I’m not sure that X’s communities are ever going to be a key engagement space, or even a valuable consideration for most users. But the X team is trying to boost communities engagement, in the hopes that it can indeed help facilitate more types of discussion in the app, and potentially provide another pathway for growth, and even creator monetization, through enhanced connection within specific niches.
X’s latest update on this front is that posts from communities that you’re a member of will now start to appear in your main ‘For You’ feed, providing another means to highlight community discussions in the app.
That could help to re-engage community members, by highlighting relevant discussions from the groups they’ve chosen to join, though the fact that X even feels the need to expand the appearance of such posts suggests that it is having issues with communities retention.
Communities was initially launched in late 2021, in order to provide dedicated, topic-based spaces to share and discuss relevant subjects, without having to post for all to see.
The concept aligns with the evolving use of social media platforms, which has seen people increasingly shifting their sharing and engagement to private messaging groups, as opposed to public broadcasting, due to the potential backlash and criticism that can come when you open your opinions to broader judgment.
Because of the increasingly divisive nature of the main feed, more people have retreated to smaller, more contained groups, and communities is X’s answer, though thus far it seemingly hasn’t caught on in the way that was originally hoped.
Early returns on communities didn’t seem to reflect a lot of interest in the option, though previous management did report communities gaining more traction in the months before Elon Musk took over at the app.
But then came the great staff cull, which also included the majority of the team that had been working on communities. Which seemed to be the death knell for the option, but more recently, X owner Elon Musk has highlighted the potential of communities as a valuable connective option.
We’re deprecating Circles in favor of improved Communities & DM group chat
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 8, 2023
Which has sparked renewed focus on the option, including the re-introduction of the ability to highlight a community on your profile.
So it could still become a more relevant consideration, though it remains to be seen whether it actually adds value to the X experience, which, really, will largely hinge on how X communicates the usage of the option.
As noted, originally, communities was devised in order to make users feel more comfortable about sharing in the app, in order to encourage greater participation. The vast majority of X’s 250 million daily active users never post themselves, and the development team was seeking new options to address this aspect.
As former Twitter VP of consumer product Jay Sullivan explained early last year:
“One of the things I hear from people is, ’Hey, I read a lot of stuff. I’m not necessarily comfortable tweeting or don’t know when or why I should tweet. I would feel better if I was tweeting to a smaller community of people.”
That was the core push behind the development of the option, but it’s not clear whether it actually addresses that use case, especially given the reduced motivation for users to share their content with a smaller audience.
Because for most regular X users, they’ve already curated their community, by posting and following others over time, which has enabled them to establish a largely topic-focused group that responds to their updates.
For these users who are already active, posting to a community just limits their reach. So why would they do that?
In this sense, it does seem like the value of communities is for newer users, or those less comfortable in the app. But relevant group discovery is still not great, and for many, they’re probably not going to post anyway, even with a more enclosed group, because that’s not really what the app has traditionally been for.
X is for staying up to date on the latest news, but discussion of those topics tends to drift off to other places. The challenge of X is how it keeps that engagement in-stream, for which there are no simple answers, at least not yet.
Communities could well play a key role in this, but it will require some re-angling from the X team to communicate why people would want to use them. And given that the X doesn’t actually have a communications department, I’m not sure how that push will be undertaken, but maybe, through some changes in exposure, which enhance the focus on communities, that could lead to more take-up.
Maybe. There’s little evidence to suggest this as yet, but the X team is moving fast, and updates like this could be another step towards enhanced communities exposure.