The Rise Of Mastodon: What It Means For Brands

As Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, continues to make changes to the network – including firing the ethical AI team, firing thousands of moderators, and making changes to the verification scheme that saw spoof brand accounts cause headaches for marketers – many Twitter users have been experimenting with other networks including Mastodon.

While Twitter users are exploring sites like Discord, Tumblr and Cohost, Mastodon seems to be the go-to alternative.

What is Mastodon?

“Social networking that’s not for sale.”

That’s the first message people see when they visit Mastodon’s website. 

Eugen Rochko founded Mastodon as a more democratic alternative to mainstream social networks. Its federated nature allows anyone to set up servers (instances) and create guidelines for their members.

“Your home feed should be filled with what matters to you most, not what a corporation thinks you should see. Radically different social media, back in the hands of the people.”

Mastodon has boomed in popularity since Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover, reaching more than one million members as of 11th November (up from 400,000 before 27th October). 

There are more than 5,700 instances on Mastodon, with over 4.5 million users (over 1.7 million active users in the past month. Some instances are large, like the flagship (180,000+) users, while others are smaller and serve specific communities like the LGBTQ+ community or special interests like sci-fi and fantasy.

Twitter ‘migrants’ are finding some key differences between the apps. For one thing, you need to choose an instance when signing up. Instances are a bit like choosing a Discord server, only you can follow people from other instances and see their posts in your home feed.

Mastodon gives users 500 characters to use and allows image, video and audio uploads, as well as polls.

It has a very strong culture of expecting users to add content warnings on a wide variety of content (such as NHS waiting times and political discussions).

Boosting (Mastodon’s version of retweets) is very important as the site doesn’t use algorithms to present content – you can just view your followers’ posts or view a timeline of all posts in your instance as they are published. Boosting helps you find people in other instances who you may want to follow.

Any instances that don’t abide by the core community guidelines aren’t promoted by the site (meaning that people from other instances can’t view content from that instance or interact with their users). Instances have been added to this list for spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories, harassment, inappropriate content, spam and hate speech, among other things.

Should brands be getting involved?

Many people are now experimenting with what they can do on Mastodon. 

However, it’s worth keeping in mind that the original users of Mastodon, and many people who have joined since, were attracted to the site because they were looking to move away from large centralized networks with algorithms, addictive elements and promoted content.

Elon Musk taking control of Twitter was the last straw for many who felt like they already weren’t in control of their online presence.

Things to keep in mind:

  1. Organic engagement would be the only option open to your brand, but may be hampered by the site’s federated nature. If you want your brand to get involved in Mastodon, you’ll need to find the appropriate instance to be part of. There are thousands of instances – their names aren’t always very descriptive either, so finding the right space to join may be tricky.
  2. Mastodon requires a more personalized approach. If you want to communicate with people outside of the instance you’re in, they’ll need to follow you first. Anyone can search Twitter and find branded tweets, but on Mastodon, the person either needs to be following you or in the same instance. So, there will need to be more 1-2-1 communication.
  3. Establishing your own, branded instance would be the best way to attract people who want to be part of your community. Those who run instances have the power to block users, read direct messages, delete posts and establish posting guidelines, so brands could very easily find themselves banned or silenced by an admin who doesn’t want them there. Anyone who runs an instance can also delete the instance (giving users three months’ notice so that they can transfer their account to a different instance and keep their posts and followers).
  4. Creating your own instance comes with its own set of challenges, such as moderation. Your brand will be responsible for the conduct of people on the instance, so you would need to establish clear guidelines and ensure the space is managed and moderated. Otherwise, users and the brand could be at risk (and possibly ostracized from the majority of Mastodon).

Unless Mastodon makes major changes to the way the site operates, it’s probably not worth brands experimenting on the platform, especially when there are other social networks where people are more likely to engage with brands.

What we’re advising brands on Twitter

Twitter continues to be in a state of flux. We’re advising brands to pause paid advertising and any proactive engagement on the site. 

But do keep replying to customer queries and comments, and monitor for any reputation issues (such as impersonation).

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