Are social media ghost users really a problem?

UK2 Group, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 13.08.13Are social media ghost users really a problem?

Just because people don’t post on Twitter or Facebook, social media networks can still be valuable to them.

What constitutes an “active user” on social media? Do you have to tweet to count yourself a genuine Twitter user? You certainly have to post on Instagram to be considered an active user of the photo sharing network, as users discovered just before the holidays. Instagram cracked down hard on fake, spam and inactive users, causing a drop in follower counts all around.  Celebrities were hit especially hard, with poor Justin Bieber losing 3.5 million followers in the Instagram rapture.

While no one is going to mourn the loss of spam accounts, so-called inactive accounts are arguably another issue. Lots of people use Twitter or Facebook just to look at stuff posted by others, and they are very much enjoying these social networks even though they don’t contribute anything themselves. Twitter has 218 million monthly active users, which is not much compared to Facebook’s 800 million, but this only counts the people who actually log onto Twitter. Lots of people look up Twitter pages without logging in – aren’t they users of some sort too? And what about when presenters on TV read out Tweets – does that make the listener a user?

Twitter has no way of counting their “ghost users”, but they are aware of them. “Twitter is everywhere,” said Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, according to ‘AdAge’. Costolo said the Twitter audience was “two to three times” larger than the monthly active user numbers, and the company is experimenting with ways to “improve the content” for visitors who’re not logged into the platform. Still, Twitter is only really making money from users who’re active in the traditional sense: “We are focused one-hundred percent on the user experience today. We’re not monetising those audiences [who’re not logged in].”

It sounds like ghost users are becoming an asset for Twitter, in part because their presence is an acknowledgment of Twitter as a place of breaking news and debate. Even among members who rarely check their news feed, Facebook is gaining a reputation as the place to go to check birthdays, and the quick and easy place for sending off a message to someone when you don’t have their phone number or email address. Even for ghost users, social networks is often the place where the conversation happens.

Comments are dead, but we’re talking more than ever

UK2 Group, 2014 – on VPS.net

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 21.03.19Comments are dead, but we’re talking more than ever
The comment section is dying. Not because people don’t want to discuss the things they read anymore, but conversation is definitely moving elsewhere. Readers are less inclined to want to hash out their views with strangers underneath a blog post or news piece, preferring instead to take this conversation to their friends on Facebook and Twitter. This social media-dominated approach also affects how readers come to content, meaning the homepage is rarely the gateway anymore. What all this means is that websites need to deploy different tactics to facilitate discussion, as getting people talking is still the best way to get more people to click. Here are some recent trends for how websites are encouraging visitors to get the conversation going.

– Comments are dead! Long live comments!
While the general trend is that people are taking the conversation elsewhere, a quick look at any major news site will show there’s still a hard core who likes to comment under articles and blog posts. But what’s changing is that comment threads are increasingly moderated, primarily to prevent a few loud and angry voices from ruining it for everybody. Last year, ‘Popular Science’ even went as far as shutting down comments altogether, after research showed readers’ perception of stories could become affected by reading polarised comments.

“A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again,” wrote Suzanne LaBarre, then-online content director, as ‘Popular Science’ announced its decision to no longer provide a space for this debate to take place on its site. “Commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded – you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the ‘off’ switch.”

While this could arguably sound like censorship, editors have come to the conclusion they may need to suppress those who’re only there to provoke or upset, in order to get an intelligent conversation going. The Guardian’s argument for moderation is to ensure the comment space is “safe and inclusive, […] a place on the net where you will always find lively, entertaining and, above all, intelligent discussion”. Moderation can also stop a comment thread from being hijacked by an irrelevant point. For example, comments on an article on the iCloud security leak could easily become derailed by posters arguing about whether people should save sensitive information in the cloud at all – rather than focusing on the issue at hand: data security.

– Tweet this: Sharing is caring
If you don’t have the buttons ready for people who want to share content, you’re doing it wrong. This could just be a basic Twitter button that clips the link for tweeting, but some websites are taking Twitter-baiting to the next level. ‘Forbes; is among sites that highlight soundbites of Twitter-friendly length, suggesting they may be good for sharing. Whether or not people like being nudged to share quite so directly is arguable, but ‘WordPress’ has actually created a dedicated plug-in for this feature. Another innovative interaction feature can be found at ‘Medium’, where readers don’t even have to scroll to the bottom to comment but can do so in little comment boxes in the margins of each paragraph.

Dao Nguyen, head of data and growth at ‘BuzzFeed’, has been credited for quadrupling traffic to the site in two years, much of this through tweaking how people are encouraged to share content. Nguyen discovered that email was the second-most common sharing method by readers (after Facebook), but sharing over email required several taps and lots of navigation by users accessing the site via mobile phones. Realising she could make this process more streamlined, Nguyen made the “share via email” button more prominent and accessible, and within one week, email shares had doubled.

– Homepage? Who cares!
‘The New York Times’ has seen visits to its homepage, nytimes.com, halve in two years, as readers are finding the site’s articles through other sources instead. This means that instead of going to the homepage to browse, readers are discovering individual articles on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on what publishers call “dark social” sources like email and chat.

What this means for content producers is that they don’t set the agenda quite so easily anymore. Instead the readers do this themselves, by clicking only on what interests them – and the statistics show people like celebrity gossip and personality quizzes a lot more than they like hard news. This is arguably troublesome, both for content producers who have to create ever-more collections of animals who look hungover, and for readers who may well find themselves eating a very unhealthy media diet. So do the world a favour and don’t just post cat videos on Facebook – post some news or social commentary there too.

