diamond geezer

 Friday, February 03, 2017

As we saw yesterday, top website Londonist isn't what it used to be. As I'll explain today, neither are its tweets.

I've been keeping an eye on the Londonist Twitter feed over the last month, and have a list (far too long to publish) of every tweet Londonist has tweeted since Big Ben rang in the New Year.
» 5 London facts you'll want to tell everyone
» Are these London's prettiest pubs? We reckon so
» 7 secrets of the natural History Museum
» London's most relaxing events
» Love bagels? Love burgers? We tried the new Bagel Burger.
» Ever noticed the dome on top of Kennington Station?
Londonist's tweets are generally short and sweet, and rarely come close to filling the 140 character limit. Numbered lists are mentioned a lot, and tweets are frequently worded as a question, encouraging a response. There's often a hint that Londonist knows something you don't, providing all the more reason to click through, and the phrasing sometimes over-promises. But most importantly the tweets are simple, making them accessible to everyone, and they're relentless.

By my reckoning Londonist tweeted a total of 958 times in January 2017. That's a lot of tweets, indeed it's equivalent to an average of 31 tweets a day. Moreover this daily Twitter target is hit with impressive regularity - on almost every day in January Londonist tweeted somewhere between 29 and 33 times. Viewed another way, Londonist is firing out an average of one tweet every 47 minutes, which might be seen as somewhat excessive. If you're one of their 1 million+ Twitter subscribers, there's very likely a Londonist tweet sitting somewhere in your recent timeline.

It used to be, way back, that Londonist posted something new and then tweeted about it. This now very rarely happens. Instead a certain amount of gaming is going on behind the scenes to ensure that tweets are delivered at the most appropriate time. I've spotted that Londonist concentrates its tweets during certain key periods when the maximum number of readers will be viewing, and then goes quiet at other less optimal times. A typical day starts off with one tweet every 20 minutes between 5.40am and 8.00am, to give Londoners something to read over breakfast or on their commute. Things then go silent until 11.20am, followed by another burst over lunchtime between 12 noon and 1pm. The afternoon cluster kicks off at 3pm with tweets every 20 minutes until 6pm, to catch those bored in the office or on their way home. The final sequence runs from 8pm to 11.20pm, again every 20 minutes, as smartphone surfers relax at the end of the day. There are occasional tweets dropped in at other times, and the rules do seem to change from month to month, but this seems to have been January's underlying plan.

The key statistic to be aware of is that Londonist tweets four times as often as it posts. There were, if you remember, 224 fresh articles in January 2017, but there were also as many as 958 tweets. This massive imbalance could mean that Londonist is tweeting its fresh posts more than once, or it could mean Londonist is tweeting old posts to fill the gap. In fact it means both.

Of the 958 tweets last month, approximately 300 related to posts that Londonist actually published in January. That's about 30% of the total... let's be generous and call it one-third. This means that two-thirds of the time Londonist is tweeting about old stuff it posted months ago, sometimes last year, sometimes the year before, and occasionally further back than that. This is why it's become important for the site to have a back catalogue of non-time-dependent posts, because it's then possible to tweet them again months later, potentially several times. But it also means that for every three times you click on a Londonist tweet, two of these will lead you to an old post. If you've ever thought "oh, I think I've read that before" or "oh seriously, not that post again", this recycling of old stuff is why.
» Cumming Street to Helmet Row: the rude A-Z (from August 2010)
» London under water (from July 2013)
» Bet you didn't know all these things about the DLR... (from August 2014)
» 8 of the best independent trainer shops in London (from October 2015)
» Because frankly, Crossrail 1 is old news (from December 2015)
As a further example, last month food and drink made up 19% of Londonist's Twitter output, a percentage exactly in line with the proportion of food- and drink-related posts currently being published. But again it's old stuff which predominates. To be more precise, for every four tweets about food and drink only one related to something first posted in January 2017, and the other three were from the archive.

If you're the person who writes Londonist's tweets, this repetition of old material makes sense, optimising already-written collateral and generating income. But if you're the person on the receiving end then this diluted stream of tweets appears annoyingly stale and increasingly irrelevant. It's enough to make any long term Twitter follower consider unsubscribing.

