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What is Mastodon and will it replace Twitter?

The social network Mastodon is enjoying a Musk bounce as Twitter users look to alternative social media platforms.

But what is Mastodon and how does it work? The Professionals speaks to Tom Bourlet, a marketing consultant at Fizzbox, a platform that connects businesses with experiences and venues with providers across the UK and Europe, and Joshua Long, Head of Communications for search engine Mojeek.

Mastodon is a not-for-profit open-source alternative to Twitter, working as a micro-blogging platform. Created in 2016, the decentralised social network is growing rapidly with many people looking to switch.

However, the platform is very different from Twitter, despite certain similarities – you post ‘toots’ instead of ‘tweets’ and still have trending hashtags.

How does Mastodon work

Mastodon is a federated social network, meaning that, unlike Twitter which is contained within its own servers, it is spread across many different servers, with individual parts called ‘instances’. An instance can be setup up for a specific geographical region, a hobby or interest, or for something stranger, such as Dolphin Town where the only permitted letter in posts is ‘e’.

“When you begin with Mastodon, you have to choose a server or instance,” Tom explains. “That might sound techy, but it is much easier than you might presume. Once you have found a relevant server, whether that’s one to do with your local area or interest, your feed will be updated with posts by people you’re following.

“If you decide that the server, or instance, is not for you, you can move to another without having to create a completely new account or lose your followers. It is an important step, as your interests may change over time, or you may find an instance is less appealing than you first thought.”

What is driving the interest in Mastodon, and an important differentiator is that different servers may have different rules.

“Users on any instance can talk to and follow users on any other instance, providing this is allowed by the administrators,” adds Joshua. “Mastodon allows admins to block whole instances from communicating with their own, much like you can block other users on Twitter. You can also mute and use blocks yourself.”

As moderation on Mastodon is done at the level of the instance, you can pick and choose between policies that suit your preferences.

“With Twitter, it will be Elon Musk and his team making decisions and rules for the platform,” says Tom. “If you don’t agree with a certain rule in a server, you can leave and join a different server where this rule might not be in place.”

How to build connections and drive engagement

Mastodon users do report frustrations in finding friends and people they know. “Twitter certainly wins by a landslide here,” says Tom.

A simple search may not find people you know, leaving you needing to include their @handle and @instance, much like having to know someone’s entire email address. Mastodon account names are not so widely listed in the same way as Twitter addresses, and that too may deter many users.

Tweets become Toots, and, says Joshua, there is a much bigger culture around pro-accessibility measures, such as alt text on images as well as no quote function.

“This is a deliberate choice to avoid some of the obvious toxicity which comes from Twitter ‘dunks’,” says Joshua.

Mastodon is unlikely to replace Twitter, the giant of the social media world, but it does threaten to pinch some regular users if they find the Mastodon platform more accessible better reflecting their interests. 

“Mastodon is a space that rewards honest and transparent interactions,” says Joshua. “It is not ripe for chasing the algorithm-driven engagement of Big Tech’s social media offerings. If you’re looking to use it, be authentic, and remember that the people who are on it overwhelmingly use it to get away from promoted content and spiky discourse.”

How Fizzbox uses it and measures impact

Being the early bird certainly has its rewards, even if Mastodon is far from being new. The issue is deciphering whether it’s a priority when our time is scarce and there are so many competing platforms and marketing avenues, writes Tom Bourlet, a marketing consultant at Fizzbox.

We are researching the right server to join or whether to run one ourselves, how we could build up a community of HR or office managers, and then, eventually, increase sales of team-building events or office Christmas parties.

We are hoping to find out a little more about whether our target audience is currently using the platform, as otherwise, it would all be meaningless. We have heard back from several office managers that are using or experimenting with the platform, so it appears an interesting way to get in front of a targeted audience.

In the long run, the metrics for success will be the traffic through to our website, an increase in sales driven by Mastodon, and the building of a highly targeted and engaged community.

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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