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Trends & Insights | Blog

Let’s get tootin’! A guide to getting started on Mastodon

November 23, 2022


It’s less than a month since Elon Musk took over at Twitter. And it’s been chaotic to say the least.

Nicole Mezzasalma

Senior Consultant

It’s less than a month since Elon Musk took over at Twitter. And it’s been chaotic to say the least. While the changes so far have alarmed and delighted different users, the situation for brands is more complex.

Content moderation concerns and issues surrounding impersonation and verification have left many looking for credible alternatives. Enter Mastodon.

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon is an open-source, decentralised social media platform created in 2016 by German developer Eugen Rochko. It describes itself as a “federated network which operates in a similar way to email”. In practice, this means a number of different servers (‘instances’ in Mastodon lingo) that are independent of each other, but can communicate among themselves by posting ‘toots’ (the equivalent of ‘tweets’).

There are more than 7.7k instances on Mastodon at present, each managed and run by volunteers. The largest is mastodon.social, which has nearly a quarter of the platform’s total users. Mastodon’s current official count is 5.3m users, although it recently announced it has now surpassed 7m. It’s still small fry, however, compared to Twitter’s estimated 450m monthly active users.

But Mastodon is growing fast. According to Rochko, Mastodon had less than 400k users on 28 October, which means it has grown 1,500%+ in three weeks.

How do instances work?

Mastodon instances are ‘federated’, which means they are independent but can communicate with one another. It's important that you choose the right instance, because each has its own rules and moderation/privacy policies. For example, some ban NSFW content, while others don’t.

This is important, because instances can ban other instances. If you choose a server with lax moderation, you may find others can't see your posts if that server is banned elsewhere.

Fortunately, Mastodon allows you to switch servers at any point. You can set up multiple accounts on several servers, and redirect users that find your other handles to your main one.

For brands, this offers a challenge. Should you secure your brand name across every instance (a headache for social media managers!)? Or do you get one and monitor the use of your brand name across others, taking imitation ones down as necessary?

Even though Mastodon has been around for six years, it wasn’t created with brand owners in mind. It’s too early to say if this will prove to be an insurmountable issue.

Verification on Mastodon

Mastodon’s verification system works differently to other social platforms due to its decentralised nature. In essence, if you have a website you just add a line of code that points to your Mastodon profile.

Mastodon then uses this to cross-check the rel="me" attribute. This is a standard way to verify whether a linked website belongs to a user on a third-party site. This means most brands can follow this process to get verified.

For individual users, it’s slightly more complicated as not everyone has a website. To solve this, verification websites are appearing for those who don’t want to create a WordPress page solely for this purpose.

What next?

With a rapid influx of new users, Mastodon has been facing some teething issues. These include servers crashing and instances being temporarily closed to new registrations. Once in, however, the platform is simpler than it may at first seem.

If you haven’t yet created a Mastodon account, follow these steps to get started:

  1. Choose an instance. You can join one because your friends are already there, or pick one based on its moderation policies. You can also pick servers based on interests, geographical location or your profession. There are instances for journalists, data analysts and finance professionals, for example.
  1. Create your profile. Add your details, links to websites and other social media platforms, and don’t forget to turn on two-factor authentication for safety.
  1. Start tootin’. Create and post your content as you would elsewhere. Mastodon supports images, GIFs and links (although link previews only work on desktop), and new features are added regularly. There is no quoting option, but you can 'favourite' and boost or share other people’s posts.
  1. Follow other people. On Mastodon, you have three feeds: Home, for people you follow; a local feed with posts from others in your server; and a federated feed from all users across Mastodon. Curate the posts you see by following interesting people.

Here’s a list of Battenhall folks already on Mastodon!

While reports of Twitter's demise have been greatly exaggerated, some notable users have already migrated fully to Mastodon. These include English actor, broadcaster and writer, Stephen Fry, and Hollywood actor, comedian and TV personality, Whoopi Goldberg.

Not many brands have made their presence on the network felt so far, but we expect that to change. To stay one step ahead, we recommend securing preferred handles quickly. It's also important to keep tabs on potential fake accounts – especially as the platform grows.

For help on how to get set up on Mastodon, or any other social media consultancy, get in touch: hello@battenhall.com.