Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
June 21, 2009 7:38 AM

Half Of Your Twitter Efforts Are Wasted - The Trouble Is We Don't Know Which Half

As popular as Twitter is, we're starting to see some startling statistics about who is really using it, what they're using it for and what is going on behind the curtain.

Last week, HubSpot released a second version of their State of the Twittersphere report (which you can download here: State of the Twittersphere 2009). According to their report the statistics below were collected from their online tool Twitter Grader with information from over 4.5 million users.

Check this out:

  • 79.79% failed to provide a homepage URL
  • 75.86% of users have not entered a bio in their profile
  • 68.68% have not specified a location
  • 55.50% are not following anyone
  • 54.88% have never tweeted
  • 52.71% have no followers

At the bare minimum 70% of the people on Twitter won't tell you who they are, where they are located or how to connect to them. That doesn't sound very "social" at all.

On top of that, over half of those people don't follow anyone, have never tweeted and how no followers. So, what's the point? Are most of these "people" not really "people" and simply bots? Or, do the majority of people who sign up for Twitter have no idea what they're getting themselves into, what the point is or how to really use it?

What do you think is behind these stats?

(hat tip Chris Brogan)

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by ginevra
    Mitch Joel

    I don't personally find failure to provide URL particularly significant. On the blogs I read, there are many long term commenters who haven't set up their own blogs, hence no URL. Sure, maybe they should do Facebook or whatever, but outside social media circles, I don't feel this is a big issue. And location, also not the first thing I'd bother with.

    For the last 3, I'd like to know the overlap:are they the same 50% who don't tweet, don't follow and aren't follwed? Because that would make sense. So yes, maybe half wasted.

    A lot depends why you're using twitter, whether you think your effort is wasted.

    Reply
  • Posted by karmicangel
    Mitch Joel

    Wow. I had no idea people were so secretive about their information on Twitter. I mean, I use my screen name as my username, but right on my main Twitter page, you know who I am, it says a.misri the elder, and I use karmicangel everywhere, so its (I think) acceptable.... what is the point of getting involved in a social network if you want to stay anonymous?

    Reply
  • Posted by Alice O'Brien
    Mitch Joel

    The number of people that I talk to who don't "get" twitter is astounding! They set up an account but don't ever use it because posting what they had for breakfast doesn't appeal to them and their daily business routine doesn't feel worthy either.

    When you are manufacturing doors. or approving mortgages, there just doesn't seem to be anything interesting to twitter about. Or at least so I've been told. While I'm willing to talk about the latest branding campaign for a client or latest web widget that we've build, many of my clients are unwilling to share the competitive advantage they've developed in say... building street lights.

    When I look at Twitter, I notice that if you're not involved with online business or "news", then you're not really all that easy to find. So I question the utility of Twitter for some businesses, and I get why many folks think it's all a lot of buzz that isn't for them.

    I've been looking for potential clients on Twitter, and really the people who need my help are the ones that aren't there or who fit those supposedly "inactive" accounts. It's just that most industrial organizations don't get how this type of conversation helps them. If in fact it can help at all?

    Reply
  • Posted by Michelle Evans
    Mitch Joel

    I've been less inclined to use Twitter lately or, rather, to take it seriously. Not my twitter stream, that is, but my new followers. Last year it seemed way more people on Twitter wanted to connect with like-minded people; ever since the mainstream media have told the world they need to be there it seems there is a significantly higher proportion of people and brands trying to use twitter as a broadcast medium and grown their followers to the biggest possible number. The problem is they don't read their stream and aren't interested in doing so... and they're being followed by tens of thousands of other people who don't read their stream and aren't going to start now.

    I've returned plenty of follows out of courtesy just to find the same person now follow me back again. It's an awful game that is sucking the excitement right out of it.

    I am now way more selective about who I will follow back. Those with no tweets or lots but no @'s or no links at all or no interesting bio are out. The URL is less relevant for me but it's always nice to find out more about someone.

