In October, Twitter announced that it would be updating its Tweet button and removing the Tweet count.

That update is now live, catching many who were unaware of the impending change off guard.

Here's what publishers need to know about the removal.

Why Twitter removed the share count

According to Twitter group product manager Michael Ducker, Twitter made the hard decision to remove counts from the Tweet button for a number of reasons.

"This count does not reflect the impact on Twitter of conversation about your content — it doesn't count replies, quote Tweets, variants of your URLs, nor does it reflect the fact that some people Tweeting these URLs might have many more followers than others," he explained, adding.

The count was built in a time where the only button on the web was from Twitter. Today, it’s most commonly placed among a number of other share buttons, few of which have counts.

Additionally, the application programming interface (API) that the Tweet count was based on is being retired because it runs on older technology. 

Ducker stated that rebuilding the API using its new technology stack "would delay our work on other, more impactful offerings for our developer community."

Of course, some suggest that Twitter's decision was also driven by a desire to generate more revenue for its enterprise API platform, Gnip, as discussed below.

The impact on publishers

The removal of share counts may not seem like a big deal, but it's created an annoying headache for many publishers.

First, there's the visual impact of a countless Tweet button. Without a Tweet count, it may be more difficult for users to identify the most popular content on a site.

Additionally, as Chen notes, these counts are a form of social proof and can help publishers establish legitimacy. After all, if users and advertisers see that a publisher's content is highly-shared, it can bolster the publisher's overall credibility, helping drive more traffic and ad sales.

The removal of the Tweet count from Tweet buttons may also have business and technical implications for publishers.

Many publishers referenced the Tweet button share counts to track social metrics, and a number of popular social media management and analytics tools used the now-retired share count API.

Unless they find ways to replace this data, publishers may find these tools to be of more limited use.

What publishers can do

Unfortunately, publishers have few options for addressing the loss of Tweet button counts. Some may attempt to build homegrown solutions, but that will require a level of technical expertise and investment of time and money that many publishers simply don't have.

It is still possible to obtain Tweet counts from Twitter through its Gnip division, which sells API access to a variety of Twitter data, but that might be cost prohibitive for many publishers.

For publishers on a budget, third-party services that already license Twitter data through Gnip, such as BuzzSumo, may be worth a look.

But even with access to this data, publishers will still need to deal with the fact that Twitter's Tweet button won't display the counts to their users.

What the future holds

Not surprisingly, Twitter's decision to eliminate counts from its Tweet button was met with plenty of criticism and Twitter is no doubt aware of the angst it has caused.

While there's no indication that Twitter will reverse course imminently, the social media giant has hinted that it might at some point respond to the criticism, issuing a statement:

We appreciate your feedback over the past 60 days on how you have used these counts, and look forward to incorporating it as we create and improve tools to integrate Twitter content into your apps and websites.

Until that time, the Tweet button update is just the latest reminder to publishers that even the largest social platforms are still evolving and subject to major changes, not all of which will be seen as positive.

Patricio Robles

Published 27 November, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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