Twitter is in turmoil, and Mastodon is the next social media thing. Maybe.
But, if you are a content creator or entrepreneur in the creator economy, should you make the leap to Mastodon? Will it help your business?
Let’s explore what Mastodon really is, what it is not, and how it might be the long-term solution to owning your social platform. Read until the end for resources to help you get started and the tools to help you find your Twitter peeps on Mastodon.The Good News and Bad News about Mastodon (@JoinMastodon) for Creators [and How To Get Started] via Steven B. David (@sbdavisclassic). Click To Tweet
What is Mastodon?
Within a week or so after Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, Mastodon gained hundreds of thousands of new users.
Mastodon is a network of independent, interlinked servers. They host users’ microblog posts that other users can comment on or repost.
Imagine if Internet Relay Chat (popular in the 1990s) and early WordPress had a 21st-century baby with a modern interface and more sophisticated back-end messaging system based on ActivityPub and WebFinger.
Several tools allow you to export your Twitter followers and follows into Mastodon if they happen to have an account. See the resources section at the end of this article for information on how to do that.Mastodon (@JoinMastodon) is a network of independent, interlinked servers. Imagine if Internet Relay Chat and early WordPress had a 21st-century baby, says Steven B. Davis (@sbdavisclassic). #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet
What doesn’t Mastodon do?
The big bad news? Mastodon won’t give you explosive discoverability and virality for you or your content. That’s different from major social media companies. They have accelerated away from creating extended social networks towards delivering algorithmic social content discovery – feeding users’ feeds to maximize action and stimulation.
If you’ve become addicted to the dopamine hit of likes and follows, Mastodon doesn’t deliver that. It is old school. It is simple. It is a federated social network platform. If it becomes successful, it is likely to remain so for a long time.
How does Mastodon serve up content?
Unlike a traditional blog, Mastodon content is distributed and discovered via time-sorted feeds as well as limited search:
- Main feeds are those you follow and other posts they “boost” (share).
- Local feeds are for all the posts and reposts from users on the server where your account lives.
- Federated feeds are the latest posts from all the servers and accounts connected to your local host.
- Hashtag search involves search based on hashtag markers users add to their posts.
- User/profile search allows you to look for account names (@accountname@server) or handles (“whatever you want”) that aren’t necessarily unique.
Likes, favorites, bookmarks, clicks, and views aren’t factors in Mastodon’s feeds or search results.
So as time marches on, old posts just get ignored unless they are boosted or republished.
Caveat: To play the social media game of follows and likes, you must do the work yourself. Connect with others. Deliver content – valuable and repeatedly but not so much that you annoy people.
The potential exists to drive visibility to your content with aggressive and consistent use of hashtags. However, I expect hashtags are going to play out like meta tags on web pages and become overused or abused quickly but still survive in the long term because it is convenient. It will be curious to see when or if full text search across servers arrives.
What should be a creator’s first steps on Mastodon?
Set up a Mastodon account and get a feel for the platform today. If you find your first server isn’t the best fit, you can move your connections (but not your posts) to another server (including your own).
That’s one good thing about Mastodon’s federated open-source model – you can host your own Mastodon server. A couple of service providers offer this option now, and I’m sure we’ll see an avalanche of these offerings in the coming weeks and months.Mastodon (@JoinMastodon) is an open-source model, so you can host your own server, says Steven B. Davis (@sbdavisclassic). #Community #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet
This ownership model is promising. You can host and manage a community (or your organization or business) as you see fit and won’t face the threat of banishment. If you’ve run a modern website, you probably can run a Mastodon server.
If you have developer skills or can work with a developer, you can customize your server to do what you want (repost, personalized visitor’s experience, chatbot, etc.)
Can Mastodon support communities?
Hosting a community on Mastodon can be a smart move as it is on any other social media platform. It becomes a shared platform for members and is open to people from other servers.
Because it is a social network, hosting an online group in Mastodon is naturally “leaky” – content from your group will be shared to the “federated” timeline as well as to the followers of the users on your site.
This creates a different, low barrier to sharing content with others as people do not need to click to share because your affinity group’s followers will automatically see what your group members are up to.
Plenty of excellent membership community platforms already exist. Mastodon has nothing on any of them – except its natural “permeableness” to non-members. Thus, a Mastodon server can help gracefully pull non-members into your community and amplify your content through your members.
Caveat: Mastodon offers an interesting opportunity to create “affinity servers” around broad topics that people self-identify with (e.g., plumbers or social).
What are the potential problems of Mastodon for creators?
If Mastodon grows in popularity, abuse problems experienced on other platforms are likely to arise – spam, harassment, account bans or thefts, etc. But its open-source model means no one from Mastodon will vet or hold users accountable.
You live at the discretion of your host server administrators. They can do what they will with your account. As many current servers are run by volunteers, things could get interesting.
If you own the server, you are responsible for the activity on it.
Resources about Mastodon for creators
Mastodon Help – good overview of what Mastodon is, how it works, and what to do with it
Trunk – help to jumpstart connecting with people and topics
Fedi.Directory – curated list of accounts to follow in different areas
Instances.social – help to find an instance to join
Twitter transition assistance
Cover image courtesy of https://mastodon.social/explore
About the author
Steven B. Davis – 37 years and still learning. Founder. Advisor. Author. Security expert (retired). Steve has worked on a dizzying range of systems, businesses, and projects since starting as an intern at NSA in 1986. He is focused on making the world better for people with disabilities and is launching The Audience Asset newsletter on Jan. 11, 2023. (You can sign up now.)