We are witnessing the literal death spiral of X, formerly known as Twitter, in real time. In the face of a politically charged crisis in Israel and Gaza, X has made it harder to find content from credible journalists and easier for misinformation and propaganda to make its way to the top of feeds via the unverified blue check system.
Anyone who is still lingering on X, me included, saw a dramatic shift over the last week of people finally fleeing X. This is particularly true of media outlets and journalists. Threads, owned by Meta, seems to have been the beneficiary of the exodus, squeezing out Bluesky, which still insists on only allowing people to join with an invite link (an exception was made for journalists recently, though they will go where their audience goes).
Noting that we have been talking about the demise of Twitter/X ever since the company changed ownership, the volatility of the site (in content policies and technology) has made me and likely many of you start to question your journals’ presence on the site and the work required to maintain journal handles.
With that in mind, I was interested in an article last week about the changes in visitors to the National Public Radio (NPR) website after they left X. Spoiler alert: there were no significant changes.
While NPR’s main account had 8.7 million followers and the politics account had just under three million, “the platform’s algorithm updates made it increasingly challenging to reach active users; you often saw a near-immediate drop-off in engagement after tweeting and users rarely left the platform,” the [NPR] memo [to staff] says.
The reason this piqued my interest is because at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) we looked at the referrals from X to the journal website over the last 3 years. To understand the significance of what the reports show, you need to understand a little bit about the ASCO Journals Twitter/X journey.
Three years ago, there was one Twitter handle for all ASCO publications. This made for a less than ideal user experience when new articles from the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO) were mixed in the shuffle with news articles, ASCO Educational Book reviews, etc. After working with a social strategy team, we decided to launch Twitter handles for each of the 5 journals in November of 2021. JCO inherited the followers of the previous combined Twitter handle.
Part of the strategy also included paid social marketing, entirely on Twitter. Three paid campaigns were launched — one to build awareness of the new Twitter handles, one to encourage readership, and one to encourage submissions.
We have physician social media editors that write tweets/posts for every article published. And we have a contractor that helps us to improve the posts and monitor for activity and reposting.
The short story is that staff, contractors, and volunteer editors spend a lot of time crafting ideal posts for the journal handles. Additionally, we have invested in social content including infographics and video abstracts. All of this effort begs the question of whether it worked.
There are four metrics that we have focused on:
Increase in followers of each handle: Each journal has seen increases in followers. JCO, the largest account, increased by about 43% and the other journals also increased (2 started at zero as new accounts and 2 were “reactivated” from a previous incarnation).
Altmetric scores: Still includes usage on X but not yet pulling in stats from other social networks like Mastodon, Bluesky, or Threads. For a large clinical journal like JCO, the Altmetric scores are largely driven up by news coverage of the content and not posts on X.
Engagement with the tweets via comments and retweets: We have found that readers generally do not engage with content posted on the journal handles and we have had limited success with trying things like threads and tagging thought leaders. Where the engagement with journals content happens is with organic posting — an author or collaborator or thought leader will decide to post a journal article, summarize, and offer an opinion. These posts tend to enjoy a significant amount of engagement.
Usage of the content as measured by referral stats: Here is where things get interesting. Prior to us launching our individual journal Twitter handles in November of 2021, the referrals to JCO from Twitter hovered between 1-2% of referrals. The referrals to all five JCO journals since 2021 had not changed until very recently. I’ll say that again… all the effort to craft effective tweets or posts, include images and visual content, and curate with physician editors has not increased the usage of the content directly from X. Over the last 2-3 months, we have seen a drop in X referrals.
All of this raises the question of what value we are getting from X and possibly other social platforms. If we were to stop posting content, would anyone notice?
The answer to that question depends on where your community is consuming content. As of at least a month ago, it seemed that our oncology community was still going strong on X; however, we are monitoring that closely. As has been noted elsewhere, many people “leaving” X, keep their account on X but visit the site less frequently or go from active to passive participant. This may require a switch from “referrals” to “views” in the metrics used to monitor activity.
What old Twitter called “impressions,” X now calls views. It’s hard to tell if the definition changed and you can no longer access impressions data on older tweets (seems to indicate that views are different and they just deprecated all the previous data). That said, for an average post on the JCO handle with 48,000 followers, there are now only 2,300-3,300 “views” of that post. Unless someone else with a decent following picked up the post and reposted it, only 6-7% of followers see the post.
There are many reasons someone following a handle doesn’t actually see a post — timing, the user’s desire to scroll through a feed, or the users not going to the app at all.
There are very clear advantages to community-posted journal content. And using social media to promote new initiatives of a journal also has some effectiveness. Going through the work of developing social friendly content may be of value to users who only want to consume content on social platforms. The harder tasks seem to be the community building and driving usage that we hoped to see from social media. As noted in the article about NPR:
Twitter wasn’t just about clicks. Posting was table stakes for building reputation and credibility, either as a news outlet or as an individual journalist. To be on Twitter was to be part of a conversation, and that conversation could inform stories or supply sources. This kind of connection is hard to give up, but it’s not impossible to replace.
I don’t know what all this means if we now have to pack up our Twitter/X content and move somewhere else. Journal editorial offices have been putting time and effort into building and maintaining journal social media for about a decade. If given the opportunity, will we do it all over again?