The State of Twitter: Thriving but Not for Everyone

04/17/2009

This is the follow-up to my recent State of Twitter Part 1 post, in which I talked about the growth of Twitter, its proliferation in the media, and my decision to give it a try.

Along with my previous post, I conducted a survey about Twitter to over 1,500 participants.

This post is to report the results of the survey, along with my observations and a few opinions throughout.

The participants were mostly members of my Eric’s Tips newsletter. However, I also publicized it to my facebook friends, and it was re-tweeted by a few people which brought in some diversity as well.

But overall, I’d say that 80-90% of the participants were Internet marketers and aspiring entrepreneurs.

There were 927 Twitterers and 610 non-Twitterers.

I started by asking the Twitterers some basic questions about their use of Twitter:

How long have you been a Twitter user? 927 responses (Twitter users)
less than 1 month 193 (20.8%)
1-6 months 465 (50%)
6-12 months 181 (19.5%)
1 year or more 92 (9.9%)

How often do you tweet on average? 920 responses (Twitter users)
Once a day or less 648 (70.4%)
2-10 times a day 234 (25.4%)
More than 10 times a day 38 (4.1%)

I found it interesting that over 70% of respondents are only tweeting once a day or less. On the one hand I found it somewhat refreshing that my readers aren’t all raging twit-a-holics, but I wonder whether that’s too infrequent to really engage your followers and make your Twittering worthwhile.

On average, how much time do you spend twittering per day? (both tweeting and reading) 922 responses (Twitter users)
less than 5 minutes 385 (41.8%)
5 – 10 minutes 239 (25.9%)
10 – 30 minutes 180 (19.5%)
Over 30 minutes 118 (12.8%)

Lack of time is probably the reason why most respondents only tweet once a day or less. On the other hand, 118 respondents are spending over 30 minutes a day twittering… that’s a serious commitment. And I think if everyone really kept track of exactly how much time they spent on Twitter-related activities, it would be more minutes than they estimated.

Why do you use Twitter? 917 responses (Twitter users)
Solely for business purposes 288 (31.4%)
Solely for personal/social reasons 108 (11.8%)
Mostly for business with some social 350 (38.2%)
Mostly for social with some business 171 (18.6%)

No surprises here. I fully expected this audience to be slanted toward business in their use of Twitter. And indeed 88% are using it for at least some business purposes.

On a scale of 1 to 5, how much do you enjoy using Twitter? 920 responses (Twitter users)
1 – I hate it 40 (4.3%)
2 – Somewhat dislike it 107 (11.6%)
3 – It’s OK 406 (44.1%)
4 – I like it 248 (27.0%)
5 – I love it 119 (12.9%)

Alright, so not all Twitter users are in love with tweeting, but very few hate it.

For the non-Twitterers, I wanted to know why they weren’t using Twitter, and whether they were paying attention to it…

What is the main reason you don’t use Twitter? 610 responses (Non-Twitter users)
I tried it and didn’t like it 22 (3.6%)
I’m not familiar with it 272 (44.6%)
Don’t see enough benefit 121 (19.8%)
Don’t like the format 23 (3.8%)
Not enough time 172 (28.2%)

I was expecting a higher percent to have tried Twitter and quit it (qwitters), but apparently it has a fairly low abandonment rate among marketers. The “not enough time” folks (28.2%) seem to support my theory as to why so many Twitterers tweet as infrequently as they do. But the biggest stat here is the number of respondents who were not familiar with Twitter (44.6%)… and keep in mind that this survey was conducted almost exclusively to an Internet-savvy crowd. This just shows that Twitter is still in the process of breaking into the mainstream and has not yet reached the public consciousness like facebook has. If you were to survey random people on the street, even fewer would know about Twitter. But in another year or two it could be as common as google (hey Twitter’s name has already become a verb, that’s a good sign)… we’ll see.

Do you read other people’s Twitter pages? 595 responses (Non-Twitter users)
Yes – frequently 2 (0.3%)
Yes – occasionally 106 (17.8%)
No 487 (81.8%)

Note to marketers: Twitter is only effective for reaching other Twitterers. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why many Twittering marketers are passionate about evangelizing for Twitter?

Next I asked several questions about FOLLOWING, because it seems to be the hot topic right now. In fact, last night Ashton Kutcher and CNN became the first users to surpass 1,000,000 followers on Twitter, and others will pass the mark in the coming days.

Some people are embracing the competitive aspect of gaining followers, while others are shunning it. A rising contingency is even speculating on whether Twitter should remove the follower count. I personally doubt Twitter will remove the follower count, because it’s getting a lot of publicity for Twitter and it’s driving new users to them. However, I think a viable option would be for them to give users an option to HIDE their followers. I would actually like that.

