Since Twitter removed open API access, companies around the world have been struggling to formulate a response. Even for a platform whose corporate strategy seems so frequently capricious, the abruptness of the move took everyone by surprise and the ramifications are still being felt.
Given that publishers using Echobox rank as some of the most venerable media companies in the world, it is no surprise that many produce an incredibly high daily output of content — content that they want to share with readers on social media.
This means that a significant proportion of our clients would be looking at subscribing to Twitter’s paid Basic tier, and paying Twitter $100 per month for the pleasure of continuing with their normal levels of posting.
It’s important to ask: What is Twitter achieving with these new changes?
One answer is pecuniary. Twitter’s financial woes are well documented, with advertisers leaving the platform over fears that their adverts will be placed alongside the kinds of malicious content that has proliferated on the site since the weakening of its content moderation.
But another potential answer comes from Elon Musk himself:
The desire to have publishers share less on the platform is a compelling reason to charge excessive fees for API access, either reducing the amount of content publishers share on Twitter, or providing Twitter with a windfall if they continue at the same level.
If publishers were to adapt to these new constraints and reduce the amount of content shared on Twitter, what impact might it have on their referral traffic? How does a reduction in Tweets affect pageviews?
Results and Analysis
To begin, we can look at the Social Media Index (SMI), which aggregates publishers’ pageviews originating from a number of different social media sources, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
When we isolate pageviews specifically originating from Twitter, we can see that in the days immediately following the loss of API access (April 4th), pageviews declined slightly to 0.77% of all referral traffic on the 5th and 6th of April, down from 0.90% on April 3rd. Since then, however, traffic has rebounded, returning to normal levels of 0.87% by the 10th. Interestingly, we can also see that this dip in pageviews was no more severe than one the previous month, when the percentage of pageviews dropped to 0.76%. In summary, in the aftermath of Twitter’s changes, publishers’ referral traffic from Twitter has not suffered in a significant or long-lasting way.
We therefore decided to look more closely at some of our clients in particular, and what we found was that for a significant number, reducing the amount of Tweets posted (sometimes even drastically) did not correspond to a decline in pageviews.
Here is one clear example, from one of the largest news dailies in the Americas. (It’s important to note that the numbers of pageviews are orders of magnitude higher than the number of Tweets. For this reason, the pageviews line in the graphs in this article show the general trend rather than absolute numbers.) This publisher historically posted at least 150 Tweets per day (as shown in the pink portion of the graph above). Beginning on April 4th, the number of Tweets declined significantly, reaching zero Tweets between the 5th and the 9th (gray portion) before stabilizing at around 40 to 50 Tweets per day (green portion).
Of particular interest is the fact that after a decline, the number of pageviews rebounded, peaking slightly above recent highs in the previous month, even with a substantially lower number of daily shares. We have observed this pattern for multiple clients, including this midsize news publisher in South America:
Again, this publisher historically shared around 150 tweets per day as can be seen in the pink portion of the graph. Following a decline, pageviews return to previous levels in the green portion of the graph, even with a significantly reduced number of shares made. In fact, when we looked at the average number of pageviews one share produced, the ratio in this later period was over double its previous level.
We believe that an important factor explaining this trend is Twitter’s recently launched For You feed, a heavily curated discovery tab that uses algorithmic recommendation to populate the feed. The For You feed is now the default view for all Twitter users and the center of the Twitter experience.
The algorithmic curation of the For You tab brings Twitter in line with platforms such as Facebook and TikTok who use “discovery engines” to recommend content from creators who users do not specifically follow. This means that posting a large amount of content on Twitter becomes less effective in achieving greater visibility, as content is algorithmically mediated and not guaranteed to be shown in user feeds.
This has been true of Facebook for a while. We have long known that Facebook’s algorithm penalizes publishers for sharing too much or at the wrong intervals. It is likely that similar mechanisms are occuring at Twitter, with more people using the For You tab.
Given the evidence of our analyses, as well as the words of Elon Musk, we believe that reducing the amount of content publishers share on Twitter may not necessarily result in declining pageviews. Indeed, there are good grounds to believe that this is one of the ways that Musk is seeking to alter publishers’ behavior on the platform.
With this in mind, optimizing the timing of Tweets and sharing the right content at the right time becomes even more critical. Making use of Echobox’s AI-powered optimizations can help maximize the number of pageviews generated from Twitter (and other social platforms) thanks to optimal timing recommendations and accurate virality scores.
While we have observed this trend amongst multiple publisher clients, optimal volumes of posting will differ from publisher to publisher. It is important to test for yourself, using Echobox’s analytics to fully understand how reducing your volume of daily Tweets may affect pageviews in your particular case.
However, from what we have seen for a number of publishers, operating with a “less is more” ethos and prioritizing quality over quantity can help publishers Tweet less while achieving pageview levels comparable with those before April without having to pay Twitter.