Twitter isn’t a traffic generator so stop thinking it is

A lot of people today are discussing this piece by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Thompson takes issue with Twitter effectiveness as a traffic-driving platform, citing that it sends a minuscule number of click-throughs and that many of his tweets saw very low engagement numbers.

His take-down piece ends with this:

It’s fair to come away from these metrics thinking that Twitter is worthless. But that’s an unsophisticated conclusion. The more sophisticated takeaway is that Twitter is worthless for the limited purpose of driving traffic to your website, because Twitter is not a portal for outbound links, but rather a homepage for self-contained pictures and observations.

twitter-bird-blue-on-white.pngThe very thesis that Twitter is and should be a traffic-driving platform is not only a relatively recent development but also not backed-up by any rudimentary experience with it. For at least a couple years after it first launched Twitter wasn’t about “Look what I just published'” but more cleanly and clearly about conversation. It was about trading jokes, discussing topic and more and it wasn’t until the media companies and social media rockstars with their endless lists of tips came along that it became about the links.

Also, anyone who knows anything about Twitter knows that Twitter’s main feature – the Timeline – makes link traffic a sketchy proposition at best. If you look away from Twitter for more than 30 seconds you’re going to cycle through two or three complete rotations of your Timeline, meaning everything that was published in that time is lost to the stream unless you go chasing after it. So you’re dealing with an audience at the tail end of this chain:

All Twitter > Those Who Follow You > Those Who See Your Tweet > Those With the Time and Inclination to Click Your Link

That’s a pretty small subset and shows that Twitter, as anyone who’s run any sort of actual content program could tell you, isn’t going to be your big traffic generator. There are other reasons for that, but the arrangement of the unfiltered stream is the biggest. Certain things will sometimes take off on Twitter, sure. But it’s never, at least not in its current incarnation, going to be a major source of traffic to a story.

That’s not to say, though, that Twitter doesn’t have value for a publisher or individual writer. But that value isn’t always best expressed by click-throughs and site traffic. There’s brand awareness, there’s customer/reader loyalty and so much more. Engagement can and sometimes should be the primary goal.

Yes, Twitter wants to keep readers within its environment. That’s no surprise. Facebook has the same goal and both have made their desire to host more and more media content themselves very clear. That calls into question the entire idea of using social media as a traffic engine since the end goal seems to be to send none at all.

All of this is me spending a lot of time on an op-ed that has the shakiest of foundations: It’s a case study based on one individual’s experience and informed solely by their prejudices and opinions. That in and of itself would be grounds for discounting this without further analysis. But too many people over the last couple days have been giving this far more credence than it deserves.