Posted January 20, 2011 5:53 am by with 9 comments

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Twitter is an interesting character in the social media space. It is rock solid in its position because there is no other service that is just like or has grown to the ‘importance’ it currently has (or is perceived to have).

Where one can get confuzzled is in pinning down just how influential and widespread the actual use of Twitter is. On Tuesday, it was announced that they have entered into their seventh language for the service (Korean and most will need Google Translate to read it) and that international growth is moving right along. Twitter also has some new stats for the service as Forbes’ Oliver Chiang reports

Twitter has reached nearly 200 million users registered accounts who post 110 million tweets per day as of the January 1, 2011, Twitter spokesperson Carolyn Penner tells me. That’s up from 160 million registered accounts as of September 2010 and 95 million tweets per day as of early December— steady, but not explosive, growth. That’s why the company is now focused on building out its international presence.

Chiang’s user v. account recognition points out the current confusion regarding Twitter. It seems that Twitter suffers from the same problem of defining important metrics for the service just like many of its users do. The number one most misleading metric for Twitter users is number of followers. People tout these numbers and claim ‘expertise’ based on them but in most cases there is no clear line to be drawn between number of followers and actual influence.

Now Twitter talks about 200 million accounts. OK, some overly simple math tells us that if these accounts were actual Twitter users then the average number of tweets per day per user would be about 1.8. Let’s be generous and round it up to 2. That’s fine. But let’s take myself as an example. I have at least 5 placeholder accounts which do nothing other than protect a name I will be using in the future and I have set up countless other accounts for other businesses doing the same. In fact, it’s a regular piece of advice I give to businesses all the time.

That being said, in my rather small part of the social media space, I have some direct influence on many ‘accounts’ that don’t do anything on the service (except get ‘followers’ without even trying because the Twitter bot world is alive and well).

Also, take into account the social media industry, which one might argue is the source of any real usage of the service at all. Just a glance around to see those that average 10 tweets per day and much, much higher should give anyone pause as to just what these Twitter numbers of accounts and tweets actually means regarding reach and impact on the world at large.

Of course, there will be those who say that many people make a great living using Twitter. If you want to go down that path, I would ask that you put an actual number to just what number constitutes ‘many’ and a clear definition of what a ‘good living’ is. I think it’s more accurate to say that a very select few have built very nice income with Twitter as part of the mix (the superstars) while some others make some money in a variety of different ways and the vast, vast majority don’t make a red cent (although they will claim they do).

Look, I think Twitter is great for what it is. It works for me in the limited fashion that I use it but as I talk to more and more business people and people in general who are not social media hyper-users the real value of the service is hard to define. There is SO much junk in it that any numbers that are given by the company need to be looked at with a very serious critical (and skeptical eye). Couple that with the mystery revenue plan and you have something that is looking more and more like a Hollywood set everyday. The buildings look great on the outside but when you walk through the door you get nothing.

This may be a harsh assessment of the service and feel free to tell me so in the comments but the more I hear about Twitter stats and compare it to what I actually see going on, the less I am convinced that Twitter is what it wants to appear to be to the world at large.

Your thoughts?

  • Joshua Corbelli

    It’s nice to hear people take this point of view. I often ask myself the real benefits of using Twitter, and usually end up making up some excuse to myself. If my clients are set on having an account, that’s fine, but I rarely suggest focusing energy there. I haven’t seen, beyond the unquantifiable measure of feeling like your soap box means something, the benefit of hard use.

    That said, I do have an active account (multiple, actually, but like you I only use one). And Twitter is nice for what it is, a place to feel like they’re being heard. I don’t have many followers, and that’s OK. It doesn’t matter. Meaningful relationships take more work than a 140-character snippet.

    Thanks for the post. Refreshing to hear somebody not oversold on the benefits of the Twitter.

  • Gio

    Oprah Winfrey’s basic Social IQ is 5109

  • My philosophy is that Twitter is a tool that leads into other forms of social sharing. I consider Twitter a place to lay the groundwork where other people pick up things. Twitter is a seeding medium and a place to build engagement and interaction… it is not a broadcast medium, so it is not about the quantity of people listening at once, but the ability to lay it out there for those whose attention are drawn to what you have to say at any given moment.

    Having followers allows us to engage them in discourse and learn from them. Imagine having thousands of consumers readily available and willing to share their insights when you need feedback or the ability to spread a meaningful message. The ability to gain a large number of followers can be a means to those ends.

    I also make a great use of Twitter not only to reach out to the public, but to build relationships with stronger mediums, like the blogging and traditional media communities, whose outlook and messages live in a much more static environment and whose outreach influence can be substantial. If utilized correctly, Twitter is the most effective and valuable networking tool ever created.

    • @Ted – Thanks for stopping by and giving us your POV. We know you are one that has used the tool to its utmost and helps drive that tweet per user number up!

    • Joshua Corbelli

      I think the idea of Twitter is more enticing than its application. The lifespan of a tweet is less than an hour (I’ve seen estimates as low as 8 minutes). According to a recent study: “According to Sysomos, just 6% of all tweets are retweeted and these retweets have a very short lifespan. Virtually all retweets happen within the first hour after the original tweet.”

      Simply, I believer there is just too much happening. If you are following 400 people, you can’t spend more than 30 seconds before a handful of new tweets are updated in your feed. The idea is that you can reach your 500 or 5,000 followers with a powerful message and call them to action. The reality is, so do the 500 other people they follow. In the end, Twitter seems too much rambling with too little end benefit.

      But, these have been my experiences, If you have found a loyal group of followers, which I truly believe is possible, then by all means, run with them! 🙂 I enjoyed your point of view.

  • Frank… always look forward to your insightful and thought provoking posts.

  • Cynthia

    I still love Twitter but I always feel like there’s a better way to use it and I’ve not found it.

    On a daily basis though, I find story ideas to write about, I get much of my breaking news from Twitter and I usually get a good laugh. That alone is worth the price of admission.

  • The reason why I believe a business should start using Twitter is because of what it could possibly become in the future and not because of what it is right now .It is the same logic that I used over 10 years ago when certain people were not interested too much in spending time building websites. There is going to be abuse when anything new comes along and I believe that once they have figured out how to improve the filtering system , certain people will find it more useful. Similarly, I personally cannot stand facebook for business because I believe social matters and business are completely separate in my life. If I want to play golf for , I am not going to think about trying to get new clients by socializing on the 19th hole but not everyone thinks like me. No! I want to relax and have a separate social life because I value my privacy. Nowadays, there is no argument regarding the worth of a website and spending time building it but there is an argument about whether a Twitter account has value. I think it does have value because otherwise Google would not be using their feed to plug into their real time search option. Most people are probably not aware that Google search has a realtime search engine based on Twitter feed. Its not displayed prominently and you have to look for it. It is only recently that I have begun using realtime search and I believe as time goes by the “realtime” population will increase

  • Alice

    I know we talk about Twitter in a lot of my classes at school. We keep hearing that Twitter can help us in our job search and networking, which I can see to be true, but at the same time, I find Twitter very annoying. I get about 1000 email notifications a day because of all the, what I percieve to be, status updates people/groups make. I get that it increases networking opportunities but I really am not a fan. To me, Twitter is a whole site dedicated to the worst part of Facebook (status updates). People and groups update their twitters so often it is silly…aren’t there more important things we could be doing? As far as networking goes, I would much rather put myself out there and go to events and meet people, network and job search the old fashion way.