– Newsletters are back!
Who would have thought it: email is back. After years of being hailed as ready for extinction, email is having a resurgence in the form of the email newsletter. This is a very personal kind of reader interaction, who will hit that ‘unsubscribe’ button very fast if they’re not feeling it. What this means is that newsletter subscribers tend to be superfans rather than casual readers. Brands aren’t really onto this yet, and it remains to be seen if they can do it well – because the reason newsletters are working at the moment is because they are quirky and personal.

Many of the most popular newsletters are sent via TinyLetter, one of these being ‘Five Intriguing Things’ by Alexis Madrigal. This daily newsletter contains five links to articles Madrigal liked, culled from all over the internet – even though Madrigal is an editor at ‘The Atlantic’. Another popular newsletter is Rena Tom’s ‘Hardly Working’, a chatty letter about stuff the author likes. While Tom’s day job is running ‘Makeshift Society’, a coworking business, her newsletter has few direct links to this, hence it feels genuine. Let’s hope that if brands do pick up this trend, they’ll follow Tom’s lead and keep the branding subtle.

Twitter in Qatar

Qatar Happening magazine, November 2013. Original article here.  

QHTwitter in Qatar: A virtual dialogue
As the internet is becoming a part of daily life in Qatar, Twitter is well on its way to becoming the venue of choice for exchanging ideas. 3.8% of the Qatari population now uses Twitter, according to the Arab Social Media Report from the Dubai School of Government, a rise from just 1.5% two years ago.

A search on Twitter reveals the Damien Hirst exhibition in Doha and the 2022 World Cup as the two biggest topics in Qatar at the time of writing. But tomorrow’s search may reveal something completely different, as a user-generated space such as Twitter has a knack of breaking news and tapping into public sentiment far earlier than any established news source.

“The Twitter community in Qatar is still fairly small, but growing. Those who use it know it’s invaluable: it’s a key source of news, events, and ever-changing views here,” says Victoria Scott, assistant editor of Doha News. Tweeting at @ToryScott, Scott hopes to see more people in Qatar join Twitter, as she considers it a great leveller: “I’ve met so many people from so many different countries on Twitter, and it’s how I’ve met all my Qatari friends. It helps us bypass our individual cliques. Twitter is a great example of multiculturalism, and cultural exchange at work.”

Especially for an international community like Qatar, Twitter can provide an invaluable shortcut for meeting like-minded people who move in different social circles. And while Twitter will be a brilliant venue for introductions, the biggest reward often comes when people put away their computers or mobile phones and continue the conversation over a cup of coffee.

This was the thought behind Doha Tweetups, an online community aimed at linking people together for offline events. “@DohaTweetups was founded to bring the community together. A great many partnerships have been formed, and we’ve brightened many individuals’ futures with our events,” says Hani Arif, who co-founded Doha Tweetups in 2010. The project has grown from a handful of people meeting in a cafe, to a few thousand and growing. “The mission remains the same: offering something of value to the people who attend. We’re also started taking on interns to nurture them into becoming event and social media professionals.”

Tweetup events take place around once a month, either as basic networking nights or as speaker events focused on specific issues such as sustainability, sports, and technology. The events attract people from all walks of life, as anyone can come along. “Doha101 is an annual event where we targeting newcomers to the city by giving them a chance to hook up with volunteer-intensive community organisations,” adds Arif, who tweets at @HaniArif.

Qatar now ranks first among Arab states in terms of internet availability, according to the UN’s development index, which puts Qatar in 30th place globally. Qatar is also hard at work at improving its broadband infrastructure, intending to invest US$550 million over the next five years to provide affordable and reliable high-speed internet for all its two million inhabitants, according to the UNESCO Broadband Commission.

Increasingly, Qatari businesses are braving Twitter in a capacity that goes beyond advertising to also interact directly with the public. The W Hotel (@WDoha) is one example of how a company’s direct dealing with people over social media fosters positive feedback, and Bread & Bagels (@BreadAndBagels) now even takes orders via Twitter.

While facing customers directly on Twitter can lead to criticism, businesses are waking up to the fact that direct contact can be beneficial for customer relations when issues are handled openly and swiftly. Not all issues can be solved via 140 characters though, as Arif notes: “Even before the end of summer, people started tweeting how they dreaded the traffic would be bad. Nowadays, Twitter becomes a traffic channel in the morning, and in the evening it becomes more about burning and gaining calories.”

As Twitter enables instant publication, it’s also a place to voice more controversial and critical opinions. Frustration over traffic jams due to construction is one recurring topic, and a search at the time of writing shows the issue of conditions for migrant workers remains hotly discussed. Arif believes people will usually exercise self-censorship, before adding that the most prominently critical voices on Twitter rarely depend solely on their day jobs and hence are less concerned about what their bosses may think.

When it comes to sensitive topics, Scott believes people in Qatar are usually a little worried about speaking out, regardless of what forum they’re in. These fears are usually unfounded though, she adds: “As a journalist here, this is something I’m very familiar with. Having said that, I think Twitter users in Qatar are pretty free with their views, and I’ve certainly witnessed many a plain speaking, outspoken argument.”

While the quick and easy nature of social media adds an air of informality, accounts such as ‘Mr Q’ at @iLoveQatar show how Twitter can be used to voice a mix of news, insights, trivia and critical opinion. As increasingly more people in Qatar are discovering Twitter as a source for information, connection and occasionally blowing off some steam, the forum is becoming not just a medium of expression but also one for organisation.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 16.59.38