How many followers do you have? 923 responses (Twitter users)
0-100 483 (52.3%)
101-500 243 (26.3%)
501-1000 97 (10.5%)
1001-5000 86 (9.3%)
More than 5000 14 (1.5%)

This one surprised me a little because it seems like everyone and their mother has thousands of followers. But it appears that those are just the ones who are getting all the attention, while the average Twitter user has a pretty small following. According to Joel Comm’s book Twitter Power, you only need 80 followers to be in the top 10% of all Twitter users.

How many people are YOU following? 924 responses (Twitter users)
0-100 514 (55.6%)
101-500 215 (23.3%)
501-1000 78 (8.4%)
1001-5000 108 (11.7%)
More than 5000 9 (1%)

So I wanted to know if they were actually paying attention to the people they were following…

Seriously, do you pay attention to the tweets of the people you’re following? 925 responses (Twitter users)
Yes I read all of them. 84 (9.1%)
I read over half of them. 188 (20.3%)
I read less than half of them. 336 (36.3%)
No, I read few or none of them. 317 (34.3%)

Of course I got some flak for the way the question was worded. And admittedly I wanted to support my theory that most Twitter users aren’t paying attention. But now that I’ve immersed myself in Twitter in recent weeks, I’ve come to a better understanding that you’re simply not expected to pay attention to everyone you’re following.

If you’re following thousands of people, it’s physically impossible to read every tweet unless you make it a full time job. And even if you’re following a modest number of folks, it may be too overwhelming to read all their tweets.

Instead, I think the basic concept employed by most users is to glance at the stream of tweets coming from your followers, to sort of “take a pulse”, and to interact as time permits. In observing several popular Twitter users, it seems they pay the most attention to their “@ replies”, and are much more likely to respond to an @ reply than to get involved with random tweets.

So next I asked the question that I was really burning to ask.

Are the majority of Twitter users really follower-whores? Are they all pursuing a big following to stroke their own egos? OK, I didn’t word it quite like that…

Out of the following, which is your biggest priority for your Twitter account? 895 responses (Twitter users)
Gaining a lot of followers 88 (9.8%)
Gaining targeted followers 359 (40.1%)
Building relationships 448 (50.1%)

Twitter graph

This one blew me away. I really thought more people would be primarily interested in growing the size of their following. Either I have a bunch of humble people on my list, or a bunch of smart marketers.

  • Over 90% of respondents were more interested in gaining targeted followers and building relationships, than in growing the biggest list.

    So I asked a few more questions to help quantify their interest in each of those priorities:

    On a scale of 1-5, how important to you is gaining a HIGH QUANTITY of followers? 913 responses (Twitter users)
    1- not important at all 150 (16.4%)
    2 – slightly important 170 (18.6%)
    3 – somewhat important 214 (23.4%)
    4 – important 220 (24.1%)
    5 – very important 159 (17.4%)

    On a scale of 1-5, how important to you is it to gain TARGETED followers? 915 responses (Twitter users)
    1 – not important at all 68 (7.4%)
    2 – slightly important 59 (6.4%)
    3 – somewhat important 124 (13.6%)
    4 – important 251 (27.4%)
    5 – very important 413 (45.1%)

    On a scale of 1-5, how important to you is it to build real relationships on Twitter? 921 responses (Twitter users)
    1 – not important at all 76 (8.3%)
    2 – slightly important 107 (11.6%)
    3 – somewhat important 232 (25.2%)
    4 – important 279 (30.3%)
    5 – very important 227 (24.6%)

    So from those three questions, I found that while a lot of people do place a significant amount of importance on gaining followers, the respondents truly consider relationship building and gaining targeted followers to be of higher priority.

    So I asked one more question to make sure I really knew where their heart was on the matter…

    Which is more important to you? 904 responses (Twitter users)
    Making money from your followers 416 (46.0%)
    Building true friendships with followers 488 (54.0%)

    OK, so that one could have been sort of a trick question. I’m sure some people picked building friendships because they’re relationship marketers who realize that making a friend is the best way to make a sale. But still, I’d say chalk another one up for the “twitterers are not all money hungry bastards” side. Apparently people who get involved in Twitter ARE the type of people who like to build relationships and make new friends.

