Commentary

If the Twitter Frenzy Is Over, Where Does It Fly From Here?

It's somehow typical that, only in the last day or so, I've seen a few headlines suggesting that Twitter's meteoric rise may be slowing down. That's how fast things are moving these days -- one day you're a Time cover story titled, "How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live" (what? It has replaced oxygen?), and five days later:

 

·        Hubspot, in its "State of the Twittersphere" report, says that over half of Twitter users have no followers.

·-       According to new, unquantified data from Quantcast, U.S. Twitter usage has actually fallen from last month, from 24.4 million to 21.9 million. (I'll attribute this to "The Oprah Effect", since there were no celebrity additions to Twitter of her magnitude recently.)

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--     Compete says Twitter grew in May, but by only 1.47%, to 19.7 million unique visitors.

OK, people. I guess it's time to fold up our Twitter accounts and go home. Not. But it is time to dig a little deeper and figure out just where Twitter really is in the zeitgeist at this moment, and where it should go from here.

The first thing we should all note about some of these just-released Twitter stats is that they don't necessarily take into account the explosion of Twitter clients. Still, though it's important to take all traffic numbers with a grain of salt -- or at the very least look at a number of them to come to a more well-rounded conclusion -- it's not as though the Twitter clients can be counted upon to take up all the slack. Compete says that use of Tweetdeck declined dramatically between April and May, from 915,000 users to 476,000 users. Quantcast's unquantified numbers show an even deeper drop. Certainly, there's evidence that more and more tweeting is going mobile -- m.twitter.com showed 20% growth in the last month, per Compete, but overall, the Twitter bird's wings aren't flapping as fast as they were a month ago.

 But the bigger problem for Twitter lies in the numbers put out by Hubspot, which echo earlier findings that way too many Twitter users are users only in the sense that they logged on, maybe once. In addition to more than 53% having no followers, 55.5% aren't following anyone. Hubspot also found that 9% of Twitter users are what it defines as inactive, with fewer than 10 followers, friends or updates. And, in another telling statistic about how Twitter's growth is being aided and abetted by those who don't really care about it, last year's "State of the Twittersphere" report showed that 80% of Twitter users had a bio; this year only 24% have put a bio into their profile.

 Yes, in case you doubted it, Twitter is really serving only a tiny fraction of us. The question, when a company confronts slowing growth numbers, is to figure out how it can grow more; in Twitter's case, I'd argue it's how to make more of its current user base become truly engaged so that its growth is real growth, instead of, well, Oprah or Ashton growth. Whether or not you believe the numbers above, this will be something that Twitter has to confront, if not now, at some point in the near future. The danger, if it doesn't, is that it could be perceived as just another wacky trend, like pet rocks or "Baby on Board" signs. I know it's not that, but I originally come from advertising, where perception is everything.

18 comments about "If the Twitter Frenzy Is Over, Where Does It Fly From Here?".
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  1. Anthony Coppedge from Anthony Coppedge Consulting, June 10, 2009 at 4:46 p.m.

    The pundits and social media observers are so focused on the base numbers of growth that I think they may be missing a common key to understanding the Twitter "engagement" issue: Many people join Twitter at the behest of a friend or co-worker without any idea of how to really leverage the tool. As a result, the number of new sign-ups don't automatically translate into actionable usage - and that's OK.

    I've heard this truism from many, many people about using Twitter: "I signed up, didn't get it and left it alone. I later came back to it once I was around someone who showed me how to make it useful to my life/business/family."

    The measurement frenzy over Twitter is missing this important point: They may not engage right away, but will often come back at a later time. Unfortunately, the metrics don't account for this important detail.

    For organizations using Twitter, a strategy is part of the process. I work with churches and see them often run towards new ideas, such as Twitter, with a "Ready, Fire, Aim" mentality. It's why the last chapter of the E-book "The Reason Your Church Must Twitter" is about using Twitter within the context of a strategy.

    Engagement increases when application meets "a-ha!"

