A new Twitter feature that allows users to limit replies to posts may have some appeal for associations or their CEOs. But ultimately, authentic engagement matters more.
Twitter is in the midst of testing what may be one of the most high-profile changes in its history—bigger than 280 characters!
The company is experimenting with allowing users to limit who can reply to their tweets—either limiting it to people users already follow, or only to the people mentioned in the initial tweet.
This feature was first implied at the beginning of the year at CES, with four separate tiers: global (essentially, how Twitter works now), group (people you follow and mention), panel (just people you mention), and statement (just you).
And, if it takes off, it could be a great thing for a platform with a reputation for being highly toxic. But associations should be careful not to rush to adopt it—because it could close a lot more doors than it opens.
Many CEOs have trouble striking the right tone on social media. Some get too loosey-goosey with the things they say (Elon Musk, for example), while others are so strait-laced that they come off as lifeless. Having a little more control over who responds could help—think training wheels for the person at the top of the org chart.
Likewise, some associations might struggle to find their messaging balance on social media. At least in some cases, it might make sense to “choreograph” the response a little, perhaps with a press release or announcement. After all, the wrong response could throw a wrench in it, right? So naturally, this feature may appeal to associations or leaders who want a more managed response when they share updates.
But honestly, the real problem is the opposite: A lot of organizations aren’t active enough on social media, and it’s costing them opportunities for engagement. A recent study from Clutch found that just a third of small businesses post to social media daily, while slightly more than a third (34 percent) are tracking standard engagement metrics.
I asked Clutch’s Kelsey McKeon, a content developer and marketer, what she thought about this new feature. She suggested that it’s more for individual users who want to curb trolling and other toxic comments, “but probably not brands or small businesses since they might need replies to measure engagement or see how people are interacting with their products.”
Use With Care
Engagement is always a challenge for associations, so overusing this kind of feature could do more harm than good by not only kneecapping potential negative responses but positive ones as well. But there are use cases that could make a lot of sense. Among them:
Twitter-based chats. A decade ago, Twitter chats were a significant part of the platform, but they were hard to read and manage. Some, such as the ubiquitous #assnchat, have evolved and thrived despite the weaknesses of the format. But a Twitter chat could be easier to follow if it was centered on a main thread where perhaps the moderator and main guest could chat. For associations that still rely on this approach, this could be a way to extract the signal from the noise.
Off-hours chatter. People have a tendency to mix business and pleasure on social media, and Twitter probably encourages it more than any other platform due to its design. For execs that use Twitter like a miniature soapbox, maybe you want to mute part of the party line while you’re off the clock.
Crisis messaging. The fact of the matter is, there are some times where you may need to message very carefully on social media, such as during a sudden executive transition or in response to bad news or negative media coverage. In cases like these, minimizing the pool of those who can reply could be helpful. But consider whether such messaging belongs on a blog or other medium that you totally control instead.
So, long story short: If it becomes possible to limit responses on Twitter, think of it as the “in case of emergency, break glass” option. Ultimately, your messaging needs to come with the expectation that someone out there is going to read it and react—good or bad. (Good, hopefully.)
If you’re nervous about a negative response, Twitter does have a feature that could come in handy—the “hide replies” feature, which it released last fall.
It remains to be seen how the “limit replies” feature, when it eventually goes live, changes the dynamic of Twitter. But in the end, it shouldn’t change your approach. You want to engage—not shut out your members.