Twitter trends. We’re not talking about hashtags.
We’re talking the tectonic shifts that are shaking and shaping the platform. And based on what we’ve seen so far, 2020 is turning out to be a pretty unprecedented year.
From measures to halt the spread of misinformation, to a leadership shakeup and the roll out of Fleets, these are the top Twitter trends we’re tracking right now.
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9 of the most important Twitter trends in 2020
1. Stronger efforts to stop the spread of misinformation
Even before the Coronavirus hit Twitter news feeds, the platform was under pressure to deal with the spread of misinformation. Now, preventing the contamination of truth is more important than ever.
#Coronavirus is the second most-used hashtag of 2020. And tweets about COVID-19 are sent every 45 milliseconds. It all amasses to millions of tweets on a platform that people look to for crisis communications.
In late January, Twitter rolled out a Covid-19 search prompt to ensure searches provided results from credible and authoritative sources. To that end, Twitter has also partnered with and offered pro bono advertisements to organizations involved in the relief effort.
Twitter also released an update to its policy on synthetic and manipulated media. Content that poses a risk to public safety will be removed. All posts that show signs of fabrication or manipulation will be marked with a label—granted that none slip through the cracks.
Notably, a post tweeted by U.S. President Donald Trump bore a “manipulated media” disclaimer. Labels have also been brought back to identify politicians in the run-up to the U.S. general election. More recently,Twitter added a warning label to two of Trump’s tweets, describing the content as “unsubstantiated.”
Twitter banned political ads in October last year. But as political and public safety pressures mount, debates about deep fakes, hateful content and behaviour, and disinformation will undoubtedly give rise to policy tweaks and further developments.
2. #BlackLivesMatter raises the stakes of social activism
The death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at police hands in late May reignited the Black Lives Matter movement, both online and offline.
On Twitter, use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag hit unprecedented levels, peaking with an 8.8 million tweets on May 28. But more noteworthy than volume is the number of people involved in the conversation. Hootsuite’s analysis found that across mentions on Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, and other sources, more than 18 million unique users have used the hashtag—more than double the number of people who used it in 2016.
Source: Pew Research Center
The magnitude and importance of the Black Lives Matter movement has raised the stakes for social activism. Brands that opt out of participation are noticed for their silence. For brands that opt in, simply taking a stand is no longer enough. Consumers and activists want to see brands take action. Those that attempt social activism without action have been called out for “slactivism,” “woke-washing,” and performative allyship.
Brands have been challenged with viral hashtag campaigns like #PullUpOrShutUp to publish workplace diversity stats, or take the #15PercentPledge to stock more retail by BIPOC-owned business.
“If you’ve made a key business decision or pivot that stands in solidarity, be committed to publicly enforcing and defending it,” writes Twitter’s global director of culture and community God-is Rivera and Twitter Next brand strategist Nicole Godreau.
3. Leadership shakeup, and a push for more digital ad share
The Twitterverse was rattled late February after Elliott Management and Silver Lake purchased a large stake in Twitter Inc. Jack Dorsey will remain as de facto tweeter-in-chief, but many are wondering what this means for his future with the company. Among other things, Twitter’s three new board members will evaluate a CEO succession plan.
What does this mean for business on Twitter? Well, the new partnership deal comes with some aggressive targets for the CEO. According to the agreement, Twitter will need to grow its monetizable daily active (mDAUs) users by 20% or more over the coming year.
Twitter has lagged behind other platforms when it comes to growth of its user base. But it did close out 2019 with 152 million mDAUs, a 21% increase year-over-year.
Earnings in 2019 were mixed. But Twitter did pass the $1 billion mark for the first time, thanks in part to strong Q4 advertising revenues. Advertising—another area where the platform has lagged—is also a key focus of the pact. In addition to increasing monetizable users, Twitter plans to accelerate revenue and “gain share in the digital advertising market.” This means we can expect to see more ad placements, products, and tools roll out in the coming months.
Ad engagements increased 29% in Q4 19, which Twitter attributes in part to “ongoing improvements in ad relevance.” Beyond ongoing improvements to delivery and the core ad server, more personalization and targeting tools are on the docket for 2020.
4. Twitter Voice makes waves
Since June, select Twitter users have been able to test a feature that lets them add 140-second audio clips to their tweets. While the rollout has been limited, the announcement sparked a lot of buzz. Even Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri tweeted “Cool” in response.
As Twitter product designer Maya Gold explained, audio tweets are ideal for musicians, podcasters, comedians, and other storytellers—of which there are many on the platform. Twitter Voice is a great way to release teasers of upcoming tracks or episodes. It also brings a “phone call” level of intimacy to messages for fans.
Twitter predicts that audio longer than 30 seconds will be most popular. The recording and editing interface is simple for now, but as people get comfortable with it, expect Twitter to release more features. Several accessibility advocates have voiced hope that closed captioning will be among them.
5. Disappearing content comes to Twitter with “Fleets”
Stories have taken over the social media landscape—and they’re not done yet. LinkedIn is testing the ephemeral format on its platform. And in March, Twitter announced it is now rolling out its take on impermanent posts: Fleets.
