Where to fish for social insights when the pond turns into a cesspit?

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by Tom McCann, Senior Insights Manager

Expressing the opinion that Twitter/X.com is a horrible, toxic place full of fake news, perma-outrage, abuse, and bots whose job it is to perpetuate all of the above isn’t exactly a hot take. However, despite this being the case for a while now, it’s hard to deny that there has been somewhat of a further downturn in the health of the platform since the disruptive takeover of Elon Musk. 

You can see this is in the steady stream of stories that have emerged ever since. These involve immediate layoffs, mass resignations, service outages, brands that have decreased, or completely removed ad spend, through to the recent story of the ABC network in Australia suspending all of its accounts on the platform. This was done for reasons that included ‘limiting the exposure of team members to the toxic interactions that unfortunately are becoming more prevalent on X’. It seems that this is an increasingly shared opinion. 

Usership is further under threat as alternative platforms emerge to try and hoover up the disillusioned, the dissatisfied and the constantly abused. From services not quite ready for the big stage (Mastodon), to head-start Meta-owned pretenders (Threads), Twitter users are increasingly starting to notice other platforms making eyes at them across the room at the social media party, and thinking they might be better off out of their abusive relationship. 

As with any new social media, our industry tends to breathlessly rush in to proclaim the crowning of a new king and the death of the old one, but for now, there’s one area where  Twitter is still undeniably clinging to the crown – and that’s when it comes to social listening.

Since its beginning, social listening as a research tool has existed primarily as a result of Twitter. Twitter was the great new goldmine of insights: hundreds of millions of tweets a day, and a whole lot of them talking about your brand. Most notably, Twitter was the one social network that gave us full, unfiltered access to its ‘firehose’ of data. While Facebook kept its users’ questionable opinions private from the prying eyes of market researchers, Twitter unleashed them all. As a result, social listening platforms became valuable tools for modern marketing.

But with the declining user base, and potentially decreasing relevancy, is there still the value to be found in Twitter as a gauge of consumer opinions? For now, there are still around 500 million tweets a day, which is more than enough to get the measure of the latest Barbenheimer cultural phenomenon, and that’s one area where Twitter’s value continues to be unmatched: real-time feedback on cultural touchstones (in entertainment and sports in particular). 

Despite Musk’s meddling, people are going to continue to want to share their every thought on the latest football transfer, Netflix show, political disaster, etc. online, and Twitter remains a central arena for these opinions. I’ve long made the argument for forums and Reddit as valuable sources of more nuanced opinions about a topic (category dependent, of course), and while they can be just as toxic a place as Twitter (see: 4chan, 8chan, or even YouTube comments), they often reveal thousands of calmer, quieter, and more relevant voices to survey about any topic or brand you can think of, if you look in the right place. 

Another thought to consider is whether Meta will continue to relax its holding back of Facebook and Instagram data, or whether it will give social listening platforms full access to Threads, in a further direct encroachment on Twitter’s territory. It remains to be seen how TikTok and LinkedIn will continue to be further integrated into social listening data streams. But there is undoubted value for social listening platforms having the ability to mine these networks for user opinions.

For now, Twitter’s full firehose of data remains unmatched by any other network, and while I think social listening platforms need to have one eye on the future and expanding the available pool of data, until that’s the case there will still be value in fishing for insights in the murky waters of Musk’s X.com as long as the boat keeps from sinking. 

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