The hype about marketing on Twitter will sound as silly as buying islands in Second Life or crowing about your company's MySpace friends. Most of us will deny that we ever took it seriously. Twitter's main systemic problem can be summed up in this chart:
TWITTER'S HYPE EXCEEDS ITS GROWTH
The growth in Twitter's traffic and media coverage has been impressive. But how many Twitter users are really active? As an experiment, I looked up all the "Bill Smiths" on Twitter. On May 4th, I could find 133. Of those 133 users, only 13 had 10 or more followers, 10 or more tweets and were active in the last month. So by this measurement, only 10% of Twitter's Bill Smiths are actively using Twitter.
According to Quantcast, 72% of Twitter visitors stop by once and don't come back. Only 1% of the Twitter audience visits daily and this group of "addicts" accounts for 35% of all visits. These numbers compare unfavorably to other social networks.
Of those that sign up, the retention rate is very low. According to Nielsen , 60% fail to return for a second month. This number holds true, even accounting for the websites and applications that feed into the Twitter community.
TWITTER IS NOT PARTICULARLY YOUNG OR HIP
In the March 2009 Nielsen Netview, Twitter has an index of 40 against the demographic of kids 12-17, and below-average index against full-time students. The highest indexing demographic group on Twitter is Males 35-49 (167). I question the youthfulness and hipness of any media that Sarah Palin & Senator Claire McCaskill have embraced before our interns.
TWITTER IS AN ECHO CHAMBER FOR INTERNET AND MARKETING PROFESSIONALS
The demographic group where Twitter is most popular is among Internet and marketing professionals, and those who write about them.
In March, I followed each of Jennifer Van Grove's "40 Best Twitter Brands ", curious as to who these brands might be reaching out to. Surveying the first 20 followers of Rubbermaid 's tweets, I found 15 out of the first 20 followers had jobs and professions related to Internet marketing. I concluded that Twitter is an excellent way to reach people with an interest in twittering.
BUT WHAT ABOUT ZAPPOS?
There are some brands doing things on Twitter that have value. But how big can that universe of brands get? And are these brands effective now only because newness and novelty? There are tens of thousands of brands trying to get our attention on a daily basis. How many brands are you willing to follow on Twitter?
The joy of feedback from your customers is great when it comes a few tweets at a time. But this is not scalable for most large companies with sizeable customer bases. The busy CEO, swamped by too many tweets, hires a team to help with the hassle. The users lose that sense of personal contact and the novelty quickly dies. Twitter becomes another customer service center and the Tweeting job(s) are outsourced overseas.
One could argue that social networks operate like Ponzi schemes. They require rapid growth to maintain interest and draw more users. There is inevitably a point where growth is limited by the size of the potential audience and the appeal of the service. When growth slows and the shine of newness fades, the network begins to wither and die.
For Internet and marketing professionals, and those that follow them, Twittering keeps one busy and provides some thrills. But on the whole, it's an exercise in self-love. I welcome those of you who disagree with me to reply to @willakerlof.