Fleets, which have been available in Brazil since March 4, 2020, are meant to capture “fleeting thoughts.” Like Facebook and Instagram stories, they disappear after 24 hours. And while they cannot be liked or retweeted, people will be able to slide into DMs with their responses. People will be able to watch them by clicking on avatars at the top of the Twitter timeline.
According to Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour, a key motivation behind Fleets was that people have been filling up their drafts folders. “People often tell us that they don’t feel comfortable Tweeting because Tweets can be seen and replied to by anybody, feel permanent and performative…” he says.
“We’re hoping that Fleets can help people share the fleeting thoughts that they would have been unlikely to Tweet.”
Remember when Twitter was a place for short odes to what you ate for lunch? Twitter wants that Twitter back.
Expect to see Fleets roll out to more audiences in the coming months.
6. Conversation controls to combat trolls
It’s not impossible to imagine something like Nextdoor’s Kindness Reminder coming to Twitter in 2020. In fact, Twitter is already running a limited experiment that does just that. The prompts use machine learning to flag offensive language and give users a chance to reconsider before hitting publish. Instagram started testing a similar feature last year.
This feature would join a slew of conversation controls Twitter has recently released. Late last year, Twitter users were given the option to hide replies to their tweets. In March, Twitter expanded its rules against hateful conduct to ban abusive speech around age, disability, and disease. Most recently, the platform shared that it will roll out settings that let people control who can respond to their tweets.
Soon, before someone publishes a tweet, they’ll be able to choose between Everyone, People You Follow, or only People You Mention reply settings. People who can’t reply will see the comment icon greyed out, but they can still view, retweet with comment, and like the tweet.
These changes aim to create a safer space for conversations. And there have been some subtle improvements. Twitter tests in Canada found that 27% of people who had their tweets hidden would reconsider what they’d written. But on the flip side, other respondents said they worried that hiding someone’s replies would lead to retaliation.
7. Topics aim to reframe Twitter convos
Topics were unveiled in November last year, and have grown to include more than 1,000 categories, with new ones added almost every week. These are not to be confused with “trending topics,” which appear in the What’s Happening section. Suggestions for Topics to follow show up sporadically in Twitter feeds. When someone follows a topic, they’ll start to see related tweets, ads, and events in their timeline.
Right now Topics are spread across five broad categories: Entertainment, Gaming, Hobbies & Interests, Music & Radio, and Sports. Within categories like Entertainment, people can follow everything from their favourite film genre to their favourite celebrity. Sports Topics range from type of sport to leagues to professional sports teams.
Interest and keyword targeting are already available, but Topics may help Twitter refine these capabilities if they gain enough traction. It’s possible that the platform could even let advertisers micro-target with Topics. The difference between someone who actively subscribes to Beauty versus someone who occasionally likes tweets about it could be compelling for advertisers.
It’s too soon to evaluate the success of Topics on the platform. If the fact that Instagram is now testing adding “Search Interests” to its Explore tab is any indication, Twitter may be onto something.
8. UX upgrades to convos and threads on mobile—and desktop
Twitter’s product team has been busy with a number of user experience (UX) updates.
A new redesign makes conversations easier to follow. Subtle tweaks make it clearer to tell who’s replying to who. The new look is only available on iOS, but will soon make its way to other platforms.
For some, including tech reporter Taylor Lorenz who penned “It’s Impossible to Follow a Conversation on Twitter” for The Atlantic last year, changes like these have been a long time coming.
UX upgrades are also underway for the desktop web app. The new conversation layout creates a left-hand sidebar for a tweet and its replies when someone clicks for a larger view of the image. For now, it’s only available to select users.
In addition to its Bookmarks and Dark Mode update, Twitter is reportedly bringing the draft folder to desktop and adding subtle animations to the interface. Facebook has made recent improvements to desktop, too. And Instagram already brought DMs to the web this year.
It’s a lot more simple to add to Threads now, too. Now people can build a thread from a previously posted tweet. Before, you could not add to a thread after it had been published.
Following conversations about your tweets has also gotten much easier. Twitter users can now see retweets with comments in one place. To find them, just click Retweets on the tweet in question.
9. Bye, bye Heart counts?
Twitter CEO @jack has been known to float the idea of getting likes (or favourites). News that the platform was considering it cropped up in 2018. And Dorsey brought it up again last year in a TED interview called “How Twitter Needs to Change.”
Since then Instagram has hidden “likes” on its platform. And Facebook has tested the removal or thumb counts on its site, too. Dorsey gave his own thumbs up of approval to this news with a quote tweet that read: “Great step.” Sarcasm? Maybe, maybe not.
According to Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, the decision to hide likes was taken to “depressurize the app.” If Fleets are any indication, Twitter users feel a similar pressure. And with Twitter’s aggressive growth targets looming, a little more “depressurizing” may not be such a bad idea.
The decision would undoubtedly ruffle a few feathers. (We’ll let you make your own guess as to whose.) But the way this year is shaping up, nothing’s off the table.
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