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April 18, 2023

Costs of verification and API access on Twitter could outweigh benefits for publishers

“What news outlets need most now from Musk is clarity, consistency and a period of digital calm."

By Bron Maher

Twitter may start to become “more of a liability than it is a benefit” according to some social media experts who told Press Gazette it could be wise to invest more heavily in other online spaces like Linkedin and Substack instead.

[Read more: Twitter is facing an exodus from its most devoted followers – journalists]

What’s changed in Twitter’s relationship with news publishers?

Last week, American non-profit NPR, publicly-funded PBS and a clutch of regional newsrooms said they would no longer post to Twitter. In NPR and PBS’ case, the exits were prompted by Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s decision to have them labeled first as “state-affiliated media” (like Russia’s RT or China’s CGTN) and then as “government-funded media”.

The departures came not long after Musk stripped The New York Times of its “blue tick” – the checkmark which, under old Twitter rules, guaranteed a user was the person they claimed to be. The NYT had announced it would not pay the $1,000 per month required to have a gold tick, the new verification symbol for businesses, although its executive editor Joe Kahn has since said the publisher is “not looking to kind of lead the boycott of Twitter” and would continue to use the platform.

Antoine Amann is chief executive of social media automation and analytics service Echobox, whose customers include News UK, The Guardian and The Telegraph. He told Press Gazette: “Many publisher clients of ours are unsettled by the rapid changes on Twitter – one customer even told us ‘Elon Musk is giving me grey hairs’…

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“In a preventative move, some of our customers jumped on the Mastodon ship when Twitter showed its first signs of big changes under Elon Musk’s leadership. And over the past couple of weeks, some clients have questioned whether it would be a strategic move to step away from Twitter completely.

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“This would have been unthinkable just a year ago.”

The changes to verification ticks are perhaps the most visible effect of Musk’s tussle with news publishers. But arguably more significant to the news industry have been the charges he has introduced for access to Twitter’s API (application programming interface).

Twitter’s API allows software developers such as Echobox to build programmes that interact with the platform – for example, an app that makes it easier to schedule tweets en masse.

As social media expert Matt Navarra told Press Gazette: “If you’re a publisher that’s got integrations built into its workflow, into its CMS… things just got a lot more expensive.”

Before Musk took over Twitter the platform already had paid API access plans targeted at businesses, but it also had a free “essential” plan that allowed apps to post up to 300 tweets every three hours.

The new free access plan only allows users to post 1,500 tweets a month – i.e. 30 tweets per day. Any developers hoping to increase that limit to 3,000 tweets a month would have to pay $100 a month to Twitter. Going higher still could cost $42,000 a month.

Navarra said: “For many publishers that have been doing anything like that it’s going to become prohibitively expensive and probably the value exchange – the benefit of it versus the cost of it – isn’t going to weigh up anymore…

“I think increasingly a balance is going to tip in favour of ‘it’s now not worth us being here’ and it’s actually becoming more of a liability than it is a benefit.”

Martina Andretta, head of social at Press Gazette’s sister title The New Statesman, said she felt “news publishers have now actively started to develop other strategies and to be less reliant on Twitter.

“With the new API changes affecting workflows and scheduling platforms, as well as the concerns regarding misinformation and overall reduced reach, many news organisations will make Twitter less of a priority.”

Twitter seen as a small but important platform for publishers

Despite the amount of discussion time given to Twitter, it makes up a small part of most publishers’ referral traffic, with Facebook generally much larger. It makes up less than 2% of NPR’s traffic, while Chartbeat data published by Press Gazette last week suggested Facebook generated more than eight times as many page views for publishers than Twitter over the past year.

While Twitter may not be a major driver of traffic, few publishers would turn down the clicks they do get from the platform.

“From a traffic perspective, our research indicates that Twitter remains an important platform for publishers, and news outlets in particular,” Echobox’s Amann said.

“Data from our 2022 Benchmarks Report shows that Twitter generates more than 10% of all social traffic for international and national news outlets. It’s therefore unsurprising that many are choosing to remain on Twitter for now and ride out any potential changes.”

He said his company’s latest annual publisher survey, which is due to be published soon, found that “84% of respondents said Elon Musk’s takeover had not changed their approach to publishing content on Twitter”.

Ian Silvera, editor of Future News, made a similar point: “With around 240 million monetisable active daily users, Twitter still offers news outlets a large base of prospective consumers, viewers and readers.

“We also know that Twitter, unlike some of its peers and rivals, is seen as a go-to social media platform for news content. Journalists and politicians, in particular, have flocked to the platform over the years to share their thoughts, insights and breaking news stories.”

Navarra agreed, saying: “Having a presence there is needed, I think… For journalists, it’s more about using Twitter as a channel for news – it used to be the place to go for the latest breaking news and to engage in news topics, and it was certainly a lightning rod for that kind of discussion online.”

He suggested the likes of the BBC, Sky News and regional titles would “probably still [have] enough value in being there and there isn’t enough sort of brand safety, reputational risk from continuing to use the platform at this stage. But I think that [Twitter is] in a volatile and precarious position.”

He therefore said he would not be surprised if “in certainly the next three to six months… we see maybe one or two other publishers dip away [from Twitter]. It’s a question of how many more [are] going and at what rates they start to drop out.”

The New Statesman’s Andretta said: “In my opinion it’s still too early to say if more will follow in NPR‘s steps and quit completely.”

Publishers should become ‘less dependent’ on Twitter

Amann, meanwhile, sounded a cautionary note: “I believe publishers must recognise that these recent developments illustrate how Elon Musk’s policies are undermining journalism,” he said.

“If Twitter continues on this trajectory, publishers would be well-advised to make themselves less dependent on Twitter and other social media platforms which are undergoing significant changes. We are encouraging publishers to future-proof their traffic channels by strengthening their owned and direct-to-reader channels instead, like email newsletters.”

[Read more: The platforms lining up to replace Twitter – and what they offer publishers]

Andretta said The New Statesman was among the publishers seeing what other social options were available.

“Some in the field have identified Linkedin as a channel with the most potential – Reuters’ survey shows that,” she said. “And the Linkedin team themselves are investing in developing that relationship with publishers, which is encouraging to see.

Substack is another channel that the New Statesman is exploring, and I think there’s huge potential there, especially with the introduction of Notes.”

Future News’ Silvera, meanwhile, had advice for Musk himself.

“What news outlets need most now from Musk is clarity, consistency and a period of digital calm. In the short term, Twitter risks losing these organisations and their thousands of employees to other established platforms and an insurgent Substack.

“A bit of media wooing wouldn’t go amiss.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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