    Well that was long; sorry. I guess I had more to say than I though... perhaps should have blogged it.

    Reply
  • Posted by Eric Brown
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, Good Morning
    None of this should come as a surprise, and further continues to illustrate Vilfredo Pareto 80/20 Rule, which we have known since 1895

    The other thing that isn't mentioned in any of the numbers is how many of the folks you are following or are following you are customers, assuming you are participating on twitter for business reasons, which I assume most are, even if they don't admit that as who would ever care about the number of friends they have, typically one or two close friends is all most folks ever have anyway.

    Twitter can be a black hole of Lost Time, but it can also be a great distribution tool and a way to connect with folks we otherwise would have never known, ie, me leaving a comment here!

    Enjoy your weekend,

    Reply
  • Posted by tamera kremer
    Mitch Joel

    Interesting stats. Something to consider though is that a lot of the 'power' users have registered/ squatted on misspellings of their names or registered an account for someone else (like me who registered accounts for my twin girls but don't tweet for them or follow anyone).

    I agree the majority of the inactive accounts probably don't fall into those categories, but it is something to consider regardless.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris
    Mitch Joel

    This is great, thanks for highlighting it!

    Fantasy:

    I'd like to see the numbers a level above "have never tweeted," i.e. tweeted exactly once when they set it up. And, percentage who haven't tweeted for 3 months. I'd expect the answers would increase the inactivity stats by 50%.

    And surely somebody can estimate percentages who log on once a week or less ... my guess is 20%.

    And the percentage of all the tweets one receives that are actually looked at. That's a number that's gone down steeply and steadily in the last four months, I'm sure.

    My opinion is Twitter isn't receding, but it is stabilizing. And that Twitter accounts tend to fall into a very few clearly defined groups or missions or themes ... starting with the trichotomy of those who are trying to attract/build business vs those who are reaping information vs those who are just social.

    I know I'm definitely in the "use it for keeping up with professional information" theme.

    Finally, I'd love an estimate of "percentage of tweets that are purely about the phenomenon of social media itself." Not twitterers, but tweets. I'd guess between 5 and 10 percent.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    One more proof that there is no magic bullet, and no perfect formula...
    And, for the record, I think I'm part of those people who don't "get" Twitter. I'm on it, and the only things I tweet are the new posts from my blog... I find out I don't check that often. I don't answer tweets, and I don't retweet things. Frankly, I'm thinking about getting out, before I find out that I breach too many points of etiquette on Twitter... I find that I have plenty of sources on contacts and info (Facebook amongst them); I already have two full time jobs (at work + at home, with husband, kids, etc., etc.), and I also try to find time to (not necessarily in that order): listen to and play music, read books, garden, maintain a house, plan and supervise renovations, make love, sleep, take care of a kid with "special needs" (come to think of it, they both have "special needs"... and, to think of it again, my husband to !), travel...
    Anyway, I find out i haven't really learned to use Twitter, and I guess it is mainly because I haven't really found the necessity to use it... and I have no inclination or attractino to it, contrary to what happende with Facefook. Maybe it will change. I am a good test-case.

    Reply
  • Posted by Sass Peress
    Mitch Joel

    So the consumer wins again. Not to be fooled by a new media, its still....media.

    Whereas Facebook gives us a more permanent manageable interface with lots of variants to keep us interested, twitter is....well...not as developed. So it becomes a publicity or client search media. Hollywood stars use it to bypass the old media, internet gurus use it to justify their rates to customers, and regular people get bored with it quickly because frankly...what is the purpose in sharing what we ate for breakfast?

    When Facebook started, I couldn't wait to add more friends. Since that time, I have actually reduced them based on authenticity when calling someone a "friend", as well as the habits of some facebookers to write just about anything, twelve times a day, on their wall for all to see.

