Throughout this semester I have chosen to review social media giants Twitter and Instagram, mainly because I use these two platforms the most. While I do have accounts on other social media platforms such as Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Snapchat, and Reddit, I rarely use them as much as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. As for Facebook, I do have an account that I check daily, but I feel like I interact and post more on Twitter and Instagram for a variety of reasons from features to flexibility.
This social networking service was launched in July of 2006 with the simple concept of having restricted messages called “tweets” (no, not twits, or twitters) which users could post and interact with other users by only using 140 characters. Compared to some social media websites, Twitter is minimal with three core features: tweets (made by the user), retweets (shared by the user but originally posted by someone else), and likes (which is when one user likes another users tweet, but isn’t posted on the user’s profile like a retweet.) Profiles are also simplistic, having only space for a profile picture, header picture, short bio, and tweets. Users can add pictures, gifs, and videos to tweets but are restricted to four photos and one gif or video per tweet, respectively. Twitter is also known for using the pound sign (#) to group things, events, and people together on the website under the name “hashtags.” In 2010, when Twitter introduced “Trending Topics,” or a list of the most tweeted about topics at any time in the site, the algorithm was best used to pick up topics that were hashtagged.
Over the past five years I have had three Twitter accounts and used this website as it has added and taken away features. My only active account, the one I use today, I have had for a year and it is public, meaning anyone can view it (@Awkwardly_Allie, if you want to follow me or see my attempts to be funny.) Personally, I check Twitter several times a day (if not every hour) and post every few days, depending on if I feel like I have anything worth Tweeting. In my experience, I have found that other users interact with my posts more when there are major events. I have gotten more retweets and likes when I hashtag #TWD or #TheWalkingDead while an episode is premiering than it would any other time because the topic is trending. I have also observed a lot of users I follow (such as @Dory, @TweetLikeAGirl, @FemaleTexts, @FillWerrell, and @SassyWhale to name a few) are just accounts with a pseudo user who has millions of followers by tweeting about relatable and trending topics. These accounts also take advantage of their large follower base by pushing products that aren’t advertisements in the conventional way. While Twitter does have clearly labeled “sponsored” content that is paid for like advertisements and pushed into certain places on a user’s feed, this new type of sponsorship through users that isn’t labeled as such, I think is a new direction advertising is going in-even though it is a little sketchy. While Twitter still doesn’t have conventional banner ads, recently it has added paid-for ads that play before users’ videos as well as having the previously mentioned “sponsored’ tweets.
Now, more than ever, Twitter’s algorithm is designed to fit each user in a custom way, having tweets on users’ timelines fit what the algorithm believes is the most important to the user. Until February of 2016 tweets only showed up on users’ timelines in a reverse chronological order, showing the latest tweets first. Personally, I didn’t like this change, and in the year that its been active I’ve found that I see more ads and “sponsored” content than before. I believe the algorithm has helped Twitter and advertisers reach their target market more precisely, but I also notice that it takes a lot of likes and retweets for average users to show up on my timeline compared to verified accounts, celebrity accounts, and users who have had a ton of interaction with a tweet.
Overall, I think in recent years Twitter has made a huge shift from being a timely social media site to one that is now a more formulaic platform that is on the forefront of advertising in our digital age. Now companies can interact directly with clients through their Twitter accounts, with opportunities to get more exposure and publicity without paying.
Unlike Twitter, Instagram developers were not looking to create a social media service in its early days, rather a mobile photo sharing app. The free mobile app was released in October of 2010 exclusively for iOS (or Apple operating devices) to let users share pictures either publicly or privately through the app or on a variety of other social media platforms at the time such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr. It wasn’t until April of 2012 that an app for Android devices was released. Instagram is more mobile than it is computer friendly, as it wasn’t until 2016 that it could be accessed on Windows 10 and still does not allow users to fully use their accounts away from their mobile devices. Like Twitter, Instagram profiles are simplistic with no albums or excessive tabs. A profile page only consists of a profile picture, short bio, and posts from users. Like on Twitter, users can choose to set their profile on public (meaning anyone can see your posts) or private (meaning only people who requested to follow you, and you approve can see your posts); users can also enable photos they are tagged in to be seen by followers. Instagram works on a strict “liking” system where users get likes for photos or videos they post from followers (or any other Instagram user if your account is set on public.) Also like Twitter, Instagram groups posts easily with hashtags and trends such as “Woman Crush Wednesday,” “Man Crush Monday,” “Throwback Thursday,” and “Selfie” growing rapidly due to this site.
Personally, I’ve used Instagram for over four years now, having a total of two accounts- one of which I have deactivated. The account I use today is public and linked to my Twitter account, so anyone can view it (it’s @awkwardly_allison if anyone wants to see lame photos of my friends and awesome photos of my pets.) My first account was private and, as I remember it, only offered a few filters, images could only be 4:3 aspect ratio, only short videos could be added, and there was little advertising done on the app. At that point in time, I mainly used the app to filter and edit my photos, only to turn around and post the edited versions on my Facebook. With my first account I hardly followed anyone or had any followers, and when I found better photo editing apps I deleted my account and the app. A few years ago, when I created my most recent profile, I utilized the functions of following and hash-tagging more, which in turn allowed me to gain more followers and receive more likes on my photos. I found that for a picture of me at a parade, using common hashtags like #NOLA, #MardiGras, #Beads all together on top of each other was effective in getting more likes. As annoying as I find it to hashtag up to seven or ten things in one post, I have found that it works the best for getting likes. I also love the interaction celebrities can have with their fans on Instagram, and in my own personal experience, I have found it more common than with Twitter. I’ve had an actor from one of my favorite television shows like a picture I tagged them in and have also had an executive producer on another one of my beloved shows followed me on Instagram at a convention.
Over the past few years, even more than Twitter, Instagram has been changing. Not only have they added an algorithm, similar to Twitter’s, which chooses the order users to see photos compared to when they were originally posted, they have also taken a popular feature from Snapchat called “My Story.” Just like Snapchat, “My story” allows users to put up temporary photos and videos with captions and stickers on a “story.” This differs from posts users put up because they only last for 24 hours and are found on different parts of the app. “My story” follows the same privacy guidelines as the user’s profile does; that being if a user has their account on private only approved followers can see what they post to the “story,” and users with public accounts have their story open to anyone who chooses to click on their profile picture. Ads can also play between stories, or as their own story.
Like advertising on Twitter, advertisements on Instagram have also become more predominate than they were previously. Most advertisements on Instagram play either between stories or in the user’s feed as if they were an account the user was following. Just like Twitter, these posts are labeled as “sponsored” and, I believe, do a pretty good job of reaching their targeted markets. Also, like Twitter, companies can make free accounts to interact with customers, giving them a communication line that was not always available.