Why Mastodon isn't a Twitter alternative for brands – AdAge.com

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In the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, tens of thousands of users have reportedly migrated to another social media app called Mastodon. Many of these users are seeking refuge from the chaos that Musk has allowed to unfold on Twitter, and are looking to Mastodon as a potential replacement for the 16-year-old platform.
But 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 is an interesting emerging platform, but it’s not a like-for-like alternative to Twitter,” said Liz Cole, executive director and U.S. head of social at VMLY&R, noting how Mastodon’s fragmented model prevents users from “observing and participating in the wider world of online discourse.”
Mastodon, which was launched in 2016 by German software developer Eugen Rochko, looks like Twitter but feels like Discord. 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.
Similar to Twitter, users can engage with posts, called “toots,” by “favoriting” or “boosting,” which is similar to “retweeting” on Twitter. There are hashtags, but no equivalent to quote tweets; handles are in the form of “[email protected]” (i.e. [email protected]) and the character limit for posts is 500, not 280 like it is on Twitter. It is available on both desktop and mobile devices.
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, which 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. 
But 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, said Cole. 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.
And ultimately, 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. 
Mastodon did not immediately return a request for comment on its appetite for working with brands.
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. 
“Although some of our clients of course have concerns about the changes on Twitter, they have not expressed interest in migrating advertising efforts to Mastodon,” said Gregg Morton, chief executive and founder of brand engagement firm Fooji. The firm’s partners include Netflix, Disney, Lay’s and Paramount.
An example of a fraudulent Mastodon account set up in a brand’s name.
One of the tedious labors on Mastodon is searching for users, for which you’ll need the user’s entire handle (i.e. [email protected]), not just their name (i.e. Jane Doe). This makes searching for the few brands that do have Mastodon accounts difficult. Ad Age was unable to verify the number of brands with legitimate accounts on the platform, though it did find plenty of fraudulent accounts sitting on brand’s names, such as [email protected] and [email protected]
Not even brands that are pausing activity on Twitter, such as North Face and automotive manufacturer Stellantis, 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.
Fooji’s Morton said Mastodon in its current state only appeals to people who are “very online”—or highly tuned in to internet culture—and that technical difficulties in setting up accounts and navigating the platform make connecting with mainstream audiences a “nonstarter.” 
These onboarding difficulties have been well documented over the past week, and include large delays in receiving confirmation emails upon registering and having to create entirely new accounts just to enter a new server. 
It is worth noting that these difficulties have been exacerbated as the influx of new users has strained the platform’s ability to manage traffic. Rochko is Mastodon’s only full-time employee, and the team helping him appears to be made up of only three people.
Going forward, Mastodon may be able to scale more effectively to meet new demand, assuming it remains strong. And users frustrated with Twitter could find real value in Mastodon’s decentralized, open-source model. But for brands, there appears to be little reason to experiment with the platform in its current state.
In this article:
Asa Hiken is a technology reporter for Ad Age covering the intersection of Web3 and marketing, including crypto, NFTs and the metaverse.


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