    I asked the non-Twitterers a related question to see if their perception of Twitterers would match up with the truth…

    Which of the following statements about Twitter users would you most strongly agree with? 610 responses (Non-Twitter users)
    They are vain and conceited 37 (6.1%)
    They are mostly marketers 80 (13.1%)
    They are sociable people 117 (19.2%)
    They are cooler than me 4 (0.7%)
    I have no opinion about them 372 (61.0%)

    Interestingly, out of those who had an opinion, the results do match up with the claims of the Twitter users. The most commonly held opinion was “They are sociable people,” and that seems to be fairly accurate.

    Does that mean that the non-Twitterers are less sociable? I asked a question to find out…

    Which is more important to you regarding your ONLINE activity? 593 responses (Non-Twitter users)
    Making money 496 (83.6%)
    Building true friendships 97 (16.4%)

    Now in fairness, I should have asked the Twitter users the same question. But clearly, the non-Twitter users are much more interested in making money than in making friends online.

    And the big asterisk here is *online. In other words, this doesn’t necessarily mean the non-Twitter users aren’t sociable people (although they might not be as sociable, as I explain later). It just means they use the Internet more as a money making tool than a relationship building platform. I would fit into that category. It’s not that I value money over friendships, or that I’m an anti-social person. But the reason I spend so much time online is primarily to make money. And admittedly, I’m probably less social than the average Twitter fanatic (*more on this in the conclusion of this article).

    Next, I wanted to know how Twitter users felt about “following back” and “auto-following” your followers…

    What percent of your followers do you follow back? 911 responses (Twitter users)
    I follow most or all of them 387 (42.5%)
    I follow over 50% of them 215 (23.6%)
    I follow between 10%-50% of them 136 (14.9%)
    I follow less than 10% of them 173 (19.0%)

    How do you feel about “auto following”? 915 responses (Twitter users)
    It’s fine as long as it’s not abused 320 (35.0%)
    It’s OK, but I don’t like it 221 (24.2%)
    I hate it 70 (7.7%)
    I don’t know what auto following is 304 (33.2%)

    Do you use an “auto follow” tool? 916 responses (Twitter users)
    Yes 132 (14.4%)
    No 784 (85.6%)

    The above is perhaps the most controversial topic when it comes to using Twitter for marketing purposes. One school of thought is that following all your followers is good for reasons including…

    - You’re better able to interact with them
    - You’re not perceived as a Twitter snob
    - You gain a valuable stream of marketing/research data at your fingertips

    And it seems that the majority of respondents in my survey would agree with that standpoint. 66.1 percent of the Twitter users are following over half of their followers, and 42.5% are following almost all of them. Furthermore, a solid 14.4% are using auto-follow tools.

    Such auto-follow tools are despised by critics of “gaining followers for the sake of growing a big list of followers”. One of the most eloquent arguments AGAINST auto-following was posted by an Internet marketing colleague that I respect, Michel Fortin, in his blog post: Drones and fakes, and in a follow-up blog post responding to a critic.

    Overall, I’m admittedly still on the fence regarding the issue. I can certainly see the negative aspects of auto-following including how it has the potential to ruin Twitter as a marketing tool (as was explained nicely by Michel). But I also see the benefits of following your followers, which is why I’ve chosen to follow most of my followers for now.

    (By the way, there ARE a lot of drones and fakes on Twitter… I think I have about 20 followers using Alex Mandossian’s picture.)

    I would also like to throw one additional argument into the mix, that I haven’t seen listed among the popular reasons for or against auto-following.

    I’m calling my argument the “status symbol mutual benefit”.

    Many Twitter users who follow each other are essentially mutually agreeing to give each other the benefit of inflating the other person’s follower count by 1 follower. Therefore I would not consider them to be “fake” following. They both realize that they’re not really going to be friends. And actually, Twitter doesn’t refer to your followers as friends, so I don’t think the “not true friends” argument holds weight anyway…

    Does this result in each participant’s list of followers being diluted and thus less valuable? Yes. And as those users repeat the process and add thousands of other auto-followers, they continue to dilute their list. BUT… it’s a list nonetheless. It’s a status symbol.

    Is it shallow? Yes. Is it egotistical? Most likely yes. But do status symbols hold a place in our society? Yes they do.

    The status-symbol-seeker’s list itself may be completely unresponsive and full of similarly minded list-building Twitterers (along with plenty of drones and fakes), which means it won’t be very useful from a marketing standpoint. But having tens of thousands of followers is currently a status symbol (like it or not), and it could open other doors of opportunity. A non-celebrity with 200,000 Twitter followers today would be considered a web 2.0 genius by a lot of people, EVEN IF their followers are mostly “fakes”.

