Lessons On Social Broadcasting From ‘The Other Side’
Google Posts are a new ‘Social’ broadcasting feature for verified Google account holders. Currently, this is limited only to candidates for the U.S. Presidential election, but is planned to be rolled out to other public figures and organizations in the future.
In this case, however, ‘Social’ isn’t exactly the right term. There is no social network tied to Google Posts; no Social account needed to view or Share them; no user accounts to ‘Follow’; no way to directly Reply, Mention, Message, or otherwise engage with a Google Post or its creator directly. In fact, if it were not so obvious, as I pointed out in Google Posts: A Very ‘Googley’ Approach to ‘Social Search’, that these are almost stylistically identical to embedded Tweets in Google Search Results, and otherwise stylistically ‘Social’ in a superficial sense, one would be tempted to dismiss the ‘Social’ label entirely and simply call it an embedded Microblog for ‘broadcasting’ to Google Search.
In fact, Google never describes this features as ‘Social’, referring to it instead as a ‘podium’, a term clearly suggesting its function as a broadcasting tool. And yet, without itself being a true ‘Social’ feature, Google Posts may be the single greatest threat Twitter’s core business has faced in years. In fact, the very lack of true ‘Social’ features in Google Posts may be Google’s greatest asset in the battle for what might be called ‘Social Broadcasting’, an area which Twitter has dominated for years.
It is somewhat peculiar to consider, in fact, that Twitter, ostensibly a Social Network, is actually a, if not the, dominant forum these days by which celebrities, politicians, and other public figures and organizations send short messages out to the interwebs, to be seen, Shared, picked up by the news media, and engaged with. For one thing, Twitter is nowhere near the largest Social Network, with that honor going to Facebook. In fact, in terms of Monthly Active Members, Twitter is in about the same league as Instagram, the only other network to challenge them in this area, and yet Twitter nonetheless beats Instagram for this purpose in terms of reaching the widest audience. For another thing, most Twitter users are passive followers who rarely if ever Tweet, Retweet, or Reply to Tweet themselves.
There are reasons for this dominance: Twitter is an almost entirely Public social network, making it easy to track the Reach of Tweets in a way a more privacy-oriented network like Facebook doesn’t make easy. It was the original home of the ‘hashtag’ as we now know it, and of social media ‘trends’ (even the term ‘viral’, in relation to Social Media, was virtually invented for Twitter). Tweets are embeddable on other websites. Twitter users have unique User Names, making it easier than it is on most social networks to find and mention specific users (e.g. you can easily find or mention the real Donald Drumpf’s Twitter account from any impersonators, or people with the same name, by knowing that his User Name or ‘Handle’ is @realDonaldDrumpf), which also makes it easier to share a Twitter ‘address’ than an eMail address, to the point that they are easily added to a business card or the ‘lower third’ of a news broadcast. Public Tweets, unlike Public Social Posts on some other networks, don’t require a user account to be viewed, and as a result, Twitter attracts views from millions of non-members each month.
These, and other reasons, have combined over the years to make Twitter more-or-less the platform for ‘microblogging’ (as it is sometimes known) by public figures and organizations. Even some of their biggest competitors, Facebook and Google+, have established their own presence on Twitter and are using it for some of the same reasons that singers, journalists, movie stars, and others use it. When your much larger competitors still feel compelled to use your platform (assuming they are not merely using every platform, e.g. Facebook uses Twitter for the purpose of sharing news, but does not use Google+ for that or any other purpose, even though Twitter isn’t much larger or may even be smaller than Google+ in terms of members), it is a sign you have achieved dominance in at least one area. For Twitter, as already mentioned, that one area where they handily beat every other network is Social Broadcasting.
However, there is a dark side: Twitter can quickly become an angry mob of faceless, vile trolls. While there are too many examples of this happening to name, a recent example should suffice: Ghostbusters. I mean, of course, the trailer for the new Ghostbusters movie, which has sparked a sadly predictable level of vitriol across social media. In particular, much of the vitriol has been directed towards actress Leslie Jones, whom some people feel is playing a ‘token’ black character, whom these same people feels stereotypes, demeans, or otherwise undermines the image of black people and reinforces Hollywood’s tendency to give less desirable roles to black actors and actresses.
Whether or not this is a fair assessment of her role in the new movie (and at this point, that opinion is based on a few clips from a teaser trailer that may not reflect the full range and depth of the character), the hateful, spiteful, bigoted reaction to her directly on social media, and especially on Twitter, has certainly been unacceptable in any civilized society. To be clear, Twitter may not be the worst offender, but they are neither a niche network like Reddit or 4Chan which public figures tend not to be active on, nor is it a conversational network like Facebook where hateful comments and attacks on their posts will be quickly responded to and rebutted by supporters.
