or users like those you follow. 

Now that you have an idea of the parts of Twitter that the algorithm affects, let’s look at how the platform ranks content. 

According to Twitter, each tweet is scored by a relevance model. The model’s score predicts how interesting and engaging a tweet would be to the user. 

The Twitter algorithm looks at:

  • The tweet itself: its recency, the presence of media cards (image or video posts), and total interactions (for example, number of retweets or likes)
  • The tweet’s author: your past interactions with the author of a tweet, the strength of your connection to them, and the origin of your relationship
  • You: Tweets you found engaging in the past, and how often you use Twitter

Online brand strategist Stephen Davies shares a few other things that you should know about the algorithm. This is a bit of a long list, but the points within are important:

  • Because Twitter is a live platform, timing has substantial weight.
  • Profile credibility is important. 
  • Native content is likely to take precedence over links to other sites, though links may still be shared.
  • Tweets from people you engage with the most will show first.
  • A small percentage of users are served a tweet to measure initial engagement on the platform.
  • Likes, replies, and retweets are likely to have a weighting score to keep you within the platform. 
  • Time spent reading someone’s tweets or visiting their profile will impact the content you see even—if you don’t engage with it.
  • The more you engage with people and the more they engage back makes the algorithm show further tweets in their timeline (if they are following you).

Understanding the Twitter algorithm will help you make a number of decisions about the platform, ranging from what types of content you should create, and when you might want to share it. It will also help you understand why certain individuals keep coming up in your timeline. Most importantly, hopefully you understand that the more you engage, the more YOUR content will show up in other people's timelines.

Happy Tweeting!

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About the Author

Crystal King is a 25-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the forthcoming THE CHEF'S SECRET (February 12, 2019, Touchstone Books) about the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.com

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