    Fortunately, the value of Twitter accounts as status symbols will soon decline and most likely drop off the map. Why? It will happen for one of two reasons…

    1) If Twitter leaves things as they are, hundreds of thousands of users will eventually have millions of followers. Think about it. All that the auto-follow people need to do is devise a good system of congregating and following each other (it’s already happened to an extent). At that point, ANYONE can essentially grow their account as fast as Twitter will let them grow it. OK, so then the “status symbol” will become having a lot of followers without following a lot of people. No problem, we can game that too. All of the auto-follow people can just register a couple extra accounts, and set up a systematic “ring” of one-way followers.

    2) Since the above is inevitable if things stay the same, Twitter will most likely make some changes to prevent it from destroying their business.

    OK, so that’s my contribution to the auto-follow debate. Let’s move on to the rest of the survey…

    First, some evidence that big Twitter accounts are not really so much of a status symbol anyway. I asked the non-Twitterers…

    Are you impressed by people who have thousands of Twitter followers? 609 responses (Non-Twitter users)
    yes 111 (18.2%)
    no 270 (44.3%)
    not sure 228 (37.4%)

    As you can see, the average person is not too impressed by it anyway. I’m sure that this sentiment will only increase as large Twitter accounts become ever more common.

    I also wanted to know how the non-Twitterers perceived the value of the content being tweeted on Twitter…

    What is your impression of the content that people post on Twitter (tweets)? 601 responses (Non-Twitter users)
    It’s mostly insignificant 154 (25.6%)
    It’s interesting but not valuable 73 (12.1%)
    It’s mostly valuable information 22 (3.7%)
    It’s mostly spam 18 (3.0%)
    I don’t know 334 (55.6%)

    Well again, the biggest response was from those who are clueless about Twitter (55.6%). But among those who had an opinion, the majority believed that most tweets are insignificant.

    Interestingly, their perception is probably correct… and it’s not a bad thing. It appears that the insignificant “mundane” things are a big part of what makes Twitter enjoyable for its users.

    Yesterday my friend Joel Comm made a blog post called Twitter and a Box of Donuts, in which he explains why mundane tweets may be essential in building a successful Twitter following.

    Next I asked several of the same questions to both the Twitterers and non-Twitter users, to see how they differed in their opinions about Twitter…

    Which statement do you most strongly agree with?

    Twitter users
    (905 responses)
    Non-Twitter users
    (602 responses)
    Combined
    (1507 responses)
    Twitter is truly a great social networking tool 619 (68.4%) 108 (17.9%) 727 (48.2%)
    Twitter is mainly good for marketers 286 (31.6%) 79 (13.1%) 365 (24.2%)
    I don’t know N/A 415 (68.9%) 415 (27.5%)

    What do you think is Twitter’s greatest contribution to the world?

    Twitter users
    (906 responses)
    Non-Twitter users
    (598 responses)
    Combined
    (1504 responses)
    Being a social platform 403 (44.5%) 208 (34.8%) 611 (40.6%)
    Being a marketing platform 220 (24.3%) 65 (10.9%) 365 (18.9%)
    Being a news/information platform 283 (31.2%) 57 (9.5%) 340 (22.6%)
    I don’t know N/A 268 (44.8%) 268 (17.8%)

    How often do you use Twitter’s search function to get news or information?

    Twitter users
    (914 responses)
    Non-Twitter users
    (589 responses)
    Combined
    (1503 responses)
    Daily or more often 104 (11.4%) 2 (0.3%) 106 (7.0%)
    Usually once a week or more 155 (17.0%) 12 (2.0%) 167 (11.1%)
    Not very often 327 (35.8%) 70 (11.9%) 397 (26.4%)
    Never 328 (35.9%) 505 (85.7%) 833 (55.4%)

    Where do you think Twitter will be 2 years from now in regard to its usefulness and value to the web?

    Twitter users
    (920 responses)
    Non-Twitter users
    (586 responses)
    Combined
    (1506 responses)
    Pretty much the same, just bigger 290 (31.5%) 253 (43.2%) 543 (36.0%)
    Will be more important than it is now 460 (50.0%) 172 (29.4%) 632 (42.0%)
    Will be less important than it is now 170 (18.5%) 161 (27.5%) 397 (22.0%)

    Really no surprises in those answers. Those who use Twitter are more likely to have a positive outlook for its future, and more likely to get their news from it. Many of those who choose to not use Twitter are banking on the possibility that it will fade into oblivion (or at least a position of less relevance).

    Next I asked a couple of questions to help determine how both sets of respondents perceived the value of Twitter compared to other methods of online list building, and whether they were willing to pay for it…

    Which would you prefer to have if you could have just one of the following?

