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Twitter Alternative: We Used Mastodon for a Week - Here's What We Found

Twitter Alternative: We Used Mastodon for a Week - Here's What We Found

When working in digital, it's natural to want to test everything that comes onto the market, whether it's ease-of-work tools or social networks.

While we're still persuading colleagues and friends to install BeReal because it's so cool to "capture" random moments during the day, our attention has also been drawn to Mastodon, a social platform considered an alternative to Twitter that, in the hands of Elon Musk, seems doomed. Dissatisfaction with the direction the famous blue bird is taking has led users to seek a new online space where they can express themselves more comfortably.

Mastodon isn't a new social network, but it's currently having its moment. Launched in 2016 by developer Eugen Rochko, who aimed to "fix" everything he no longer liked on Twitter or considered problematic. As another microblogging platform, Mastodon may remind you of Twitter, although there are some essential differences between them.

One of the most significant differences is that Mastodon isn't owned by a single company; rather, it's a network of servers run and moderated by its members. This means Mastodon can't be sold, operates on a non-profit basis, is open to all, and relies almost exclusively on user support.

Naturally, one might question the sustainability of this kind of system. At best, enthusiasts can continue to work on its maintenance and use it as their "backyard" to hang out in. However, there's another scenario that may not be desirable at this time – monetization. Historically, this has involved other companies investing funds, which inevitably leads to expectations. This risks Mastodon losing its original purpose. Finding a different way to monetize this idea could pave the way for a bright future for both parties involved.

Is there Potential for Brands and Advertising?

With over 1.8 million active monthly users, Mastodon has convinced us that decentralization can be a positive force and has reminded us of the "old internet," which embodied elements of utopian freedom. It fosters nice, decent communication and a good vibe without insults, fights, and hate speech. As Rochko explained, the solution isn't simply creating a Twitter clone without Elon Musk but embracing a completely different paradigm of social networks.

However, while nearly 2 million users may sound like a substantial number, it's essential to remember that this is only 0.1% of Facebook's user base and 0.3% of TikTok's. Therefore, when compared to the social media giants, Mastodon's numbers are quite modest.

Mastodon might seem daunting at first, but if you're familiar with Reddit, navigation becomes easier. After creating a profile, you select an "instance" or server to follow (mastodon.online being the most popular), each with its own spheres of interest and behavioral rules. If you're not satisfied, you're free to leave and find a more suitable environment.

You can create posts in various formats like photos, polls, text, audio, and videos, much like other social networks. After a week of using this platform, I noticed that users are friendly and willing to support your content, following the "like for like" rule.

Despite covering personalized and interesting topics, Mastodon didn't draw me into endless scrolling. Instead, it felt like visiting my favorite media app to quickly stay informed about current events and then move on with my day.

Another aspect I appreciated as a user are the segmented sections on the home page. "Posts" display trending topics, "Hashtags" show popular hashtags across servers, "News" provides trending news with links, "Community" aggregates posts from your server, and "For You" suggests who to follow, delivering more relevant content.

Mastodon has three timelines - the home feed contains posts related to everything you follow, arranged chronologically (a significant advantage!), the local feed shows posts by people from your Mastodon community, while the federated feed gathers all public posts from this network. Instead of a tweet, it's called a toot; instead of a retweet, it's a boost; instead of a like, it's a favorite... Everything is essentially the same, just with slight differences because, at the end of the day, you can't deviate too much from established rules and user habits on social networks.

Mastodon earns bonus points from me for its chronological feed, robust personalization (you can customize and tweak almost anything to follow only what's important and interesting to you), the ability to express more characters (500 compared to Twitter's 280), and the fact that advertising has not yet infiltrated here, sparing users from advertisements. This is great news for users, but is it good news for brands considering this platform for advertising due to Mastodon's potential?

Despite the numbers, brands must be where people's attention is. However, it's crucial to tread carefully - Mastodon users are "allergic" to commercial content and have turned to alternatives. Yet, even they can be engaged by brands. How?

Everyone is currently discussing the concept of dark social, and Mastodon embodies this idea. Closed groups that communicate and share values are more valuable than disconnected masses. Therefore, influence within these groups is highly valuable. Success here hinges on whether our brand and product genuinely solve users' problems. If a product significantly improves someone's life, they'll be eager to share it, especially where they find like-minded individuals, which currently includes Mastodon users. They then become enthusiastic advocates for the brand.

If the concept of the network sparks your interest, note that becoming viral here, in the traditional sense of an influencer or content creator, is challenging. The platform lacks a defined algorithm, and its search functionality is somewhat less robust than what we're accustomed to. Nevertheless, the potential is undeniable - whatever that means to you, it exists on Mastodon.

What Is the Future of Mastodon?

When considering Mastodon's future, we can approach it from two perspectives. The first view is undeniably optimistic when viewed through the lens of data usage. As a social network not owned by corporations, no one can exploit it for advertising purposes or profit from user data. However, if companies fail to integrate into this platform, its sustainability becomes a question mark. One potential solution is for users themselves to invest in supporting the content they wish to access.

Reflecting on the current landscape, given the paramount importance of freedom of expression, alternative options like Mastodon are warmly welcomed, particularly as more individuals collectively gravitate toward them. However, to fully embrace Mastodon's potential, we may need to overlook the historical trend of social networks gradually deviating from their original intentions over time, often in negative ways.

Despite boasting a considerable user base, Mastodon remains outside the mainstream, and its appeal continues to grow – a fact that makes it engaging. Here, you can share content without hesitation (given the limited visibility), all while experiencing the satisfaction of expressing yourself or sharing something meaningful.

Do we prefer countless followers or a small, close-knit community? An algorithm guiding our content or random discovery? Targeted advertisements addressing our needs or an ad-free environment? These questions prompt us to ponder: what does a truly "authentic" social network look like?

For Netokracija website text written by: Nikola Jagodić, Digital Marketing Specialist, Smartpoint Adria

Photo: Unsplash

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