  2. Nick Lawhead from Desautel Hege Communications, June 10, 2009 at 4:48 p.m.

    As you've noted, it is way too early to panic in this situation. Twitter's explosive growth from January to April was incredible and was certainly impacted by Ashton, Oprah and some market saturation. But, many of those users just wanted to check out the hype. For me, it makes a lot of sense that the growth numbers would flatten out and that many users would abandon the service.

    I have a number of friends that did just that. After getting excited hearing P. Diddy talk to Ellen about it, they called me to get the details. But, without have a purpose or understanding for using it, they quickly went back to Facebooking & texting me. This isn't going to kill Twitter.

    Personally, I don't see this service going away for a long time.

    @nlawhead

  3. David Wilson from AMN Healthcare, June 10, 2009 at 4:57 p.m.

    I'm guessing that some of this comes from people trying to secure desirable twitter accounts names (without any intent to use immediately), either for their own brand names and/or trademarks or in an attempt to cybersquat on others. Twitter accounts are free, so time is the only constraint for registering multiple accounts.

  4. Alex Czajkowski from eGaming 2.0 Ltd, June 10, 2009 at 4:58 p.m.

    twitter. The first CB radio of the web--in every dimension. Except speed of adoption and abandonment, but THAT'S the new and interesting paradigm. Threes and eights to you good buddies. (Too young to remember "Convoy" as a top 40 hit? Maybe you can wiki it...)

  5. Philip Crawford from InboxFox, June 10, 2009 at 5:56 p.m.

    I'm with Nick above.

    Additionally, what is *very* important is the ecosystem surrounding twitter - all those hundreds (thousands?) of other startups. Every week there is a new company either providing a service based directly on twitter or utilizing twitter in some messaging/sharing/news type of way.

    Forget the gross # of users metric - that is based on the herd like movement of the media. More importantly is the disruptive nature of the twitter ecosystem - not just twitter itself.

    For example:
    http://www.bakertweet.com/
    http://springwise.com/food_beverage/kogibbq/

    (I love fresh croissants)

    Twitter is a unique message platform. The web is going mobile and twitter is already there and joined by the hundreds of interlocking other service providers.

    @wiscoDude

  6. Allan Hoving from AH Consulting, June 10, 2009 at 6:12 p.m.

    I participated (via Twitter) in a Social Media panel presenting to a Consultants group in Toronto. Only 10% were on Twitter. The majority were still trying to figure out how to use LinkedIn (nevermind Facebook). We are dealing with three-year lag times.

  7. Jared stivers, June 10, 2009 at 7:23 p.m.

    Sounds to me like twitter is crossing the chasm. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Chasm) What an early adopter expects from tweeting vs what the early majority expects, at least at first, is two different things.

    Having explosive early growth settle down into a more moderate growth pattern post oprah and ashton should be expected. The next step is to figure out what people are tweeting about and how that fits into their lives. Personally I find it's a great way to share and get pointed to things on the web I wouldn't ordinarily find. That and to kill some time.

    @jaredstivers

  8. Thom Kennon from Free Radicals, June 10, 2009 at 8:02 p.m.

    It is amusing to watch the general & trade press wring hands and fret over whether "Twitter is it!" or "Twitter is dead!". To anyone who's been using tools like Twitter and FriendFeed to keep in touch with each other, search real-time info, discover new people, learn new stuff, and, let's face it, be entertained in a whole new & fleetingly dreamy way - this kerfuffeling is pretty ignorable.

    These platforms will at some point become generic, like email and IM and even RSS. It's the human behavior that matters, and that's what's changing.

    Knashing teeth over the percentage of Tweeps who signup and never Tweet - (anybody else old enough to remember a similar chorus singing "email would never replace [fill in the blank]") isn't an interesting point and utterly misses what's really going on here.

    Follow the behaviors, people: 200 million and counting Facebook accounts with a huge percentage of its users primarily using it to update their status and check their feeds. More and more from their mobiles.

    That's a behavior that has taken hold. That's the behavior supported by the Twitters of the emerging world.

    What's really new, and what seems to be taking hold, is the attention cloud generated by these streams within and across these platforms.