    Twitter users
    (914 responses)
    Non-Twitter users
    (587 responses)
    Combined
    (1501 responses)
    5000 Twitter followers 120 (13.1%) 50 (8.5%) 106 (11.3%)
    5000 blog RSS readers 118 (12.9%) 65 (11.1%) 167 (12.2%)
    5000 email subscribers (double opt in) 642 (70.2%) 439 (74.8%) 1081 (72.0%)
    5000 facebook friends 34 (3.7%) 33 (5.6%) 67 (4.5%)

    If you could buy real followers, how much would you pay for 10,000 followers?

    Twitter users
    (905 responses)
    Non-Twitter users
    (589 responses)
    Combined
    (1494 responses)
    $0 382 (42.2%) 278 (47.2%) 660 (44.2%)
    $1 – $100 340 (37.6%) 199 (33.8%) 539 (36.0%)
    $101 – $1000 142 (15.7%) 85 (14.4%) 227 (15.2%)
    $1001 – $5000 24 (2.7%) 13 (2.2%) 37 (2.5%)
    $5000 – $10,000 5 (0.6%) 8 (1.4%) 13 (0.9%)
    More than $10,000 12 (1.3%) 6 (1.0%) 18 (1.2%)

    The overwhelming majority of both sides of the party agreed that it is most valuable to have an opt-in list of email subscribers. The value of a Twitter follower seemed to be somewhat comparable to the value of a blog RSS subscriber.

    Neither party was willing to pay much of a premium for Twitter followers either. Almost half of respondents wouldn’t be willing to pay a single dollar for 10,000 Twitter followers. As I alluded to earlier, I believe the value of Twitter followers will continue to decline, particularly if the practice of auto-following continues.

    If there were a solid demand for Twitter followers, it could probably support a small cottage industry. Similar to overseas World of Warcraft farms (and other online games), a team of workers could easily build Twitter accounts with massive followings for resale.

    In such case, people could buy accounts with enough followers to give themselves “instant Twitter celebrity status”. But as I mentioned, the status of Twitter accounts seems to be quickly fading, and it does not appear that there is much of a market for it.

    On the other hand, I am interested in the 31 respondents who said they would pay over $5,000 for 10,000 Twitter followers. That just might be enough demand for someone to make a profitable business of Twitter farming. If targeted followings could be built and resold, it could be akin to buying co-reg email opt-in lists.

    The last question I asked the combined group was related to their overall online marketing and social networking activities…

    Which of the following do you currently have?

    Twitter users
    (920 responses)
    Non-Twitter users
    (600 responses)
    Combined
    (1520 responses)
    a blog 683 (74.2%) 246 (41.0%) 929 (61.1%)
    email opt-in list 430 (46.7%) 170 (28.3%) 600 (39.5%)
    facebook account 711 (77.3%) 228 (38.0%) 939 (61.8%)
    myspace account 417 (45.3%) 117 (19.5%) 534 (35.1%)
    youtube account 574 (62.4%) 182 (30.3%) 756 (49.7%)
    other video site account(s) 181 (19.7%) 48 (8.0%) 229 (15.1%)
    flickr account 269 (29.2%) 52 (8.7%) 321 (21.1%)
    other photo site account(s) 147 (16.0%) 54 (9.0%) 201 (13.2%)
    LinkedIn account 426 (46.3%) 90 (15.0%) 516 (33.9%)
    Xanga account 61 (6.6%) 9 (1.5%) 70 (4.6%)
    Bebo account 82 (8.9%) 10 (1.7%) 92 (6.1%)
    Friendster account 92 (10.0%) 19 (3.2%) 111 (7.3%)
    Orkut account 56 (6.1%) 4 (0.7%) 60 (3.9%)
    Hi5 account 83 (9.0%) 26 (4.3%) 109 (7.2%)
    Other social networking account(s) 410 (44.6%) 137 (22.8%) 547 (36.0%)

    I found the above data to be VERY interesting. Across the board, the Twitter users were at least twice as likely to be involved in other social networking activities online.

    I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, since it only supports our other data which indicated that Twitter users are more interested in building relationships online. But even facebook was no exception. The Twitter users were more than twice as likely to have a facebook account. And some of the numbers were even more extreme…

    The Twitter users were more than THREE times as likely to have an account at LinkedIn, Xanga, Bebo, Friendster, Orkut… and even Flickr!

    I mean, I thought Flickr was for anyone who likes to upload their photos? Apparently it appeals much more to the social crowd. I also found it interesting that the non-Twitter users were more likely to host their photos somewhere other than Flickr. When I wrote the question, I had in mind Picasa… but now that I think of it, those non-Twitter folks are probably using sites like Kodak Easyshare and Snapfish… sites that are more mainstream, and too commercial for the social folks.

