Nov 20, 2022

What to Do About Twitter

It ain't what it used to be.

Your image title text

I hate to get all navel-gazy, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Twitter recently and I wanted to write down some thoughts.

Like many people, I am saddened by the decline of Twitter since the Elon Musk takeover. While Twitter was not without problems before Musk, it was a vibrant social network, and one of the main acquisition channels for R for the Rest of Us.

Since I started R for the Rest of Us in 2019, I have slowly but steadily built up its Twitter account. As of now, it has over 17,000 followers (my own personal account has over 6,000). I have grown it by tweeting and retweeting R tips every day for over three years. With this following, I then use the account to promote paid offerings. In addition to people who find out about courses and other offerings directly from Twitter, the R for the Rest of Us account has built up awareness of the brand. Many people say they know of R for the Rest of Us because of its Twitter presence.

The R community has always been on Twitter. The #rstats hashtag is a treasure trove of useful tips. I always tell people that most of what I know about R comes from Twitter – and I’m not joking. I’ve also met people through Twitter who have helped the business grow. Every one of my contractors came from Twitter. We’ve gotten consulting contracts through Twitter connections.

Now, as Elon Musk seeks to reshape Twitter is his megalomaniacal image, I fear this will all change. I continue to post on Twitter, but with increasingly mixed feelings. I despise everything about Musk and I really don’t like supporting him in any way. But, at the same time, if I simply stop using Twitter, I’m likely to lose customers. I don’t want to support Musk, but I shop on Amazon all the time, a company whose business practices I abhor. Life is complicated, cut-and-dry choices are few and far between.

There may come a point when I simply cannot stomach supporting Musk. Another likely scenario is that Twitter’s user base declines to the degree that it is no longer as useful as it once was. If the popularity of Twitter declines, it no longer makes sense to continue using it to the degree I do now.

Many R users have moved to Mastodon. I admire the goals of this project, but I can’t see it replacing Twitter. Comparisons between Mastodon and Linux (clunky tools only for those interested in constant futzing) seem apt to me. Existing R users may coalesce on Mastodon, and I will likely use it to connect with them. But Mastodon is just too nerdy to become a place where those who don’t yet use R hang out. I don’t know where I’ll connect with these people through social media.

But maybe I don’t need to continue to use social media as I have in the first 3+ years of R for the Rest of Us. Maybe Twitter was a useful tool to establish the business, but I no longer need a direct replacement moving forward. My website analytics would argue for this. In 2022, I’ve gotten 120,000 visitors from Google search traffic and only 14,000 from Twitter. Fourteen thousand ain’t nothing, but it’s almost a tenth of my Google traffic. Maybe I should open more time creating new blog posts that help with SEO? The stats would certainly argue for this.

I don’t know what I’ll do about Twitter and other social media. But seeing how Elon Musk has come in and, in just a few weeks, trashed an institution built up over the years by its users, I just feel sad. Twitter has long been an important part of my professional life. I have no idea what role it, or any other social media platform, will serve in the future.