Twitter have recently announced that they will stop supporting the API endpoint that allows developers to show how many times an article has been tweeted. Services such as Jetpack, Shareaholic or even the old fashioned Twitter Button can no longer display a number next to them.
Although announced a while ago, on the 20th of November 2015, Twitter have flicked that switch – and all those tweet counts have magically disappeared from the internet. That’s tough for those who have been relying upon those numbers to see how popular they appear to be.
Because logic dictates, the higher your share counts, the better a person you are: Those with less shares are quite clearly rubbish, while those with more are obviously the gods of the internet.
I always found that logic to be flawed: who cares how many times an article has been SHARED, if no one takes the time to read it? How many times have people retweeted or refacebooked something without ever clicking the link they’re sharing – just because the headline seemed meaningful?
It’s different for cat-pictures and one-liner gags of course, because whoever shares them will have most likely read the content in its entirety. But those creators with 500+ words per article, or those creating audiovisual content have seriously nothing to worry about. Share counts are not a realistic metric of how popular any writer, person or service is.
What is far more interesting is how many times an article has been read by a human, and how much user interaction a piece gets.
Take this site for example: it’s a seemingly random collection of informational tidbits I’ve written for myself, just so I won’t forget. There really is no cohesive subject here. You could argue I’ve been primarily writing about 3D and graphics for the last year, yet one of the most popular articles is about the difference between HDCAM and HDCAM SR I wrote in 2010. It’s been viewed over 12.000 times, so it’s clearly interesting to some humans.
But since its publication, it only ever had a single Twitter and Facebook Share.
I see a similar trend on my other websites too: something I’ve written years ago, almost in passing, full of spelling mistakes and seemingly without focus keeps people coming back – while other more carefully worded articles do not garner much interest, even though they may have been retweeted several dozen times. Some of my iOS Articles for example have been viewed close to 50.000 times, have dozens of user comments, but they’ve seen less than a handful of social shares.
So there you have it, my two cents on this hotly debated issue. Stats and comments are interesting, while Tweet Counts and Facebook Shares aren’t important. They don’t relate to what people actually read. If anything, they confuse your audience as to how popular an article is.
Let me leave you with one final thought here about stats in general. Stats can be interesting, but they’re nothing to live and die by: if the steady flow of visitors or social followers would disappear overnight, it wouldn’t stop me from writing. I think some content creators forget who they’re creating content for. But I guess that’s “to each his own”. I personally do it for me and my future self, rather than an audience of anonymous users whom I will likely never see again.