    The Youtube number also surprised me a bit. I would expect that 99.9% of respondents have watched a video on Youtube, but I was impressed that 62.4% of Twitter users actually had a Youtube account. After all, you don’t need to have an account to view videos. You only need an account if you’re using it for social networking (to be friends/fans of other users), or for uploading your own videos.

    So I wanted to see what other kinds of tools the Twitter users were using…

    Which of the following tools/apps do you use? 920 responses (Twitter users)
    Tweetdeck 261 (28.4%)
    Power Twitter 50 (5.4%)
    Twitpwr 59 (6.4%)
    bit.ly or any other shortener 121 (13.2%)
    TweetLater 171 (18.6%)
    twitpic 103 (11.2%)
    Twitturly 16 (1.7%)
    Twistori 8 (0.9%)
    TwitterLocal 45 (4.9%)
    any Twitter-related iphone app 36 (3.9%)
    any Twitter-related WordPress plugin 106 (11.5%)
    twitterfeed 75 (8.2%)
    twhirl 98 (10.7%)
    Twitterfox 62 (6.7%)
    Other free app (yes I know there are hundreds) 198 (21.5%)
    An app that you paid money for 22 (2.4%)

    No surprise that the ever-popular Tweetdeck came out on top. I was a little surprised that more Twitter users weren’t using iphone apps for Twitter (3.9%). I mean, doesn’t it seem like Twitter users are the iphone type?

    And only 2.4% had paid for a Twitter app. This would indicate to me that the market for paid Twitter apps is not very big yet. It would also support the notion that the Twitter users are not willing to put their money on the line for Twitter, even though most of them are using it for business purposes.

    This could make it difficult for Twitter to successfully monetize itself through paid accounts, due to lack of participation. And again, keep in mind that my survey group consisted mainly of marketers, who are probably MORE likely to invest in it than the average user.

    On the other hand, it may only take a tiny percentage to paid users to make it profitable. One study showed that 3.7% of flicker’s members had upgraded to the Pro account. Suppose Twitter grew to have 50X as many accounts as Flickr… maybe they could be wildly profitable with less than 1% paid accounts?

    Lastly I wanted to find out some vital stats in regard to using Twitter for business…

    How many visitors to your website (s) do you receive from Twitter? 920 responses (Twitter users)
    None 307 (33.4%)
    1-10 per day 285 (31.0%)
    10-100 per day 107 (11.6%)
    101-500 per day 12 (1.3%)
    More than 500 per day 5 (0.5%)
    I don’t know or don’t have a website 204 (22.2%)

    How much money do you make as a direct result of Twitter? 917 responses (Twitter users)
    None 606 (66.1%)
    $1 – $100 per month 137 (14.9%)
    $101 – $500 per month 28 (3.1%)
    $501 – $2000 per month 11 (1.2%)
    Over $2000 per month 2 (0.2%)
    Unknown 133 (14.5%)

    According to these numbers, I would say that Twitter IS a viable source of both web traffic, and income. However, most Twitter users have not yet seen those benefits.

    I do wonder what the results would look like if we were to do a more in depth study specifically on the effectiveness of Twitter for marketing. For this reason, I’m doing some joint research with Joel Comm, which we will most likely be releasing to the public in the coming weeks. You can be sure it will be a balanced view, as Joel is a steadfast supporter of Twitter, while I’m a bit of a perma-skeptic.

    So what’s my personal conclusion?

    On January 3rd, 2008, I wrote a post expressing my opinion that Twitter was probably not the best use of time for most marketers.

    Then in my previous blog post (April 7, 2009), I said “I’m not issuing an official retraction of my stance on Twitter… YET. But that day might be coming soon.”

    So am I ready to issue a retraction now that I’ve gotten involved in Twitter and done this research?

    No I’m not. I still stand by what I wrote in January 2008.

    First, here are some quotes from that article in which I supported Twitter…

    “For those who are spending their time on “social activities” anyway, Twitter can be a more efficient way to do it.”

    “Email deliverability is at an all-time low, and a service such as Twitter could be just the ticket to growing a highly responsive list of followers.”

    “Friends are worth infinitely more than money, and in that regard social networking is a way to leverage the internet to gain a wealth of friends.”

    I still agree with those points. But the main intention of that article was to ask the question…

    Does Twitter provide a good return on investment for your time?

    And that’s still my question today.

    For some marketers, the answer will be “yes”. For others, it will be “no”.

    Perhaps I need to put some special emphasis on one word in that sentence…

    Does Twitter provide a good return on investment for YOUR time?