Meanwhile, yes, Londonist is also tweeting its fresh posts more than once. About 70 of January's new posts were tweeted twice, that's 30% of the total, while 13 got the nod three times. Only two were tweeted as many as four times, that's these two, for reasons I don't fully understand.
» In pictures: 24 photos of beautiful London tube stations
» Why does Croydon have a different postcode system to the rest of the country?
What's peculiar about the first of these tweets is that the linked post actually contains 69 photos not 24, suggesting that the person who wrote the tweet can't count. What's more one of the 69 photos was of Drayton Park, which isn't a tube station, and incredulously this was the photo used to illustrate the tweet. It's since been removed from the post, but served its purpose because the prettier the photo the more people will share the tweet, and clicking through is what Londonist's presence on Twitter is all about.

A number of Londonist's pre-2017 posts were also afforded the honour of being tweeted at least four times last month, as follows...
» Pack a few mince pies and you're ready to go
» 11 London wetherspoons worth drinking in
» Alternative tours in London you will love: (sponsor)
» Don't just stay in London, have an experience: (sponsor)
» 13 unique things to do in London you will love: (sponsor)
The first of these tweets relates to Londonist's guide to The Best Bus Routes For Seeing Christmas Lights, a semi-fictional piece which I pulled apart in November for its shower of inaccuracies. Unbelievably this rubbish got tweeted eighteen times over the Christmas period, including four times in January when no right-minded person would have been interested in Christmas lights. The post has since been mysteriously deleted, but for a few weeks it was clickbait gold, as the tweet's alluring photo delivered thousands of Twitter users through to the Londonist website.

Notice how three of the other most-tweeted tweets were for sponsored posts. Londonist is scrupulously fair in flagging up its paid-for tweets, but they do perhaps get more than their fair share of exposure. Last month 5% of Londonist's tweets were sponsored tweets - that's one in every 20 - as advertisers made sure they got sufficient bang for their buck.

At the other end of the tweeting scale, about half of Londonist's January 2017 posts were only tweeted once. What's more some of these single tweets were at 6am on a Saturday morning, or half past eleven on a weekday evening, when a minimal number of people would have been looking. You might expect 'tweeting once' to be the norm, but it's a peculiar inconsistency when so many other new posts get more exposure, and perverse when Londonist's stream of tweets is so full of older stuff. Still, at least these single-tweet posts did better than the handful of posts that were never tweeted at all, often because they were a bit challenging, and so would have been barely read. It isn't the Londonist website which drives traffic these days, it's social media, so the number of readers a post gets is directly proportional to its exposure on Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile a fascinating and unlikely disconnect has developed between Londonist on Twitter and the Londonist website. You might expect that every new post would be mentioned on Twitter shortly after it's been posted on the website, but this rarely happens. Of the 224 fresh posts that appeared on Londonist in January 2017, only 45 were tweeted on the day of publication, the vast majority of which related to daily or weekly events round-ups. The other 80% of new posts had to wait at least a day before they got tweeted about, and the average delay is more like two days. It may seem mad, but this is another advantage of non time-critical posts - it doesn't matter when you tweet about them. Indeed if you want to keep up with Londonist's most recent posts then Twitter is the last place you should be looking, because the Londonist website is where it's at. Good luck finding all the new stuff on the bloated front page, buried underneath a wall of 24 'highlights' of indeterminate origin, but that's where all the new stuff is.

Londonist has over a million followers on Twitter, so what it chooses to tweet makes a real financial difference. For example, if only 1% of followers are tempted by a tweet to click through to the website, that's ten thousand extra pageviews, and ten thousand extra pageviews means more guaranteed advertising revenue. That's why every tweet is carefully crafted to encourage engagement, even if the reality's just a link to some old piece dragged out of the archive. And Twitter's not even the most important driver, that's bound to be Facebook, except I'm not on Facebook so I'll spare you an analysis of Londonist's January 2017 output there.

But 'clickability' is Londonist's true new mantra. The site needs readers to survive, else its writers don't get paid, and the modern way to gain readers is to attract them click by click. This requires a succession of tweets with clickbait triggers, a bottomless pit of non-chronological London-related posts on which to draw, and an ad-friendly website optimised for single landings rather than navigation. We live in an 'attention economy' where those who shout the loudest prosper, and otherwise intelligent offerings go to the wall.

And that's why top website Londonist is evolving. It still has dozens of excellent posts each month, but it's not a sequentially scrolling blog any more, its overall content is dumbing down, and its tweets are increasingly out of date.

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