Many people sign on to Twitter, create an account and then never use it, apparently this applies to around half of the accounts opened. People look, can’t see what all of the fuss is about and then just leave the account dormant. The interesting thing is that people generally don’t connect to people they know because as a communication tool there’s plenty of more useful and reliable options.
People say Twitter is brilliant in the event of breaking news, and of course there are some good examples of this recently but do we really need another source of news which might be even more unreliable than the official news sources? Or are we putting news reporting back in the hands of the people? It does seem really effective when people need help, I have heard great stories about missing people and stolen cars being recovered but what is the real benefit? Is it a quick fix for the new addiction of social connectedness? Do you know that there are now more IP connected devices than there are people on Earth? Pretty soon your car will delay starting because its replying to its own Twitter feed, or at least it feels that way.
Celebrity Popularity Contest
Celebrities amass incredible numbers of followers, Lady Gaga has something like 34 million followers but has only tweeted about 2,600 times. Justin Bieber is now ahead of Lady Gaga on followers but has tweeted over 21k times so who is the more successful tweep? Both have more followers than Barack Obama so does this mean that both of them are more popular than the President? Does this mean that they can communicate something meaningful to a larger audience? The answer is obviously yes provided it can fit into 140 characters and they have something meaningful to say.
This is social media so it doesn’t have to be meaningful does it? The Twitter accounts of celebrities are often run by their media people and few of them end up tweeting anything meaningful as such to their followers and even if they did are followers going to catch it in their Twitter Feed or timeline? Don’t forget the timeline isn’t like an email inbox which is the modern equivalent of the old in tray, if you didn’t process things it built up high! The Twitter timeline is what it says on the tin, a ticker tape of linear social news or, if not news, words sentences, quotations etc. Of course it is possible to include short urls in tweets which take people off into the internet but don’t forget the linear timeline. The tweet has to hit at the right time for anyone in the audience to even notice!
Like Sheep We Follow
One big question is why do people follow others on Twitter?
- People follow a celebrity, trying to find the real one amongst the lookalikes ones might be a challenge, but usually the clue is the number of followers, after all 34 million people can’t be wrong, or can they? Sometimes the bogus ones attract a lot of followers too.
- People follow a personality who has publicly proclaimed their enthusiasm for this particular social media tool, like Stephen Fry for instance.
- People follow their idols in the hope that it will make them feel they know the person, like they have the inside scoop, the inside track, like they have the celebrity on speed dial and that makes the follower feel slightly privileged and as though they belong.
Your Own Personal Timeline
As a follower you are presented with a stream of tweets from the total set of people you follow in a linear timeline so if you are following more than about 50 active people, unless you are glued to this feed, you will probably miss anything meaningful that was said by anyone. Lady Gaga is following back 136k people while Barack Obama is following 665k. To make sense of any of these tweets is like listening to the crowd noise in a football stadium and trying to make sense of a conversation between two people sat at opposite ends of the stadium talking to each other on mobile phones. It is possible but its hard work and is there really a benefit?
Its a Numbers Game
It’s all about the numbers, to get more followers Twitter suggests people who you could potentially follow and the Twitter etiquette, and human nature, dictates that if someone has the courtesy or interest to follow you then you should return the favour. Of course this doesn’t apply to celebrities take Lady Gaga with 34 million followers, she or her people are following back 136k, so thats a ratio of 250:1 not bad so if you follow her and when you are lulled into the sense that its worth responding to something she tweets, which newbies do a lot, then you have a 1/25o chance of being on the list of people she follows but since these total 136,000+ even if you are on that list she is unlikely to ever notice your tweet. Katy Perry has 32 million followers but only follows 118 people which in my opinion is very sensible of her. Thats a ratio of 271k:1 so who is the more successful tweep?
Twitter for Business
Business use of Twitter is interesting, it has become something of a ‘me too’ game, businesses feel that they can’t afford not to have a presence on Twitter, but in general they leave it to a generation Y person in their marketing department to manage it. The tweets tend to be bland and generally relate to things like product launches and trivia sent from trade shows, why would you follow this kind of thing?
It becomes like a beacon, companies post something to their followers hoping that it will make a difference and since its the cheapest form of direct marketing ever made available then why not?
Well of course its useful for building your company’s network then. Is it? It’s a bit like going to a trade show and picking up as many business cards as you can and leaving one of yours behind in exchange, there is no personal time invested in the connection, you don’t know if the connection is relevant to you or if you are relevant to them but you have a huge stack of cards and contacts and you will need to order more of your own. Did it create a business network? No, not really!
Most software and devices are designed with a purpose to a requirement, to deliver a benefit. It feels like Twitter is a psychological experiment on a global scale, like a massive ant farm. It has been interesting to see how it has grown and what networks and affiliations have been made but, has it generated any real value? Is the field of human endeavour better for it?
So what are the benefits and what drives us to follow and tweet? There are two different personality types attracted to its different aspects.
- Have something to say and like the feeling of saying it to a large audience – fits well with celebrities and politicians.
- Are on transmit only, their ego is fuelled by telling and not listening, so they don’t really read tweets.
- Are often a company, this is cheap market communication but they don’t want to give anything away so they tweet trivia and links to the company’s web site.
- Want to feel connected, they like gossip and they like to feel that they have the inside scoop on news before it is printed.
- Will follow lots of people in the hope that they will follow back because they feel their worth in cyberspace is determined by the number of followers they have.
- Will follow a company for the same reason they ‘like’ them on Facebook.
Is the Twitter Experiment Over?
It appears not, subscribers and tweets are on the increase take a look at this infographic compiled by www.website-monitoring.com for 2012.
However as a though experiment consider what would happen if Twitter closed down tomorrow, what would be the tangible effect?
Twitter sees 175 million tweets on an busy day globally. For a user to compile an original tweet of 140 characters takes about 45 seconds, about 20% of all tweets are re-tweets which only take about 1 second to RT. So if Twitter closed down we would save 105 million minutes globally on original tweets and 583 thousand minutes on RTs. That’s a combined total of 1.75 million hours per day. Now I am sure all of this time spent on Twitter has a social but could we write a business case for it?
Think of what might be achieved if we could harness that amount time for something else? To give you a feel here are some light hearted examples.
- To build the Great Pyramid took 350 million man hours equivalent to 200 Twitter Days.
- To build the Golden Gate Bridge took 5 million man hours equivalent to 2.8 Twitter Days.
- To build the Empire State Building took 7 million man hours equivalent to 4 Twitter Days.
Now I am not suggesting that this effort is comparable since Twitter is in short bursts, is primarily cerebral, and is spread globally but it certainly makes you think doesn’t it?