    The most hardcore of Twitter supporters may argue that those who haven’t yet realized a good “Twitter ROI” simply aren’t doing it right, or that they haven’t reached that level yet.

    And for some Twitter users, that would be correct. Obviously we’re still learning about the power of Twitter, and even among Internet marketers, many have not yet tried it.

    But I’m not convinced that Twitter is for everyone, and my reasoning actually boils down to an innate human characteristic rather than merely return on investment.

    Here’s an analogy to set up the claim I’m about to make…

    Sylvie Fortin likens Twitter to a big “cocktail party”.

    Are cocktail parties good networking opportunities for doing business? Certainly. And I’ve done plenty of good networking at cocktail parties…

    BUT… I sure wouldn’t want to go to a cocktail party EVERY DAY. Especially not a big one… and especially not one as big as Twitter.

    I get tired out when I spend time in big groups. It’s overwhelming to my senses.

    I’d much rather have a few people over to my house for dinner.

    But some people WOULD like to go to cocktail parties every night. They are highly social people. Those people thrive on it, and their brain can handle the simultaneous connections. My brain tends to get overloaded. I have a one-track mind, and I am not good at multi-tasking.

    I’ve seen some research lately to support the theory that Twitter is not good for everyone.

    According to researcher Mary Helen Immordino-Yang,

    “For some kinds of thought, especially moral decision-making about other people’s social and psychological situations, we need to allow for adequate time and reflection.”

    In other words, our brain may not be designed to build relationships the way they are built on Twitter (maybe Twitter users’ brains have evolved? LOL). But seriously, that’s coming from scientists, not from me.

    But I speak for myself personally when I say that spending a lot of time on the Internet, and constantly being bombarded by its data, can dull your moral compass. In that regard, Twitter’s constant stream of information is sort of like the Internet on steroids. I’m not saying it’s turned me into an immoral person, but it does affect my thoughts and attitudes.

    One way I would describe it is that I’ve felt “weird” after spending a lot of time on Twitter. It sort of puts me in a state of mind that I don’t like to be in.

    But obviously, not everyone reacts that way, which is why Twitter seems to be a better fit for some people than others.

    Again, diehard Twitter supporters might say that I still don’t “get it.”

    Man, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen that phrase used in regard to Twitter.

    I get it. I really do. I used to not get it, but after spending time on Twitter and researching it, I get it.

    There’s such a distinct faction of people who “get it” vs. those who don’t, that it reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes (maybe not the best analogy). Those who are the Twitter insiders see its value, and most who are on the outside fail to see its value.

    But I see its value, and I understand how the value is derived. I get it.

    This might be the most politically correct and secularly tolerant thing I’ve ever said on this blog, but here’s my conclusion:

    Do what feels right for you.

    If Twitter is working for you, and you like it, then it’s a great tool for you to use.

    If you haven’t tried Twitter, consider giving it a try.

    If you’ve tried it and hate it, maybe you and Twitter are not the best fit.

    Where does that leave me?

    As an Internet marketing teacher, I’m in a unique position. It’s vital for marketers to “stay ahead of the curve”. And since Twitter may prove to be an important tool over the long run, I think it’s important for me to stay involved so that I can inform marketers about it.

    I probably won’t tweet very often, and I won’t engage in many conversations. I realize that such an approach will dramatically decrease the effectiveness of my Twitter account. However, I prefer to focus my time on the two-way conversations that I have with my true followers here on my blog.

    I understand the power of building relationships on the web as a marketing strategy. I’ve made a lot of money as a result of it…

    But I prefer to have my friends meet me here in my own “home” where I control the conversation, rather than in a raging cocktail party with a million conversations going on at once.

    Call me an old fashioned blogger ;-)

    What are your thoughts about Twitter, and/or the results of my survey? Please leave your comments below.

    Have a great day!

  • 179 comments on “The State of Twitter: Thriving but Not for Everyone

    1. Duane

      Great research and post, Eric.
      I agree with your conclusion that it’s good for some, not for others. For me, would be a waste of time as far as ROI is concerned. But I can see how it’d be useful for those ALREADY into this kind of thing. I’m not a big socialite, & like you, prefer small groups of *real* friends.

      Reply
    2. La Vie Viennoise

      Hello Eric,

      Thanks for sharing this data. Fascinating. Great linkbait and a far better use of your time than Twittering.

      On the other hand, from 15 minutes a day on Twitter we are making about $2000/month mainly on our Typepad to WordPress conversions. Surprised other people are making so little money on Twitter.