In fact, it can be honestly said, without being slightly hyperbolic, that Twitter is about the worst forum in human history for discussion and debate. ‘Comments’ and ‘Replies’ to Tweets are not, in fact, Comments or Replies, but rather Tweets of their own, which come at you individually and are far less likely to be noticed or responded to by fans and defenders of the public figures as they would be in a Comment section of their Posts on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, or most networks favored by public figures as part of their online presence.
In addition, it is much easier to create so-called ‘sock puppet accounts’ on Twitter for trolling purposes than on most networks; these are fake accounts, of which dozens or more can be created and controlled by only a single person, and which are typically used for trolling and spam. With an army of such accounts, a relative handful of trolls can appear to be an overwhelming onslaught. It is quite likely, in fact, that massive numbers of sock puppet accounts have been involved in virtually every major instance of mass Twitter trolling against public figures… and yet, they can feel just real as an army to the recipients of this abuse.
Such mass online assaults have led Miss Jones to Tweet that she is considering deleting her account.
I think today will be the day I get rid of Twitter. Gonna really be thinking on it. Not sure I want to need it anymore. Know what I mean?
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) March 8, 2016
At present, her account is still active, and she may or may not carry through on this threat, but a growing number of public figures have not only threatened to delete their accounts but have actually gone and ahead and done just that. This is such a problem, in fact, that even former CEO Dick Costolo admitted candidly to his employees that, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”
Despite laudable efforts to improve the situation, the simple truth is that nothing about this fundamental problem is getting any better. They’ve tried, for example, creating special versions of their app for public figures, which attempt to filter out the harassing Tweets, but this frankly amounts to pretending the problem doesn’t exist if it can’t be seen, as if these public figures would not become aware of it through any other channels like, say, the massive amount of news media attention these mass trolling incidents inevitably receive. That the harassment of Leslie Jones has taken place over recent days is proof enough that the problem remains fundamentally unsolved.
This is where the opportunity for Google Posts lay. While styled almost identically to Tweets (especially embedded Tweets in Google Search Results), Google Posts cannot be Commented on or Replied to directly; the accounts of their creators can’t be Followed or Mentioned; in fact, ordinary users can’t even create Google Post accounts, and it’s unlikely the average person will be given access to such an account any time in the foreseeable future. These Posts can be Shared to other networks, via email, or basically anywhere someone wants to share them, as a link back to the same Comment Free, Reply Free, Unfollowable Posts/Users.
In truth, most of these public figures probably aren’t interested in the ‘social engagement’ aspect of Twitter, or they immediately regret their interest as soon as angry digital mob shows starts flaming them and drowns out whatever positive engagement might otherwise exist. What they value about Twitter, then, is its reach as a microblogging platform for broadcasting news, feuds, relationship drama, and more, far more than they value the ‘community’ (if such it can be called) aspect of Twitter.
And that, likely not by coincidence, is precisely what these Google Posts cater to: broadcasting to the world, rather than engaging with the world. If the Leslie Jones’s and Joss Whedon’s of the world get fed up with their Twitter accounts, but don’t want to completely forego the benefits of ‘Social Broadcasting’ or settle for an alternative with far less Reach online, then their answer now seems obvious: Google Posts.
Of course, to be fair, Google Posts may not be fully ready for this prime time, one reason being that Google Post can’t be embedded as yet onto other websites and blogs. There is no real obstacle, however, to prevent Google from adding this capability in a future update should their early tests of the new feature prove successful, or adding other new features to bring Google Posts closer to parity with Tweets in any way that the former currently lags the latter. Even if adopted ‘alongside’ Twitter, Google Posts could easily come to eclipse them, as they’re owned by the Search Engine Company itself, and can be easily be given higher rankings and more prominent Search placement.
Twitter, in truth, has been coasting along for years thriving in this area, one of the few areas where they can claim any great (or monetizable) value as a product, only because no serious challenger has presented itself. With Google Posts now out there in the wild, though, the folks over at the Little Blue Bird Network are no doubt starting to sweat a little under the collar. If they’re not, they should be.
Without its dominance of ‘Social Broadcasting’, what does Twitter even have to boast about, apart from being the most technologically outdated network on the market today? They’re a House of Cards, built on a shaky foundation… and Google may be about to take the jackhammer to it.