    There is no media as authentic as face to face, and there never will be. Use the new media to expand, without abuse, and you could be sustainable as someone to watch. Yet recognize that its a different way of getting to people, in the continued democratization of marketing, and its purpose is different to different people.

    Unless you are a one-in-a-million person who can write things all day long which interest sufficient numbers of people to keep them watching (as you might be mitch), then use it for what its worth to you. I believe THAT is what the stats are saying...

    Sass

    Reply
  • Posted by Mark Dykeman
    Mitch Joel

    I think it's possible that, for a lot of people, these Twitter accounts might be their first foray into social media and they're too nervous to do anything with them. In addition, they may have no other web presence to point people towards.

    I would think, however, that spam accounts are going to be following LOTS of people and have at least one URL that they want people to check out. To me, that means that there may be plenty of spammers in the 44.5% of Twitter accounts that follow someone. Perhaps 20% of all Twitter accounts, or less, are truly active with living, breathing people behind them.

    But is that different from any other social site?

    Reply
  • Posted by Mark Farmer
    Mark Farmer

    I think this serves to show the disconnect between Twitter evangelists and the stark reality of the average user - consider that according to recent statistics, only about 1.5% of Canadians use Twitter, and only about 1/4 of Canadians know what Twitter actually is.

    Jason Clark believes Google's Wave project will supersede Twitter, and I for one can see why: allowing users to interact with a meme/story/conversation/idea using multiple social media simultaneously is (cliche alert) a 'killer app' for social media as a whole.

    The signal-to-noise ratio for Twitter is very high right now - we owe it to ourselves to be open but skeptical about it. For example, the most traffic my new blog has received to date hasn't been any of the more 'serious' stories, but Twitter phenomenon Socks the cat: http://webheresies.com/?p=19

    Reply
  • Posted by Jon Buscall
    Mitch Joel

    I think there's been a downturn in the quality of conversations going on on Twitter. I've been there for 9 months or so and since Wave was announced things seem to have tailed off a bit. There's a lot of spam coming through now and that's off-putting

    This is purely anecdotal, of course, but I do have a core group of followers who engage and respond. But I've noticed a lot of people have gone silent.

    The biggest change, though, for me is that I use Twitter for instant search more than google.

    If I had to put money on it I would say that Wave will blow Twitter away. The channel itself will fade but the idea of exchanging info across a network of loose connections will remain.

    Reply
  • I think it just demonstrates - highly - that the majority of people we deal with on twitter is a small subset of folks. I use twitter in several ways, only a handful of which require others to have a twitter account to participate back -- heck, on some days, I have more folks responding on LJ or Facebook than I do @'s on twitter!

    I think we may need to adjust our perceptions of twitter as not merely a "what're you doing" sort of thing, but instead treat it as exactly what it is - microblogging. Not "everyone" needs a blog... so maybe not "everyone" needs a twitter too.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ian Rountree
    Mitch Joel

    Like all of these kinds of services, Twitter has to finf its way from cool fad to useful tool. We're watching that process right now, as we tweet! If it survives, I agree with the previous commentors, it will be a great grassroots marketing utility as well as an on-the-fly social network. If not, we'll be having the same discussion about the next version.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mike Proulx
    Mitch Joel

    In reading the report, there is one stat that says "37.95% of all tweets contain an @ symbol" which says to me that 4 in 10 tweets are conversational versus shared broadcast-like. I don't think Twitter is in jeopardy of losing its "social nature".

    I am sure there are a lot of spam/bot accounts on Twitter. But let's look at email statistics -- It's been said that 90% of all incoming email traffic is spam. Yet email is still a huge part of our social (and communications) lives. I suspect the same will hold true for Twitter.

    Reply
  • Posted by Anthony
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with tamera kremer, in that I suspect the bulk of the accounts created are name squatters, or dormant spam accounts.

    There is such a low level of effort needed to set up a twitter account, that I am would not be suprised if the majority of accounts in the categories listed above are being help by a small group of users.

