Twitter Takes Page From TV With Mute Button

Twitter has taken pains to position itself as the social media tool of choice for the TV industry, so perhaps it’s only fitting that the company is adopting one of TV’s greatest innovations: the mute button. The ability to instantly silence obnoxious commercials with one click has long brought viewers a measure of control over the ad content imposed on them short of shutting off the TV or leaving the room.

Twitter has something similar in mind for the digital Tower of Babel it has created, allowing people to edit certain individuals out of their timelines without formally unfollowing them. That means removing all tweets and retweets from muted users, which can be especially useful when it comes to the explosion of chatter around award shows and red carpet coverage.

“Mute will help quell complaints and negative sentiment during events and premieres, and perhaps decrease the relatively high unfollow rate that some brands see during big events,” noted 360i’s Danielle Johnsen Karr in a recent post on the digital agency’s blog. It can also help create a spoiler-free zone, so sports fans don’t have to worry about seeing real-time results for games they want to catch later.

That could come in handy especially during the upcoming World Cup, when many people may not be able to watch matches live. Conversely, for someone who’s not interested in soccer (or football, to most of the world), the mute feature will allow them to tune out friends or other connections who end up over-tweeting on the topic.

If a user mutes a brand, however, promoted content will still be shown, since it’s being paid for. Now if Twitter really believed in the power of native advertising, shouldn’t it allow people to mute promoted tweets the same way people can mute unwelcome TV commercials? Still, 360i warns the new capability should make marketers more careful about how much media-supported content they’re pushing out.

“Brands will have to become smarter about whom they are targeting paid content to, and at the same time, be more authentic with the content they serve,” wrote Karr. Armed with the mute feature, users will not hesitate to use it when they see fit. Whether this new tool leads to less spammy content on Twitter remains to be seen. But if a brand begins to see a dramatic drop in engagement or reach once the mute button is fully rolled out, it might be a signal to try something different.

How to get “unmuted” once zapped is another question. At least on TV, a viewer will turn the sound back on when a show resumes, giving a marketer the chance to have their message heard when the next commercial pod rolls around. Not so on Twitter, where the mute button works more like call blocking. So stay away from anything that might seem like spam.

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