    And for scientists, new moms, college buddies, unsigned bands and their fans and --- yes marketers --- this attention cloud is an essential place for making meaningful contact, discovering, sharing and conversing in new and habit-forming ways. Whether you are a lacrosse dad or a plasma TV brand.

    Actually, a more interesting question for the press and pundits would be asking how long it will take FriendFeed (massively open, extensible, awesome and more fun than watching TV with Conan on the couch with you...) to put Facebook out of business.

  9. Michael Senno from New York University, June 10, 2009 at 9:40 p.m.

    This article is a generic social media response to every platform that has emerged in the past 3-5 years. Dig hard enough and you can find similar incriminating stats about the infallible Facebook. How many users make daily or even weekly updates after the initial surge? Or how many are consistent week to week, as opposed to the flurry of activity followed by months of silence?

    This analysis reveals nothing news. A more pertinent analysis is if Twitter is evolving into a useful tool and have any brands/individuals found a sustainable, beneficial use for the tool.

  10. Holly Brown from MRM Worldwide, June 10, 2009 at 11:31 p.m.

    Isn't this the 80/20 rule in all its glory.The smaller percentage of people who are actually using Twitter, tweeting and following are getting value and contributing value.

    As an additional observation I think the usability of Twitter by mass consumers is as easy as it is difficult. Meaning that some of the more advanced or interesting features of Twitter are third party applications you have to know about, and find. They are not available from within Twitter and if you don't know about them or talk to other Twitters, you won't get it. Even the Search functionality is mediocre. So, it's easy to sign up and sign on, but to get the most our of it, you have to go outside of Twitter. I think a lot of folks abandon because they don't get it.

  11. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, June 11, 2009 at 1:12 p.m.

    It's no surprise that some accounts go inactive. It typically takes a month of use for the user to realize the benefit. That's hardly instant gratification.

    As for having no followers, I use my account primarily to monitor experts and celebrities who would never friend me on Facebook. I'm lucky to say anything once every two weeks. But if someone wanted to follow me, they'd still get those posts; it's like not getting or sending postal mail -- it doesn't detract from the utility. No spam or junk mail, either.

  12. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., June 11, 2009 at 1:17 p.m.

    Recently I saw a TV ad (remember those?) promoting the latest in a long line of youth-targeted beverages du jour. Instead of a URL for the product Web site, of course, it listed its Twitter URL.

    And looking at it, I couldn't help but feel the "Here we go again" hairs on the back of my neck as one electronic communications "fad" (800 number -> AOL keyword -> Web site -> mailing list -> blog -> Facebook fan page -> Twitter) gets replaced for another. The procession will certainly continue.

    Except seeing the Twitter URL reminded me more of the closed-system AOL keywords of old, rather than the more open addressing standards we've seen of late. Ironically, seeing that Twitter URL had the reverse effect on me: it made their product seem downright antiquated rather than hip.

  13. Tim Patterson, June 11, 2009 at 7:26 p.m.

    Everyone that uses Twitter probably uses it in a slightly different way than the next gal. Whether Twitter numbers as a whole are growing, flattening, declining...the real question is what value do the users get out of it?

    I've heard interesting stories lately how tradeshow and conference attendees, for instance, are using Twitter to stay abreast of other breakout sessions, keynotes, catch up with exhibitors and attendees, etc. The instant communication of one-to-many is useful in so many ways it's hard to know where to start.

    I put up a blog post on promoting your local speech; it was picked up and re-tweeted by someone with 35,000+ followers, which was immediately re-tweeted by another half dozen of her followers. As a result I had a 300% weekend bounce in my website traffic and picked up several newsletter subscribers.

    I think we're just scratching the surface of what Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendfeed and the like can and will do.

    @tradeshowguy
    @comster

  14. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, June 12, 2009 at 1:35 a.m.

