By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Fewer followers, more engagement: What I found in a Twitter-versus-Mastodon test

Can Mastodon be a workable substitute for Twitter? It may never be as big. But given that a lot of us are trying to figure out how to manage our social media presence now that Elon Musk is banning journalists, shutting off access to the API and just generally acting like petulant child, I was interested to see what happened the other day when I had a chance to test comparative engagement.

Since Dec. 11, I hadn’t posted anything to Twitter other than occasional tweets letting people know I had moved and where they could find me. On Friday, though, I decided to make an exception to let my followers know that I’d written an op-ed for The Boston Globe about how local news organizations can stand up to corporate chains. As of Sunday evening, I’ve gotten six likes and no retweets. Twitter claims that my tweet has been viewed 573 times, but who knows?

Twitter post

I posted the same thing on Mastodon, also on Friday. Right now I’ve gotten 24 likes and 37 boosts (retweets in Mastodon-talk). And when I posted a follow-up noting that I’d gotten more engagement on Mastodon than on Twitter, that got another 31 likes and nine boosts. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon servers don’t provide any metrics on how many views you’ve received, which, folks tell me, would be pretty much impossible given its decentralized nature.

Mastodon post

Now for some points of comparison: I have 18,900 followers on Twitter and 2,500 on Mastodon. Then again, on Twitter I have no idea how many are bots, users who haven’t logged on for years or people who’ve died. Plus my account is locked, and at this point I’m sure my followers are accustomed to my absence.

I joined Mastodon in November, so all of my followers are of recent vintage. Plus I’ve been quite active over there, using it pretty much the way I used to use Twitter. So in that respect the heightened engagement isn’t too surprising. Even so, the experience has given me one less reason to look back at what was.

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  1. Taylor Lorenz ran an experiment indicating that Twitter may be inflating view counts.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Yes, that’s why I said “who knows?” It may be somewhere between an accurate count and an outright hoax — sort of like when Facebook counted video views as anything that started to play as you scrolled through your feed.

  2. Hugh Morris

    At the bottom of the piece, links to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr and Pinterest. No Mastodon or fediverse.

    • Dan Kennedy

      I use an off-the-shelf theme — it is what it is. Also, there has been some talk on Mastodon as to whether it would even be possible given that the network is decentralized.

      • Hugh Morris

        OK, but Facebook and Twitter in particular have had billions of dollars in free advertising from the rest of the web. Almost every web page has their links. Almost every podcast and radio programme says follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter. Mastodon and the fediverse should have a piece of that action.

      • There needs to be a way to construct a “follow me on Mastodon” link that takes the person clicking it to their own Mastodon instance (if they have one) rather than to the “linkee’s” instance. This seems like a technical challenge, but probably not an insurmountable one.

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