    I suspect that once someone works out a better product or sales technique than what we have seen so far, a lot of these accounts will suddenly become rather active.

    Reply
  • Posted by Patricia Jenson
    Mitch Joel

    You are right... but, think of all these inept-lacking Twitterersers having the power of transferring information. Ex. Susan Boyle, political elections and ACLU. It's a new form of Journalism of the people.
    It's A Good Thing even if it's still imperfect.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mo Al-Nuaimy
    Mitch Joel

    You consider it a *failure* not to provide a homepage URL? Please explain yourself.

    I own 5 domains in addition to any employer URLs I might be affilliated with, and yet 80% of the time that I'm asked for a URL I choose not to supply one. It might be a failure on the part of the website, but it's certainly not a failure on my part.

    I'm suprised that you think these numbers represent failure of any sort. To my eye, it looks as though you're holding the rest of the twittersphere (ugly word) up to you own standard of how the medium should be used.

    Twitter's own help materials avoid telling us *how* to use their network. Instead, they let us know what's possible. It's up to each of us to decide what to make of it.

    You say "70% of the people on Twitter won't tell you who they are, where they are located or how to connect to them. That doesn't sound very "social" at all."

    What you forget is that everyone socializes in their own special way. For example, the people I socialize with already know who I am, where I'm located, and how to connect to me. If they don't, I don't let them follow me.

    IMHO, Twitter's potential as a networking or marketing tool is limited. Anything beyond basic friend- and news-working feels like a bit of a kludge to me, and honestly, hardly seems worth the bother.

    If I want to network I go to LinkedIn. If I want to friendwork I go to Facebook. Twitter bears similarities to both of them... but I wonder if comparing it to CB radio would be more appropriate. It's an opt-in broadcast medium with a low barrier to entry. It's full of fun, interesting and informative chatter, and the participants are all peers. but unlike CB, I can selectivly tune in the chatter I want, and tune out the rest.

    Personally, that mean tuning out anything that looks, sounds, or smells like marketing or even PR. I get enough of that on LinkedIn.

    So, unlike you, I'm not at all startled by the statistics you cite. People sign up for a variety of reason, and they're all forming their own opinions of what it is, and what it's for... and if they don't think it's an appropriate place to disclose personal information, I can hardly blame them.

    So, when I read that half don't follow anyone, and half don't have any followers, this don't speak to me of user confusion, or a faiure to get the medium, but rather, it says that some users are here to broadcast and some are here to listen.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rick Liebling
    Mitch Joel

    If you're a marketer, how much detailed data do you get about people who read the newspaper you are advertising in? How many readers' homepages do you know? What percentage of the subscriptions belong to businesses or consumers that are in now way relevant for your product?

    Ok, so these numbers look startling at first, but are they in line with the amount of information we know about consumers through other media channels?

    Reply
  • Posted by Chuck
    Mitch Joel

    I wouldn't go as far as saying that your efforts are wasted but the service is definitely not as active as they promote it to be.

    Reply
  • Posted by Sean Tan
    Mitch Joel

    I can't say how many fake account active in twitter but I used to receive many followers. Those followers are using some kind of software to auto follow people that meet their category set in the system.

    But they will unfollow you if you didn't follow them after 1 week. So my twitter account followers used to increase and decrease week after week. :-)

    Since I already know that there are many fake members in twitter and they're not real people who really read your message and interest on you. So I just update my twitter once a while.

    -Sean

    Reply
  • Posted by awessendorf
    Mitch Joel

    I am sure there is a big overlap in those last three groups (not following anyone, never tweeted, and no followers). No doubt the majority of these accounts are the curious who have set up an account because they were curious what all the media hype is about.

    This group was probably never likely to use such a service anyway and once they set up the account and took a look their curiosity was satisfied and they moved on. The inactive accounts on Twitter don't bother me a bit.

