(WARNING: this post contains lots of buzzwords … buzzword alert)
Twitter, tweeting, whatever … I am not really sure how I feel about it all.
What I do know is I am cynical of all the hype surrounding social media.
Oh. I am not suggesting that the internet and technology has not created additional ways to communicate with each other (of which anyone with half a marketing brain would understand opens up possible avenues to communicate a marketing message) but rather I am cynical of the hype like “twitter is reinventing the way we communicate!”.
I have lived through the .com era, the death of television, cable TV will kill network TV, influencer marketing (or ‘push’ or ‘tipping points’ whatever you want to call it), etc. (I did miss out on the invention of the telegraph which was supposed to kill the newspaper industry).
I have seen buzzwords come and go and “the next big idea” fizzle faster than a shaken coke bottle. Discerning the wheat from the chaff is difficult so I remain realistically cynical … or is it realistically optimistic?
With that said, here is where I am on the Twitter topic, especially with this quasi new study some whiz bang Harvard MBAs did in their free time:
By the way. I had no interest in writing about Twitter, but this post actually started with my 78 year old mother. I had lent her my 2 foot high ceramic Sylvester the Cat (which holds Tweety behind him) to put at her front door of her new home (she dresses Sylvester up depending on the holiday). Anyway. As we left the other day she asks what this “tweety thing” is she keeps hearing about. She also added “it sounds like a very narcissistic thing.” (she’s a smart lady)
Just to be sure I have everyone on the same page let me outline what I believe Twitter is all about (defining it):
Twitter is a “micro blogging” service, where you can stand on your soapbox and say whatever you like in 140 characters or less. Each message is called a “tweet”. When you tweet (god that sounds stupid) it goes out to the Internet in general, but particularly to your “followers” (some boneheads who identified some interest in hearing what you have to say).
If you don’t feel like ‘tweeting’, you can just lurk in the background and eavesdrop on whomever you want. The good news is you don’t need to use your real information as your username, so you don’t have to worry about people finding out your personal information.
About these ‘followers.’
If this whole having followers thing sounds like a bit of an ego stroke, um, it is.
Twitter is great for both people who like to yak in 140 characters or less a lot and those who like to listen to them (and not have to read a lot).
This research study I referred to. There was a nice research study completed by a couple of MBAs at Harvard (and published in the Harvard Business Review). Here is the deal on this study. The study gets nitpicked by social media experts for methodology and a bunch of crap. Everyone should get over it and learn from the information.
Researching a new growing tactic or category is difficult because it is moving so fast. So this study is at best an excellent snapshot of Twitter.
The study suggests at this stage in Twitter’s “life,” some usage patterns vary from a typical on-line social network. Here is some information from the study (some things I just cut & pasted):
A typical Twitter user contributes very rarely. Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. (yikes. Anything smaller than that would be … well .. zero). This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.
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. This implies that Twitter’s resembles more of a one way monologue (or one to many) service than a two way, peer-to-peer communication network. (they, or someone else, wrote this not me…but…I have been trying to suggest this for a long, long time)
The Study: By comparing activity of a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009 to activity on other social networks and online content production venues, they concluded “Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets”. (some more detail follow below in this point)
Of the sample, 80% are followed by or follow at least one user. By comparison, only 60 to 65% of other online social networks’ members had at least one friend (when these networks were at a similar level of development). This suggests that actual users (as opposed to the media at large) understand how Twitter works.
Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. 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. In case you are wondering they found that men comprise 45% of Twitter users, while women represent 55%. (they got that figure by cross referencing users’ “real names” against a database of 40,000 strongly gendered names).
An average man tweeter (I do love typing that) is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman. These results cannot be explained by different tweeting activity because both men and women tweet at the same rate.
The information shows the split between lurkers and contributors to be quite close to that of many other computer based communities, which almost always exhibit strong participation inequality, with a 90-9-1 distribution (90% of users hardly contribute and are lurkers; 9% contribute some; 1% dominate the contributions). However, the results pertaining to women/men are contrary to other research on the context of online social networks. On a typical online social network, most of the activity is focused around women (men typically follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know.) In other words, in a non Twitter social media environment men typically receive comparatively little attention from other men or from women.
I would imagine this difference gets driven by the 140 character limit and a lack of photo sharing, detailed biographies, etc.). So. Twitter seems to me a broadcasting system which appeals to those seeking attention for whatever reason.
Some thoughts (from me):
While the research seems to be puzzling social media experts, a lot of it seems kind of common sense to a dinosaur like me.
Women, in general, are more discerning in relationship and communication. I just don’t find this surprising. I tend to believe women have tighter restrictions on building reciprocating type relationships (especially in a non face to face environment like Twitter). Not only would I assume women are less likely to do a ‘reciprocal follow’ just because someone chooses to follow them because of simple caution, but also I believe they prefer a few quality relationships rather than a high quantity of lower quality relationships.
I also don’t find it difficult to believe men are more interested in follower size than women. Look. Men are known for having bigger ego’s than women and Twitter lets them ‘hold court’ and have ‘followers.’
Facebook is much more popular with women because in general it fits some user needs – post pictures and extended information about personal relationships. Men, in general, don’t care about that stuff.
But. This is really bad news for all those social media experts who thrive on “conversations” and “dialogue” and whatever buzzword you want to throw in here. Twitter is currently a place where a few sources with a large readership dominate the information flow on a topic. (some people call that ESPN or CNN) I guess in general we could call the current Twitter a broadcasting system.
Regardless of all the lurkers, followers, shouters and random free agents from a business marketing perspective, (and let’s try and remember Twitter was designed as a social platform, not a sales or marketing platform, so we are the “uninvited guest to the party”) the early social media success stories happened because they were both unexpected and real. I mean most people were pretty shocked that the person tweeting as “Zappos CEO Tony” really was the actual CEO of Zappos, The fact that this CEO was actually funny and had real personality only added to the mystique (and screwed every other CEO in the world).
Unfortunately for most companies they just don’t have a cool, funny CEO who wants and can twitter. In addition, companies don’t really know how to have actual conversations (or their legal departments won’t let them) so they resort to one of two things (1) professional PR people twittering professional gobbledygook or (2) mass fake party banter (“Great! See you there!”) or the ‘pitch’ (“new sale on pink thongs!”) and the interactions become painfully sterile.
In the end.
As much as we like wasting time on Twitter or Facebook or whatever, most of us just don’t have time to interact with every single brand who is “shouting out” to us especially if we’re mainly there to interact with our friends (or our worshipping followers).
As for marketers?
It is probably a great one way “hey pay attention here is some news” vehicle but an inappropriate vehicle because it is used, and perceived, as a social vehicle and not a media vehicle.