Posted March 22, 2011 7:59 am by with 1 comment

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Twitter just celebrated its fifth birthday. The blog post over at Twitter celebrating this ‘event’ has a nice video (see below, it’s worth the look just to see Snoop Dog’s ‘wake and bake’ reference to Martha Stewart … classic). The Twitter post also has some statistics that, of course, come from the nest itself so we can set the stage with how Twitter feeds the hype.

Twitter users now send more than 140 million Tweets a day which adds up to a billion Tweets every 8 days—by comparison, it took 3 years, 2 months, and 1 day to reach the first billion Tweets. While it took about 18 months to sign up the first 500,000 accounts, we now see close to 500,000 accounts created every day. All of this momentum and growth often pales in comparison to a single compassionate Tweet by a caring person who wants to help someone in need.

That’s nice. eMarketer has released a study (for sale with no connection to MP) recently that looks to provide a counter balance to the hype that usually is attached to anything Twitter related. US marketers should have a healthy perspective of who uses Twitter and how much of the hype can be trusted. eMarketer puts it this way

Reports of Twitter usage can vary widely. The company itself reported that as of September 2010, 175 million accounts had been created. Firms that track unique visitors to tallied between approximately 20 million and 26 million per month last year.

But because of duplicate accounts, international users, “Twitter quitters” and the fact that many visitors to are simply reading public tweets and not truly using the service, those numbers are nearly all higher than survey data that asks internet users about their online and mobile habits.

“Twitter users are a sizeable and growing bunch, but their numbers are considerably smaller than those disseminated by many media outlets and Twitter itself,” said Paul Verna, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report, “Twitter Users: A Vocal Minority.” “In the US, this means tens of millions of users, as opposed to hundreds of millions.”

A Twitter reality check is a good thing and should be talked about more often. Twitter’s claim of 500,000 account being created every day makes no mention of how many are bots or just placeholders or actual people that add no value to the service and tend to create clutter vs. anything of real importance.

Regardless, Twitter can be very valuable but marketers must be acutely aware and realistic about just how important it will be to their marketing efforts. The chart below shows that Twitter adult user growth should remain strong over the next few years in the US. This is good to consider but once again you have to look at ‘growth’ through a skeptic’s lens or else you can be blinded by numbers that can’t turn into business. Are bots considered adults?

In the end, it’s a simple matter of using rational thinking as to what role Twitter can and will play in whatever marketing efforts are being considered for a business. Just doing a cannonball into the deep end of the Twitter pool could end up in a visit from the marketing lifeguard. If there was ever a place where spending some time in the low impact areas (let’s say the shallow end to keep our pool analogy going), could pay off, it’s Twitter. For every @garyvee there are millions of accounts that are dormant, are bots or are just not of any value to a marketer. Discretion is the better part of valor when choosing to use Twitter for business. That’s not a knock on the service because there can be incredible value but as with anything it is only available if applied correctly.

So we leave you with the thought that real research is required to see the real Twitter through the hype machine. If you simply buy the numbers and expect magic you could be very disappointed. But let’s leave on a happy note with Twitter’s own Happy Birthday to itself video which will make anyone think that all you need to be happy is a tweet and a smile.

  • Twitter, just like every social networking site, has it’s super users and its trolls. The super users pump of the average number of Tweets being sent at any given moment and the trolls artificially inflate the number of profiles. But that doesn’t mean that Twitter can’t be an extremely valuable tool for some companies. It’s a great place to incorporate customer service activities (just look at @JetBlue), push content and connect with consumers.