I don't know about you, but I'm really tired of the articles shouting that Twitter is dead, that Twitter is an echo chamber or that Twitter controversies are storms in teacups.
As with any other tool, Twitter is what you make it. I'm sure I can find a study that says that fax machines are dead, but that doesn't mean that most offices don't still have one somewhere. And I can use a teaspoon to plow a field, but that doesn't mean it's the best tool for the job. For many users, especially those with affinity to certain groups and a certain type of social exchange and/or marketing goal, Twitter is a valuable social networking tool.
Twitter is indeed social.
Here is what I'm reacting to: Econsultancy recently interpreted the results of a Yahoo! study with the title Twitter isn't very social.The study reviewed 260 million tweets sent on Twitter between July 28, 2009 and March 8, 2010 containing bit.ly-shortened URLs. Additional findings:
- A whopping 50% of all content consumed on Twitter is generated by only 20,000 users.
- Individuals on Twitter follow back far less than they're followed.
- There's significant fragmentation on Twitter. In other words, "Celebrities listen to celebrities, while bloggers listen to bloggers."
First, since Twitter usage changes daily and has shifted dramatically in the last year, I wonder how relevant these results are. Social networking is a fast-paced world, and a study from a year ago doesn't reflect how users actually use the service in 2011. In 2010, Econsultancy reported that 27 million Tweets flew through the Twittersphere each day, and in 2011, the number is 95 million Tweets per day. With a growth rate of 250%, it seems likely that the way participants use Twitter might have shifted in 12 months as well. And annoyingly, it's difficult to determine how many of those 95 million daily Tweets translate to active users at this point.
Additionally, on the second two points, I find those norms to reflect appropriate social networking. I follow about one-third to one-half as many people as follow me; that still leaves thousands of users pushing data into my stream. I follow back those that are relevant to me; following back less is a sign of appropriate content filtering and should be applauded, not criticized as less than fully social. No one interacts with every single human being who interacts with her on a tit-for-tat basis.
As for segmentation, doesn't that also reflect a natural social tendency? Humans flock to those like us who cover similar topics and content. Interacting with those with whom you feel an affinity is social behavior. And here's a fun statistic: social media users are even more likely to be active in a social group: 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users are group participants. Of course social media users are social in a way that reflects their priorities and preferred topics.
In short, get over the fact that while some people just use Twitter to update their location and current activity, there is a percentage of users for whom Twitter is actually useful. I've used Twitter to:
- Find a job
- Help others find a job
- Pass on contract work
- Promote NFP events
- Find a coffee buddy while traveling
- Find a power charger while traveling
- Conduct a poll
- Find people to speak French with
- Be snarky
- Pass on joyful moments
- Warn others of traffic delays
- Share last-minute event changes
- Get blog post ideas
- Complain about/praise customer service
- Find studies related to Facebook usage
- Solve an HMTL coding issue
- Get a ride home
- Document breaking news
Those tasks reflect social behavior (and some marketing behavior); it just so happens that Twitter is a valuable tool for conversing in these situations. For some, Twitter might not be the right tool for their purposes, but that doesn't mean that Twitter isn't a valuable part of the social web. It means that users have preferences for socializing. Welcome to humanity.