    But the huge surge of "brands" on Twitter that are not contributing anything that have appeared now since the last couple months of media hype are truthfully a bit disheartening.

    Those "brands" that are here to interact with their customers and do a good job of that and those that are contributing useful content are great (Feedly comes to mind as one of those for me). But the majority of the new account following me in the last couple of weeks are just shell accounts that pump out promotional "buy this", "use this to get a billion followers", "check out my awesome music/video/software for FREE" etc..

    It is totally fine by me when those I am following tell me about their latest project or even a sale they are having if they sell product, as long as there are real people behind the account with some useful content and interactivity.

    But Twitter is what you make of it. I don't feel like half my efforts are wasted. I only follow people I feel I benefit from following. I block all blatant spam and junk account followers (which include those blank accounts with no tweets, avatar, or info). I say ignore the junk, avoid those auto-follow scams like the plague, and enjoy the awesome that is Twitter! :-)

    http://twitter.com/awessendorf
    - Alice

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    We need that Barack Obama open a profile on twitter, and you will see what happen ...

    Reply
  • Posted by Matt Searles
    Mitch Joel

    Not too long ago there was a Harvard Business Review post that covered these kinds of statistics...

    I think all this really means is that when you look at the figures of Twitters explosive growth you cut those figures in half or so. What you're looking for are active twitter users.. thats where the power and magic lye.

    I think what twitter needs to do is think about the path from being brand new to twitter to being an active user... so people don't feel quite so mystified upon starting a new account.

    To this I might add that I play more spymaster then I should.. and there's a boat load of players who start new accounts just for the game.. in which they wont bother with a bio or link or even a tweet.. So I wonder what the unintended consequences might be for twitter when people start using twitter as there open ID..

    Reply
  • Posted by motorless
    Mitch Joel

    Like most social media these days, the possible upside is way over exaggerated. No, your roofing business is not going to double sales in a year because of Twitter, Facebook, or blogging. Anything is possible, but the reality is always less exciting than the 'experts' make it out to be.

    Most people use all of the social media platforms to communicate in rather mundane ways. There is no problem with the platforms, only problems with expectations. Most people don't care, or don't have the time to really get into social media platforms. They are time consuming for the people who really try to get the most out of them.

    Personally I think they all have their places, just like email, phones, forums, and face to face talks. Most people I know don't care what you are doing, and don't care if you know what they are doing. They also don't care about what you think is interesting or newsworthy. And why should they? Remember Second Life? Yeah, me neither...

    Reply
  • Posted by Amir Lehrer
    Mitch Joel

    You also have to consider that there is a huge population of people who really have no idea how to act online or take advantage of the resources available. Just last night, I got a phone call from a woman who couldn't figure twitter out. I had to spent a significant amount of time educating her on the internet and how some of these platforms work. Remember, we may be fluent but to many, the internet (even 1.0) is a foreign language.

    Reply
  • Posted by Keith
    Mitch Joel

    For me, Tweeter is nothing special. I found it pretty confusing. At first, I couldn't find out what it's purpose is, and than, it just wasn't what I wanted. So I assume there is many of other people who signed up but never came back. This statistics are not a surprise for me.

    Reply
  • Posted by Robert Bacal
    Mitch Joel

    I'm doing some mini research on the number of accounts that go inactive, and prelim is that it's at least 20% haven't posted in this month. I'll have better more informative data soon.

    Reply
  • Posted by Robert Bacal
    Mitch Joel

    I'm doing some mini research on the number of accounts that go inactive, and prelim is that it's at least 20% haven't posted in this month. I'll have better more informative data soon.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bsimi
    Mitch Joel

    It all depends on what you are using twitter for.. Not everyone is here for business or to make 100K friend.. some people just want to follow the #patriots or @ladygaga.. does that mean they are using it wrong?
    The whole point.. there is no wrong..there are no rules.

    Reply
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