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Twitter vs. Mastodon: The Marketing Reality

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Will Mastodon provide safe harbor for marketers amid a growing Twitter exodus?

While there’s still a long way to go for Mastodon to catch up with Twitter’s 238 million daily active users, the decentralized social network’s recent announcement it reached 1 million monthly active users could create fertile ground for a Twitter takeover.

Fears spawned by an increase in posts encouraging hate speech and conspiracy following Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, led to a swell of users and brands making the decision to jump ship in an effort to avoid association — and left marketers asking what to do amid the Mastodon vs. Twitter debate.

Some Marketers Still All in on Twitter

Khalil Garriott, vice president for creative content and copywriting strategy with the American Bankers Association, said he currently has no plans or interest in joining Mastodon.

“As a Twitter power user since January 2011, I am still all in on the little blue birdie,” Garriott said. “I’ll admit to not knowing much about Mastodon. I understand that its feed is presented in chrono order instead of algo-based, and I gather that it is an ad-free platform. Both of those seem to be benefits, which might entice me to explore it in the future. So, it’s a wait-and-see approach for me.”

While Garriott waits it out, Mark Freeman II, a senior data scientist at Humu, jumped right on. As someone who provides his audience with content on data and technology, he said he ultimately chose Mastodon for one simple reason — his target audience is already curated.

Mastodon provides access to individual communities, called “instances” or servers, and Freeman is currently part of an “instance” consisting solely of data professionals.

“What's more exciting is that many of the people I'm meeting on Mastodon are not on LinkedIn and thus increasing my reach to new audiences," Freeman said. "In addition, even though my 'home' instance is curated for data professionals, I can still reach other communities indirectly since Mastodon is federated. Thus, my current strategy to grow on the platform is to create two types of content, data content for my 'home; community and meta content about Mastodon with hashtags utilized by other communities.”

Related Article: What Is Mastodon, the Red-Hot Open Source Twitter Rival

Is Twitter Experiencing a Mass Exodus?

So who is leaving Twitter? In analyzing more than 3.1 million accounts on Twitter, Bot Sentinel believes approximately 877,000 accounts were deactivated between Oct. 27-Nov. 1.

According to PR Week, several brands including General Motors, General Mills, Volkswagen Group, Pfizer and United Airlines have announced a “pause” on Twitter ad. Ad-purchasing goliath, Interpublic Group, recommended its clients, which include Coca Cola, Accenture, American Express, Fitbit, GoPro, Johnson & Johnson, Levi Strauss & Co, Mattel, Spotify and others, followed suit.

In a call to action, the NAACP and nearly 50 other organizations wrote an open letter to Twitter's 20 largest US advertisers, calling on them to make a public announcement of their intention to “cease all advertising on Twitter globally” if Musk “follows through on his plans to undermine brand safety and community standards including gutting content moderation.”

NAACP CEO and President Derrick Johnson tweeted that “Until he makes this a safe space for all communities, companies cannot in good conscience put their money behind Twitter.”

Related Article: Will the Musk Takeover Rescue or Wreck Twitter Marketing?

Should Leaders Flock to Mastodon?

George Davidson, founder of the marketing consultancy The Lantern and adjunct instructor on Consumer Behavior and Marketing Strategy at the University of Chicago, said it’s not clear Mastodon will take off. However, brands that like to be first in a space and show their customers they're leaders, had better get a move on, he added.

“This in itself, may create some momentum for Mastodon and who knows what can happen when a Mastodon gets momentum?” he said.

Davidson applied for Mastodon account but said the rush in the UK has been so great, they are currently processing a backlog. He foresees two big possible impacts for marketers.

“First, Twitter has advertising and Mastodon does not, so marketers used to paying for adverts will have to create compelling creatives that are interesting enough to get shared,” Davidson said. “Secondly, we are used to a rush to claim names online through bagging website addresses and Twitter handles. Owning your own name online has been difficult in the wild, wild web in the past. On Mastodon, you have to make a case to the person running your local server, and that ought to favor marketers who feel they own their own name. You just have to persuade the server owner they agree.”

Check out Michelle Hawley's thorough examination of what Mastodon servers actually are and other important information on Mastodon.

How Do You Actually Move on from a Social Media Platform?

Curtis Sparrer, principal and co-founder of Bospar, said he often finds the "wait and see" approach cowardly; however, he does think this might be a moment when it's a good idea. 

"While some are fleeing Twitter, this creates an opportunity for some brands to command a stronger share of voice. That said, this is a time for brands to take a serious look at what constitutes their redline when it comes to Twitter," Sparrer said. "In other words, what are the moments that make sense for your brand to publicly disassociate yourself from the platform? And, should that redline be breached, what is your communication strategy to make your position known so leaving Twitter doesn’t seem improvised, but rather part of a thoughtful communication strategy befitting of your brand?"

For brands that elect to leave Twitter, he recommends a creating a blog, a video testimony and a social media play with other outlets to demonstrate that you have moved on past Twitter and Elon Musk.

