Opinion: Should freelancers start ditching Twitter?

Since Elon Musk took charge, a number of high profile celebrities and power users have quit the social network. But should freelancers start ditching Twitter? And what alternatives are there?

It’s been 15 years since I signed up to start tweeting, and the world has changed a lot since then. But despite Vine, Spaces, Twitter Blue and an increasingly irritating algorithm promoting contentious content in my timeline, not much has really altered in the core way I use the network. And the acquisition by Musk is certainly the biggest change to an ‘established’ social media site in many years.

You’ll have your own opinions of the Tesla, SpaceX and now-Twitter boss. And your own approach to whether you use social media, and how you utilise it for your personal and work life. You might be celebrating the change, or have already left. But if you’re trying to decide what’s best for your freelancing career in general, should you quit Twitter?

The short answer is possibly, but not yet.

While it’s not the biggest social network in terms of users (Facebook boasted 2.9 billion monthly active users (MAU) at the start of 2022 compared to 436 million for Twitter, according to various sources), it still boasts a significant community. And while some notable users have quit, social inertia means most will stick around for some time yet, regardless of what happens.

If you’ve ever tried to get a group of your friends to try a new pub or restaurant, you’ll realise that it takes a critical mass of them to switch before it becomes your new regular haunt. And people are slow to change.

A second reason to stick around is that the design and userbase of Twitter means it’s still one of the best options for breaking news and updates. It’s always attracted journalists, publishers and news junkies, meaning that if you’re freelancing in an area which is subject to a lot of change, you’ll typically hear about it first on Twitter. And that’s also not going to change overnight.

And if nothing else, the final reason to stick around is watching Elon Musk apparently go through that familiar freelancing feeling of signing up a new client or agreeing a new contract, and then immediately wondering If you’ve made a terrible mistake. Whether or not he’s successful in growing user numbers and revenue, or there’s a gradual decline over time before he looks to exit, his inability not to constantly share updates means you’ll get to observe some useful business lessons in real time.


Securing your social media future

Sticking with Twitter for the time being doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check out the alternatives, or back-up your data in case there’s valuable information you want to keep secure. All of the main social networks are owned by private or public companies, and accounts can disappear overnight due to accidents or glitches even if you’re not infringing any rules.

You might find one network works best for your business, and tend to focus your efforts there. But it’s always good to have a back-up plan on a couple of other networks. If you decide to quit Twitter overnight, then having a following on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, WhatsApp, or TikTok will mean you can direct people elsewhere, and you still have a way to reach an audience.


Checking out alternatives to Twitter

Ever since Twitter first launched their short update approach to social networks back in 2006, various alternatives have also appeared.

The main service being promoted by people leaving Twitter in 2022 is Mastodon. Around since 2016, the big difference is that the software is free and open source. Independent servers run Mastodon, generally around a particular topic or geographic location, but you can interoperate with users on other servers as part of a federated social network.

If that all seems a bit complicated, you’re not alone. And user numbers are low (around 1 million MAU). But if you miss the early days of Twitter when follower counts were in the hundreds and you could have meaningful public conversations, it’s worth persevering.

Many of the other direct alternatives to Twitter were created to appeal to users who are politically conservative, or further to the right, including Parler, GETTR and Gab (which has been banned from both Google and Apple app stores).

Other services which have a similar approach to social networking include new option Cohost, and Plurk, which has been around since 2008. Or you may want to explore Discord, which started as a chatroom system for gamers, but allows anyone to create their own community, or to join multiple Discords to cover all of their interests.


It’s like the early days of the internet once again…

Humans are creatures of habit, especially as we get older. It’s been great to see the changes at Twitter not only spur people into exploring alternatives, but also relive some of the experiences of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it seemed like new search engines, social networks and software appeared every day.

Before the internet consolidated into Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, it was messy, confusing, and arguably a lot more fun. With a teenage son, I’m painfully aware how easy it is to assume that established rules and best practice guides are written in stone. And that older freelancers and self-employed veterans can get stuck in routines.

You don’t need to rush to delete your Twitter account, or go all-in on a new social network. But why not use it as an opportunity to experiment and try some new things to shake up your freelancing a little?


Read more of Dan’s previous opinion columns on freelancing here, including bad briefs, living with another freelancer, and why everyone should be self-employed at least once in their careers.