    I have many friends and colleagues who just don't get it. And that's fine it's not their fault. They haven't yet seen the need for Twitter. Funny, when they do they jump on board. I liken it to being taken to a sporting match in which you don't know the game or players. You may never return but one such game may sparkle your interest and your hooked. As for Twitter, I see it as a great marketing tool. I'm hooked. Kurt Johansen - Australia's Email Marketing Guru - http://www.kurtjohansen.com

  15. Tina Bykowski from ICAEW, June 12, 2009 at 4:16 a.m.

    I agree with most of the comments. I have only been tweeting for about 4 weeks. I signed up and asked the question - now what. I am doing something on the web practically 10 hours a day but Twitter stumped me initially.
    I am now following all the techie news and meet up with like minded people in my area. It isn't instant you do have to work at it but I am right up to date now with techie news more than I have ever been and for light relief I follow the likes of Stephen Fry and Alan Davies - just to make me smile.

  16. Kathleen Saenz from Neighborhood America, June 15, 2009 at 10:23 a.m.

    Show me the money, right!!! Catharine, you're right that Twitter provides a great landscape to connect with a wide audience, but is that the best strategy? It's a great way to get familiarized with social media, but I think what's next is businesses deploying their own Twitter-like solution or a more robust online community. They need to show ROI, not just a warm fuzzy feeling from getting a new follower.

    @KathySaenz

  17. Jason Breed from Neighborhood America, June 15, 2009 at 11:40 a.m.

    This really touches where I believe Twitter is most useful. It's best use is not a solution, it's not for marketing, connecting, etc. Twitter is a utility for sharing and receiving messaging of =<140 characters. that's it.

    IMHO, the value will come from the applications being developed around Twitter everyday. They are more purposeful and easy to understand than Twitter itself. We have not begun to imagine how Twitter will influnece us, but I'm sure some 3rd party developers are working on it now.

  18. Paul Solomon from Paul Solomon and Associates, June 16, 2009 at 2:58 p.m.

    According to the cover story in this week's issue of Time magazine by Steven Johnson, Twitter is "changing the way we live, and showing us the future of American innovation". In this age of short attention spans, Twitter is the one social networking site that adapts perfectly to our fast-paced lifestyle, and is adaptable to most mobile devices. Twitter is gaining on social networking sites like Facebook because it is quicker and more efficient. The 140-character limit allows users to publish "tweets" from anywhere using their laptops or Blackberrys. Although Twitter still trails Facebook, the Nielsen ratings service shows that it's usage has grown by 1,298% since last year. Indeed, Facebook has grown by 217% in the same one-year period, and Twitter is still way behind, with 17.10 million visitors in April of 2009 compared to 71.29 million for Facebook. Because there are so many demands on our time, and many different ways we can spend it on our computers, hooked up to the Internet, Twitter is growing precisely because of it's limitations. Originally, people scoffed at the 140-character updates that limited people to just a few short sentences. But, according to Johnson in his Time article, "hearing about what your friends had for breakfast is actually more interesting than it sounds." Instead of one "tweet," we end up with an endless stream of small messages that can add up to a media event. For instance, Britain's oddball talent show sensation Susan Boyle gained Internet acclaim largely through Twitter chatter, with links to her YouTube site, where views reached record numbers. As it turns out, with millions of people using Twitter, the way it is being used is changing constantly, and it's the users themselves who have been redesigning the site. For example, the grouping of a topic or event called a "hashtag" (#inauguration, for example), the use of the @ symbol for replying to one another, and the ability to search a live stream of "tweets" were all developed by users, not Twitter itself. Thanks to these innovations, following political debates or discussions about our favorite TV shows have become commonplace. "It's like inventing a toaster oven and then looking around a year later and seeing that your customers have turned it into a microwave," wrote Johnson. Twitter is still evolving, and whether it continues to grow at the current astounding rate is not what's important. The fact that such a simple idea can create such a powerful form of communication shows us that anything's possible. In this economic climate, when banks and car companies are going bankrupt, an idea as simple as Twitter is an example of thinking small and making it big. The founders of Twitter reportedly turned down a $500 million offer from Facebook to purchase the site and they may be waiting for a more lucrative offer. Who knows, it might be worth a lot more. I'm just trying to figure out how to put all my ideas down in 140 characters or less.

    http://www.paulsolomon.blogspot.com

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