Twitter Thread or Blog Post: Which is Best?

Popzazzle | Friday, 16 April 2021 |

"Many Twitter users believe the Tweets in a Twitter thread will get more views than a blog article, because people don't like hitting external links. But is this true?"


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Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

If someone had said back in 2009 that the social commentators of 2021 would be stringing together entire blog posts from individual, character-limited Tweets, they'd surely have been categorised as insane. But that's exactly where we are. For many users of Jack Dorsey's maverick-platform-gone-mainstream, there's no longer a need to find an external blogging service. If you want to post 800 words or even more, you just open that Twitter Compose box, and keep adding Tweets until you've kit-form assembled your "article".

It's technically a monumental mess. Still fraught with issues. But it's caught on, and dedicated blogging services like Blogger and WordPress must surely envy the amount of public engagement some Twitter threads now draw in.

So which is the best option for you? A trad blog post, or a Twitter thread? The first consideration would be whether or not you have an existing audience on Twitter. If not, and your sole goal is to write long-term, long-form content, forget about Twitter threads and start a blog. But if you do have an existing Twitter audience, and you mix short form and long-form content, you may find Twitter threads serve you better. The decision is far from simple, though. Let's start at the beginning...

WHEN DID TWITTER THREADS START?


Twitter threads with a single opening post, and replies from random contributors, have been around since the Twitter Reply function commenced threading conversations on 6th July 2012. But threads as an alternative to blog posts, in which one Twitter user would sequence a series of their own Tweets, didn't really hit the ground until 2014. On 8th March that year, @Support - since renamed @TwitterSupport - posted a quick guide to threading Tweets in the original, clumsy fashion...

How to thread your Tweets together:
1) Send a Tweet.
2) Click "Reply" on that Tweet.
3) Delete your @ username and send a another Tweet.

— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) March 8, 2014

But the process didn't go particularly viral at that point. Few grasped the advantages of it back then. If you load the above Tweet on Twitter, you see a limited burst of replies from 2014, and then a bigger burst of replies from 2017, when threading became a lot more popular. In December 2017, Twitter updated the interface to allow threads to be posted without any need to reopen the Compose box.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE THREAD TWEETS INSTEAD OF USING A BLOGGING PLATFORM?


I'll add some compelling reasons at the end of the post, but there are two reasons I want to deal with now, because they're the most fundamental, and they usher in the main analysis.

Reason number one is that a lot of Twitter users just can't be bothered to set up a blog. Simple as that. And there's also a psychological isolation with working on a blogging platform when you're used to being surrounded by your friends or allies on Twitter.

Reason number two is that many Twitter users believe the Tweets in a Twitter thread will get more views than a blog article, because people don't like hitting external links. But is this true? It depends on a range of factors. For example...

  • Who the audience is. Older audiences are slower to click or tap into threads than younger audiences, and are more likely to hit external links. And it matters how native the audience is to Twitter, who else the audience members follow, and how often the other accounts they follow use threads. Generally, just how much experience the audience has of delving into threads. If they're not used to doing it, they're much less likely to.
  • The type of subject matter. Socially-related and ideological subjects perform well in Twitter threads. “Nerdier” and more complex stuff may show little difference between thread engagements and external link engagements.
  • How the opening Tweet is worded. In particular, whether it entices an action from the reader. The opening Tweet should verbally bait a click either to the thread beneath it or to the externally-linked post - depending on which option you've taken. There are also some subtle tricks that can increase the number of thread reads. For example, beginning each Tweet with a numerical reference, such as 1/5, then 2/5, then 3/5, etc. This tells the reader that the opening Tweet is the first of five, and prepares them to look out for more. It also helps the reader identify if any Tweets have gone missing or fallen out of order. And it means if someone sees Tweet number four in a search, they'll spot the 4/5, and instantly realise, from the start, that it's a component in a five-part thread.
  • Whether any media is used in the opening Tweet, and how it's used.
  • The familiarity of the external blog or platform being linked to, and in particular, whether the external link is custom shortened via a free service like bit.ly. Links to known, reputable sites or platforms will drive more external visits than links to sites no one's ever heard of, and custom shortened links WILL lose you referrals. Bit.ly itself reports a 34% increase in engagement rate with a recognised, branded link versus an anonymised bit.ly link. A big difference - and that's just down to the wording in the link. Imagine how big the difference can be when you completely reword the whole opening Tweet.
  • Whether Twitter decides to hide any of the Tweets in the thread behind a clickwall - the dreaded “More replies...”. Clickwalling is particularly likely with newer and smaller accounts. Less likely with well-established accounts that have engaged audiences.
  • Whether one of the Tweets in the thread triggers a flag, or is reported, and gets hidden outright.
  • Whether Twitter messes with the order of the Tweets in the thread. The order can be corrupted if there's a significant disparity in engagement between Tweets. It's a fight between the logic of chronology and the qualitative priority of algorithms. Threads with corrupt ordering are less likely to be read in full, because they don't make sense.
That's just a selection of factors that determine whether a Twitter thread would get more reads than an external blog post. There's no definitive answer.

