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Why brands shouldn’t join the Mastodon wave as an alternative to Twitter

Last week, news of Musk’s Twitter takeover saw many users swarm to possible alternatives until the chaos dies down. The star of the show for users seemed to be Mastodon, an app which launched in 2016 by German software developer Eugen Rochko and looks like Twitter but feels like Discord

We wrote on Mastodon last week but, in a nutshell, it works like this; instead of one central network on which all users interact, it consists of myriad servers housing specific communities. These servers, called “instances,” are wholly separate, with different owners and moderation policies, but they can link to one another, and thus offer a larger, more complex network for users.

However, while Mastodon is an interesting emerging platform, but it’s not a like-for-like alternative to Twitter. Where this becomes most apparent is, arguably, where brands are concerned. So far, Mastodon has not proven itself to be an alternative for brands, many of whom have not even created official accounts on the platform yet. And experts don’t recommend that marketers spend their time testing the platform, either, because its setup could limit the number of consumers they’re able to reach on the app.

Mastodon’s server setup is the core idea behind the platform, sometimes referred to as a “federated platform,” or a federation of different servers that can interact. But for brands, who need a way of connecting meaningfully with a multitude of diverse users, the platform has its shortcomings.

Unlike Twitter, discoverability is limited on Mastodon. Since users are siloed into a single server, their posts will largely be seen only by other members of that server. Of course, users can follow accounts that exist outside of their server and even belong to two larger, public servers—mastodon.social and mastodon.online—which are run by Mastodon itself.

Additionally, even with both of these features, brands will have a much harder time reaching consumers who aren’t in or close to their direct line of sight—a fragmentation that could seriously impact marketers’ presence on the platform. Similarly, Mastodon’s setup limits the ceiling for virality—often seen as the holy grail for brands existing on social media platforms, especially Twitter. Mastodon’s feed is another impediment for marketers. The feed is entirely determined by the chronology of posts, as opposed to an intelligent algorithm that remembers what users view and alters their scroll of posts accordingly. This factor may additionally thwart the potential for going viral.

Another major hurdle is that Mastodon is currently ad-free, so everything a brand posts would have to originate from their account and wouldn’t be able to be promoted through paid posts. That being said, a platform such as BeReal, which is also ad-free, has seen significant experimentation from brands as the app has exploded in popularity in recent months. 

There also just isn’t a bandwagon for brands to jump on. Mastodon has seen thousands of new user registrations per hour since Musk took over Twitter, up from less than 100 per hour, according to reports. But even with this rapid growth, few, if any, brands have created accounts. And even brands that are pausing activity on Twitter, such as North Face and automotive manufacturer Stellantis, don’t appear to be moving to Mastodon.

The lack of brands on the platform probably has much to do with its low numbers. Rochko, Mastodon’s founder, reported this week that for the first time the platform reached over 1 million monthly users, but this pales in comparison to Twitter’s 238 million daily active users, a number which, according to Musk, appears to be growing even amid the chaos (or perhaps because of it). There are just over 4,000 servers on Mastodon, while there are about 6.7 million on Discord, according to reports.

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