The Musk Effect: A Twitter Takeover

After months of machinations, Musk completed his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter on Oct. 27 — and the same day addressed the advertising community in a tweet titled, Dear Twitter Advertisers, sharing his desire to make Twitter the “most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens your brand and grows your enterprise.”

And despite previously tweeting “I hate advertising” in 2019 — he now urged advertisers to join him in building “something extraordinary together” and insisted the platform would not become “a “free-for-all-hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences.”

According to Investopedia, the majority of Twitter’s revenue (nearly 90%) is generated through selling ad space on its platform to global advertisers — bringing in $4.5 billion in 2021.

Just a few days after Musk’s takeover, Montclair State University released a study revealing a significant spike in hate speech on the platform just prior to — and immediately following — Musk’s acquisition. nd within the week, amid a mass reduction in staff, Musk admitted the company was losing more than $4 million a day, something he attributed to “activist groups pressuring advertisers.”

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: The Impact of the Musk Twitter Deal on Social Media Strategies

Should You Stay or Should You Go: Mastodon vs. Twitter

Rachel Happe, founder of Engaged Organizations, said she doesn’t think most marketers will leave Twitter for Mastodon — at least until there is more there. But she recently told her Twitter followers to follow her on Mastodon “should Twitter either go up in (flames) or become a hell hole.”

“I am not leaving Twitter yet — just hedging my bets,” she told CMSWire.

Benjamin Goh, managing partner BCG said Mastodon could be the way forward for social media apps on the open-source platform. “I used to be active in Twitter, but it’s not popular in Southeast Asian countries where most of my contacts are located, so I’ve stopped using it,” Goh said. “As for Mastodon, my initial inquiry with my network is that most of them have not even heard of it. I guess it will require some time before it gains some significant presence here.”

Bret Smith, CEO and founder of HIPB2B, quit Twitter two months ago, leaving 70,000 followers behind. “As for Mastodon, not seeing lots of upside for B2B yet so will wait and see,” Smith said.

Marketers Can 'Safely Ignore Mastodon'

David Meerman Scott, the author 12 books including “The New Rules of Marketing and PR," wrote about Mastodon back in 2017 in a blog “Mastodon Is Better Than Twitter But You Should Ignore It.”

Five years later, he told CMSWire his thoughts remain the same.

“I just don’t believe that people will switch in any significant numbers," Scott said. "As I said in the post, when a new social network pops up and the defining characteristic is that it is like another social network but better, it’s doomed,” Scott said. "I think marketers can safely ignore Mastodon. I do not think that this little flurry of interest is sustainable, and I do not think that Mastodon or any other social media service will take the place of Twitter. Throughout history, social networks that pioneer a new model can thrive — Instagram, TikTok come to mind — but copycats like Google Plus fail.”

Decentralized Mastodon Could Be Appealing

While Mastodon isn’t nearly as populated at Twitter at the moment, Zacharias Joseph, chief ideations and operations officer at ZACH Multimedia, said that’s exactly where opportunity lies. The decentralized nature of Mastodon should be very attractive to the crypto community.

“A rapid scaling up can help Mastodon pull near or alongside Twitter, especially with the anger of large sections of users, including me, against the childish, capricious manner in which Elon Musk conducts the business and himself,” Joseph said. “Before marketers join the bandwagon of Mastodon with just one million users, Mastodon has to aggressively market itself globally.”

At the moment, he said, it appears Mastodon is a bit slow-moving and needs to be out there aggressively with innovative schemes to ramp up the numbers quickly, especially using the zeal of the newly converted. In addition, a top priority should be to ensure the ease of signing up.

“I tried to join and will join, but the first time I tried I found the process too irksome, so I left it halfway through,” he said. “I am not familiar with the behind-the-screen architecture of Mastodon, and how to work around it, but if Mastodon can provide a unified face for the various federated servers, then the navigation and sign-up functions for customers could be considerably eased, and that would have a force multiplier effect.”

Related Article: Evaluating Elon Musk's Plan to Fix Twitter

Is Community the Key to Social Platform Success? 

Evan Hamilton, director of community at HubSpot and former director of community and customer experience for Reddit, said he was part of the first wave to join Mastodon.

“Having been at Reddit during the long cleanup to get advertisers to return and seeing the challenges of driving subscription adoption, I don't have a lot of faith Twitter is going to thrive in the coming months,” Hamilton said. “I joined Mastodon to secure my username and explore. Marketers should absolutely do this — it's good to explore new territory — but I worry that the complexity of Mastodon and the difficulty of moving your audience will keep it from taking off.”

Hamilton said the buzz he’s hearing from people is that they're realizing Twitter (or at least corners of it) had a culture. They're not so much lamenting the potential loss of a tool to communicate — because there are plenty of those — but the loss of the culture.

“So, while I think Mastodon, LinkedIn and others will get some bump, I actually think what people are realizing they want is a community, not a public-commons,” Hamilton said. “I predict we'll see more sustained growth in communities focused on specific interests and practices. ... I encourage marketers to think about how they can invest in building owned communities or participating in communities run by others."

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