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Why Tweet Tweet?

January 9th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Why have you joined twitter when you are already on facebook?

Judging by the often overlooked question on the Twitter page, “What are you doing?” the original intention when twitter’s layout was designed was to resolve the presence problem. That is the problem that we want to know what somebody is doing, before we interrupt them. It is why we don’t call people on their cell phone when they are away from their desk in an office environment and is a major barrier to the flow of effective business communication.

Status indication, even from your phone, is already available on facebook but in practice that isn’t what Twitter is being used for. Twitter is being used for water cooler conversation. It is a business social environment with minimal profile information. Like linkedIn it has no photo sharing or cluttered graphics resulting in a more business acceptable presence. As a result it has attracted a more professionally chattering classes demographic.

Lifeblogging, the logging in diary fashion of what you are doing,  is uncompelling for others and the popular accounts are in reality supplying a little relationship building chatter such as Jeff Pulver’s discussions of the Miami sunrise, together with short form URLs which push their or other’s material. So maybe this is the long awaited push media. Maybe we accept push media from a friend or somebody we chose to follow.

Is it just an inefficient version of Digg? Possibly. Or maybe the network building features on delicious. As such, Twitter is very inefficient. I can’t quickly see a list of Scoble’s links for the day. Or a ranking of links from CES this week. So, if it is so inefficient, why are people using it?

While for most people spending too much time at the water cooler is an indication that they need a different role, for some it is an important element of their work. Journalists want to know what the current topics of chatter are and PR people need to create awareness and chatter in a forum where journalists spend time. But what about the general users of Twitter?

I think the answer may be in the prominence given to the number of followers. It is feeding into the need for social affirmation by giving people a ranking. Telling people they are influential or even that they have authority.  It has in many ways become a game where people compete to have the highest number of followers or the highest ranking on Twitter ranking sites. The high score seeking is a driving attraction. We are told when every new follower begins following and bad news is overlooked as they leave without any direct indication on the site.

That isn’t the end to the bad news. Many of the accounts are silent, but worse, many people subscribed to a large group, were overwhelmed, and never logged in again.  If you read the 2000th page of Scoble’s followers exactly 50% haven’t published in the last month and half of those haven’t published in the last six months. The unanswered question is how many of the silent accounts are inactive. Significantly there is no last login date shown.

The other issue is that many may not be reading those they follow. Anybody following more than 200 people isn’t reading the content. The accounts with large numbers of followers inevitably make up a large proportion of the following. Could it be that other than the PR world and journalists others are not really reading twitter? That they are self selecting out and that is why we see so many bloggers and marketing people left. Well, there are readers. With some of the short link sites used on twitter it is possible to track the number of clicks on the short URL and the click through ratio of these links is often as much as 10% of followers.

One possible benefit of Twitter is that people are more effectively selecting who they follow based on the chatter and as a result getting more effective results than on Digg or delicious. This is difficult to judge. A lot of focus around Twitter is on the most followed accounts. It is noticeable that the most followed accounts, not driven by external fame, have extremely short bios. This is probably because the short bio does not cause anybody to self select out and a high proportion follow. Some of the most followed such as the Digg Nation team have acquired their followers as a fun club ranking tool rather than for, or as, a result of any tweets they have communicated over the site.

Twitter needs to become more compelling to read. A user interface where the regular columnists are in sections as they would be in print. A ranking can be included and preferably driven by ones self selected network. Then twitter becomes an index to the short form, shall I call them headlines? which lead one to occasional reading of links into more in depth discussion on a blog or at an established media site.

I was struck by a recent tweet in response to another: “Was that really a necessary tweet?”. Well I’m not sure I have ever seen a necessary tweet. Or rather, I haven’t seen an important tweet but I have enjoyed many frivolous tweets. It is indeed more entertaining than delicious. It is water cooler conversation and occasionally one needs to turn away from ones work and have some social context. The clicks generated by the 10% of followers have a value but readers with things to do will only spend occasional time at the water cooler and if that time is too occasional they won’t play this game.  For that reason the site needs to continue to evolve to be more readable or be replaced.

The real question is “How should it evolve or where should we go?

Categories: Marketing, Technology Tags: , ,
  1. March 30th, 2009 at 09:31 | #1

    Hi Owen,

    I was sceptical at first, trying to make sense of all the social networking sites like twitter, facebook and delicious. After a couple of months, I think I am quite comfortable with them now; they each reveal a different facet of me. Anyway, thank you for your post.

    Regards, Rachel

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