Maybe you’ve noticed Twitter’s new analytics feature. Maybe you haven’t. I kind of wished I hadn’t. It gives you a break down of how many “impressions” and “engagements” your tweets have garnered; impressions refers to views, and engagements include how many people clicked the tweet to see details, how many liked or retweeted, how many checked out your profile, etc. Each individual tweet gets its own breakdown, and you can go to analytics.twitter.com to see a general survey of your activity, from overall “impressions” to profile visits, mentions, and followers.
This feature has made me feel woefully inadequate. I’m a pretty self-conscious person generally; every time I write a post for Cyborgology I dutifully check the stats, who’s linking to it, what comments I’m getting. If a well-known person links to my essay, I’m overjoyed. If it’s a bust, I’m absolutely convinced that I should never write again. Once someone on Facebook linked to my Feels Bad Man essay and I couldn’t see the post—presumably it was private. It drove a large number of visitors to the essay. But not being able to see what people were saying drove me up a wall. Did they like it? Hate it? I had no way of knowing. And this is how Twitter analytics makes me feel. Feels bad man.
I tweeted this about the experience, and watched the analytics in real time.
Out of 120 people who saw my (very witty) tweet, 11 clicked to see details, 4 people liked it, and 1 replied. And 104 went on about their day.
The experience made me think about all of the tweets I see and like but don’t “engage” with, and I can’t really explain why I interact with some tweets and not others. It’s a bit overdetermined, based on countless things like my mood, the amount I’ve been tweeting lately, who the user is, the subject matter, and on and on. And I know that just because I didn’t expand, like, or retweet a tweet doesn’t mean that it was bad, or that I don’t value that user’s contribution, or that I don’t care. I just… didn’t interact.
But Twitter knows that we care and, frankly, it’s preying on that fact. If you scroll to the bottom of a tweet’s analytics you find an advertisement for Twitter “promotions.” If you follow the prompts it eventually asks for credit card info, but doesn’t explain how much a promotion costs. Twitter doesn’t make it easy to see how pricing plays out in terms of actual cost; in fact, I wasn’t able to find a straightforward breakdown of costs anywhere, but estimates ranged in the thousands for promoted tweets, accounts, and trends.
Of course, advertisements, and industries more broadly, depend on your insecurity for their survival. 5 ways to remove belly fat. Deodorant that makes you irresistible to women. Chips that make your husband’s friends think you’re cool. Eyeliner that makes you look like Jennifer Lawrence. Capitalism cannot exist unless you feel bad about yourself and need to fill the gaping hole inside you with products. And Twitter analytics promises just that. Promote your tweet and more people will be “impressed.”
And for all the mental anguish that Twitter analytics puts you through—if you’re as self-conscious as me, anyway—what exactly does it give back? Not much, really. The analytics don’t teach you how to tweet better, how to reach a broader audience, or how to make a bigger impact. For example, last month the tweet on my account that got the most impressions also had zero engagement. People saw it and breezed by, not even clicking on it. And, of course, Twitter isn’t interested in making you a better tweeter, it’s interested in selling you promotional services.
Obviously, Twitter is a business and it needs to support itself. But what is the cost to users? Analytics like Twitters are exploitative—they prey on our insecurities and desires and fears; and, as Sarah Wanenchak has noted, those with compulsive disorders can face serious health risks when the option to track certain behaviors is unavoidable. With something like Twitter analytics, which can’t be turned off or hidden, users with various wellness concerns like social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, or a variety of other conditions can add Twitter to a long list of digital services that force us to quantify social relationships in ways that are often unhealthy. Yet another way that capital has evolved to exploit us far beyond our physical labor and into the realm of affect. In other words, Twitter is feasting on your feels. Which is kind of gross.
You can ignore Britney’s tweets here.
Edit: Thanks to Candice Lanius for inspiring this post when she too lamented Twitter analytics last week.