While many social media corporations mine your data to push content in your face, why are many afraid to make the leap to platforms like Mastodon?
Change is enticing
I mean, the idea of going to the Dark Side of the Force sounds pretty cool. Emotion is a human condition, and the idea of giving into them as being something wrong is quite alien. Being a creative, I constantly use words and visuals to evoke emotion in others.
For me, what tops the Star Wars lure to something else, something unknown, is The Lost Boys. David, (played by Kiefer Sutherland) tempts Michael (Jason Patric) to join his vampire gang. ‘Join us, Michael,’ they taunt.
I joined Twitter eleven years ago and did little with it. However, six years ago, I found the Writing Community, and it felt like I had found my tribe. I had no local writing group to go to, and the global range of online meant there was always someone tweeting, whatever the time.
However, things shifted. Follow trains became more and more regular. Follow me, and I’ll follow you back, which is fine if you like big numbers. Personally, I prefer interaction, and by that, I mean conversation. I’m old enough to remember a time without the Internet when people actually talked to one another. Likes and retweets were nice, but they don’t hold the same value as a comment.
On top of this were the usual trolling, the unsolicited DMs, and the algorithms which pushed less of what I enjoyed and more of what it knew would make me angry. Twitter lost its charm as fewer in the writing community talked or shared their writing anymore, and I’d log off feeling worse rather than better.
In November last year, when Twitter was obviously going downhill, I embraced change. I headed to Mastodon.
Change can be scary
It takes time to settle into a new normality. It’s like moving house or to a new job. Your old foundations get shaken, and it takes time until the new feels normal.
Let me quash some arguments for why you might not want to try Mastodon.
I don’t want to learn a new platform
Mastodon isn’t difficult to understand. It’s familiar enough for anyone used to social media to get their head around it within a few days. Don’t worry if you pick the wrong instance when first signing up. You are not rooted like a tree. You can move. Ideally, pick one best suited to your interests. I’m on writing.exchange, which is predominantly for writers. But the beauty of Mastodon is you can talk to people in other instances the same way you can email someone using a different server than your own.
I don’t want to start over
That’s understandable. If you’re still happy where you are, then there is no point in changing unless you want to broaden your online reach. Personally, I was no longer having such an enjoyable experience through Twitter, so I made the leap.
I won’t get the same reach on Mastodon
It depends on what you want to gain from it. Posts don’t go viral like they do on Twitter because it has a smaller user base. For me, I prefer quality over quantity. A blog post like this will gain little interaction on traditional social media, but via Mastodon, I receive meaningful comments.
So what tips can I share if you take the leap to Mastodon?
Making Mastodon work for you
Starting afresh is a little scary. I’ve just started playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. The character I’m playing starts with little more than her wits and the scruffy clothes on her back. No friends. No cool armour or weapons. No longship to let me raid Wessex and Mercian towns. Plus, she’s stuck with me controlling her, and I’m still learning what button does what action. Often, I attack a wall when attempting to climb it.
Having an empty home feed feels a little similar. So here are my tips for creating a home feed that is good for you.
Hashtags are the glue which holds all the instances together. Following hashtags like #MastoArt, #WritingCommunity, and #Mosstodon (for moss lovers) means anyone using them will appear in your home feed. As there are no algorithms to learn what you engage with, you must cultivate the content you wish to see.
Equally, when you post/toot, use appropriate hashtags so others can discover you. Added hashtags in your profile bio and your #introduction post also help gain reach.
Engage with others
As I’ve said, this is an algorithm-free zone, so you have to put the work in. Liking a post just pings a notification to the user that you liked it, nothing else. Boosting a post acts like a retweet, which means you’ll share it with your followers and give the original user a greater reach. Comment is a great way to interact and strike up conversations with others. Mastodon currently does not have a version of quote tweeting. I like this because a quote tweet is often used by trolls to call their followers to arms to attack another user.
Useful Features on Mastodon
An Edit Button
Yes, there is a bloody edit button! When you edit your toot, any users who have interacted with it will be notified it has been changed. See, it’s not difficult to implement.
It allows users to hide their posts behind a Content Warning (CW). It is a murky area because some instances may have specific rules for what requires a CW. As I’m in a writer’s instance, I add content warnings on posts where I rant about politics or touch on subjects in my life or writing, which may be triggering.
Adding alternative text into image attachments is encouraged so visually impaired users can have a richer experience. If, like me, you’re engaging in #ThickTrunkTuesday (it’s all right, it’s a hashtag about trees) or #StandingStoneSunday then adding some extra words to describe your image is good etiquette.
Filters, blocks and mute
You can cultivate your feed further by adding filters which hide content you don’t want to see. I’m not a cat person. I have zero interest in seeing your cat photos or what your cat is doing. Luckily, I bypass most of them because I have cats filtered. You can also block users and whole instances. Muting users have added benefits at Mastodon, allowing you to mute a user indefinitely or for a select period. Useful for users you like but are tooting about a current event you have zero interest in.
This Toot will self-destruct in…
Another handy feature is setting your toots to delete after a certain period. It frees up space for the nice person hosting the instance you’re on. I currently have mine set to delete after a fortnight. I like the transient nature, like real-life conversations.
Don’t be afraid of starting/jumping into a conversation
Perhaps I’m lucky, but everyone seems friendly. Ask a question, and someone will probably answer. #FeedbackFriday grew from writers interested in getting critiques for their work or finding beta readers. There are flash/microfiction prompts. Prompt questions to let writers share and explore their work. Don’t be afraid to jump into a conversation because the more the merrier.
My thoughts on Mastodon
Nine months on, and what are my thoughts on Mastodon? The enormous benefit for me is I don’t come away from it in a worse mood. The likes of Meta and Twitter fill my home feed with content they think I want to see (No, I don’t). Adverts get rammed down my throat based on my posts and photos. If I go on Twitter, the suggested hashtags are guaranteed to make me angry. I go on Mastodon, and there is none of that. Just a bunch of lovely writers, artists, and interesting photographs of moss, lichen and ancient standing stones.
Once upon a time, Twitter used to be a place where I enjoyed my experience and went away feeling good. It rarely happens anymore. I still lurk there because many talented writers and artists are still there. But Mastodon is the place where I enjoy social media. I have that interaction with other writers and artists which I crave. In this instance, change is good.