Posted June 2, 2009 5:19 pm by with 3 comments

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twitter-birdIf you are in the social media space you would look at this headline and ask “What is he smoking?” There is no way that most people don’t produce many tweets because how else can the tweet stream be more cluttered and crowded than the start of the New York City Marathon? reports on a study of a significant sized sample of Twitter users. They intro their findings with

We examined the activity of a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009 to find out how people are using the service. We then compared our findings to activity on other social networks and online content production venues. Our findings are very surprising.

Surprising? What’s surprising about Twitter any more? Don’t we already know everything about Biz and Ev and the cool kids in San Francisco? Despite the service being around since March of 2006 as Twitter (it was part of Obvious Corporation before that) its recent rise to stardom has created, among other things, a lot more users, a lot of confusion and a growing mountain of research.

Add to the list this study that was produced by a Harvard MBA candidate and an Assistant Professor of Strategy who teaches a class on Competing with Social Networks. The highlights:

  • 80% are followed by or follow at least one user
  • Men have 15% more followers than women and are hunters meaning they are driven more by numbers than relationships. The study suggests

Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This “follower split” suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or have more stringent thresholds for reciprocating relationships.

  • Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.

These are all interesting but the one that will be of most interest to Pilgrims is that

There is a small contingent of users who are very active. Specifically, the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production.

So much for the 80/20 rule. What does this say about Twitter? Is it still a small community of real heavy users that assume that the rest of the world is as interested in them as they are themselves?

What does this suggest to marketers? Quite possibly it may be time to hit the brakes a little on the actual reach of Twitter. From a business perspective it seems to be more effective to build your Twitter following in a Pied Piper kind of fashion rather than fishing for people who may be interested in your business. There simply may not be that many people actively using the service yet. You need to lead them to it for the specific reason that you will help them in some way. There is real value to both parties in a situation like that.

Look at Comcast. They took a history of bad customer service and turned it into a following of people who appreciate their outreach. You gotta figure that many of those followers were not on Twitter until Comcast started providing service to customers on it. Either that or among the 20,000 plus followers of @comcastcares are just more social media types who are trying to keep busy.

So the never ending dilemma of what is the business value of Twitter continues and will for quite some time. With social media there is no right or wrong, there is no up or down there is only doing and finding out what actually works for each individual situation. I’m going to start selling antacids and sleep aids to marketing executives for obvious reasons.

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  • This is some great research, I figured that most people weren’t active, but didn’t know for sure. It seems like the active people are internet marketers and businesses – it certainly has it’s place for millions of people, but I’m not convinced it’ll be an effective way for most companies to reach consumers and sell more products.

    CNN, Fox and the rest of the media will likely realize soon that there’s more value in sending people to their own website’s and blogs and not to Twitter.

    I’m surprised they’ve done it for so long –

  • well this type technique for getting customers is yet more effective now a days and the research is very much interesting