COMPARING THE STATS


If you're doing a straight stats comparison between Twitter thread impressions and blog post referrals, there are some other things to consider. Firstly, the impressions that show in Twitter's analytics for each Tweet in your thread, are not necessarily expansions from your opening Tweet. They could have come from entirely separate keyword searches, or from third party Retweets, etc.

Then there's the woeful unreliability of Twitter's external link click counter. Monitoring which traffic came to your blog post from Twitter can be really difficult. If you monitor from Twitter's Tweet stats you'll get an undercount.

That's because Twitter's hit counter records via the t.co domain, which is where the links on Twitter are set to refer. The t.co domain will then redirect the referral to the intended destination - i.e. your blog. It happens almost invisibly. But Twitter also displays the original URL as plain text, to let users know where they'll be going. And some software will convert Twitter's display URL into an actual link and use that instead, thus bypassing t.co and failing to count a hit. For this same reason, if you try to monitor from the blog side, some of the referrals will show as direct visits, rather than visits from Twitter.

One way to get an acceptably accurate total of external link clicks from a Tweet is to use a proxied transfer method and count via the proxy. A custom link shortener, for example. These generally stop people (or more likely their software) from bypassing the tracking system, because unlike Twitter, they hide the original URL until the user has passed the hit-counter.

If you're using Twitter Cards to display a title and post-snippet within Tweets, readers could theoretically copy the post title text, Google it, and then access the blog post from Google or another search engine. But very few readers will bother to do this, so broadly, a referral count from something like bit.ly will be accurate. Just remember, though, that unless you use bit.ly's paid service to remove the standard bit.ly URL and offer a link with recognised branding, you'll lose on average 34% of traffic due to the low trust factor of a custom shortened link.

Another way to get an accurate count is to add a UTM code to the URL, using Google Analytics.

WILL A TWITTER THREAD BE MORE VISIBLE THAN A SINGLE TWEET PLUS A BLOG POST?


A Twitter thread will almost definitely be more viral on Twitter than a single Tweet containing an external link, and there are multiple reasons for that. Not least that you're posting multiple Tweets, each of which has a separate, as well as a connected life. But unless you're famous, your Twitter thread is a lot less likely to be shared outside of Twitter than a properly formatted blog post. That's down to the issue of Twitter's transience versus search-indexed content's permanence.

Twitter is a “black hole” site, meaning it buries everything out of general view after a fairly short time. But a properly formatted blog post has much more chance of being ranked in the top Google results than a Twitter thread. How many times have you Googled something and found a Twitter thread on the first page of results?... I'm guessing never.

Part of the problem is that Twitter threads are still unreliable as pieces of content, and search engines seek to prioritise uber-reliable content that conforms to strict standards of user-friendliness. An assortment of separate content-containers (i.e. Tweets) that may or may not appear in the right order and/or in full, is nothing like reliable enough for major search engines. Twitter threads are a poor user experience. They also have no title, no formatting for sub-headings or text-styling such as italic and bold, etc... Twitter threads are an SEO disaster, basically. Even if they do extremely well, they'll probably have a shelf life of days. If a blog post does well on the search engines, you can easily be talking about a shelf-life of decades.

So the truth is, if you're after permanence, an external blog post makes a lot more sense than a Twitter thread.

But not everyone is looking for permanence. A lot of Twitter users are primarily seeking to maintain a subscriber list they can immediately access for promotional purposes or otherwise. For them, a Twitter thread is less about creating a lasting record, and more about building an immediate-access audience. Developing a personal brand.

Other advantages with a Twitter thread include not having to be too obsessive over research. The whole thing's probably gonna be buried within a week, and no one really expects Tweets to be heavily researched anyway. Plus, ideology evolves. People's current beliefs may have 180 U-turned in two years' time. When you're posting ideological material with permanence, that rapid evolution can come back to haunt you. But Twitter's chronological system normally destroys the visibility of ideological content long before it goes out of date.

And finally, of course, there's the most obvious advantage of all. Twitter is a social network, which means if you're looking for interaction, you're maximising your chances of getting it. Whether you want to be found by your favourite celebrity, or you just want to invite informed debate from people of science, a series of Tweets will give you much more chance of starting that conversation than an isolated blog ever could. You can even tag people at various points in your Tweet thread to bring them in. Something you definitely can't do on a blog.

It's your choice. It's not hard to see why Tweet threads have become a more popular blogging medium than many actual blogging platforms. The connectivity potential alone is unbeatable. But always stay aware of why you're using a Tweet thread as opposed to a blog post, and remember that ultimately, Twitter is an environment you don't control. If you really and truly want permanence, coupled with economy of workload in the long term, Twitter is no contest for a blog.