      I am surprised so many people tweet for fun. Fun is going for drinks with one’s friends, not sending SMS to strangers.

      But great to see those figures.

      From what you’ve written here, autofollowing might be more useful than I thought.

      Reply
    3. Don Ackerman

      Have kept all you your emails, however have just started really reading them and finding them quite informative.

      Reply
    4. Pat

      Hi there Eric, I just have to say what a mammoth amount of time you have dedicated to this survey. It was certainly very much an intersting read.
      As very much an internet newbie I found your article quite an interesting read especially as I am completely clueless about that twitter thing. None the less I felt that I should be informed and I have read it and also the links to Michael Fortin and Randy…the other one who linked to Michael.
      I feel the twitter stuff is like a new world that from the outside is one that I will probably never visit. I have enought to do just doing your tutoring course let alone trying to bring this twitter stuff on board. But it is something that is making news and as they say the enemy of my enemy in my friend. So I will have to keep informed on this “flash in the pan”
      Reading about the seven deadly sins of twittering I think that those “sins “can equally be applied to the internet and real life as well. So maybe we can learn from twitter just a little bit, but I think I will leave well enough alone, for now.

      Reply
    5. Don Ackerman

      Could you please resend Message four?

      Reply
    6. Frank Duffy

      Hello Eric,

      I’m tryig to purchase ” Exit Splash at 4.35 GMT and keep getting told
      “Unable to process your order at this time”

      I don’t want to lose bonuses! What to do???

      Reply
    7. robert moody

      hi eric, I agree with your thoughts on twitter as well as other “cocktail parties” It takes time out of one’s life, listening to idle chit chat. Yes, there is some good info gained from it, but it would confuse someone who needs to keep their vision in focus. I hope you can understand my point of view. One or two good friends is far superior to many associates, who may or may not know what they are talking about.

      Reply
    8. Ron

      Great post Eric.

      I’m surprised at a few of the results. I also thought most Twitter users were after a large following.

      Reply
    9. Richard Roper

      G’day Eric,

      You are becoming my new best friend. How’s that for social networking? I may not get to all your post right away but I always look forward to each of them. This is no exception. It’s only with good information that people like me can weave their way throughout he maze of stuff that is out their on internet marketing. You continue to deliver time and time again.

      Thanks

      Reply
    10. Michaela

      Eric, I have a problem, I have a WorldPress blog on my domain (michaelacernescu), that one is working well.
      Today I installed WorldPress in a diferent domain (squidooeventlog) it finished correctly, I got an email with admin info, and when I try to get in my admin for the new blog I got an error: ERROR: Invalid username.
      What I am doing wrong. I create a tichet, no respons yet. Both WordPress domains are addons to my main domain (mc-ebay-resources.com).
      1) I looked to FTP, looks good to me, the single difference is first one is installed on michaelacernescu, the second one is installed on squidooeventlog.com (why .com? on public _html?)the configuration is the same
      2) I request change password, I got the same error message when I try the new password
      Do you think that the new domain is not propagated yet? or I did something wrong?
      regards
      michaela

      Reply
    11. Michaela

      Ok! Eric,
      The problem has been solved by Robert, Thanks
      regards
      Michaela

      Reply
    12. InternetSalsa

      Over 60 percent of those who have signed up are not using twitter.

      Reply
    13. Eric Post author

      I’m assuming Dave gave you the bonuses? If not, just show him this post as proof, and I’m sure he’ll let you download them.

      Reply
    14. Gunvi

      I agree. the thing is that people need to be interested in your products. Most people on Twiltter just want to sell something, not buy.

      Reply
    15. Kenneth Stryker

      Ithink I will use Twitter.
      Kenneth

      Reply
    16. Brandon

      I really enjoyed your information and statistics on twitter. LOL thank you for doing this research. Congratulations I admire your effort.

      I have been wondering, how are people truly using twitter and what is it’s ability to sustain and grow. Also being a mobile marketer by profession, your stat about if people a rereading the updates was compelling. It is my theory that Twitter could desensitize the effectiveness of wanting to stay constantly connect to friends and family via texting.

      Reply
    17. pjexec

      Whew! Great stuff. What was left out in my estimation is the in-person/twitter factor. Here in the Sacramento Valley region I know a lot of the people I follow I have met personally from live networking. It is a way to further the live personal relationship.

      Reply
    18. Photo Soren - The Travelling Photographer

      Impressive, Eric! – Have first fully read your survey after I have engaged myself in Twitter: http://twitter.com/sorenbreiting

      From my experience:
      1. If you follow more than around 100 active twitters you are not really following them, but are just “following” them for other reasons.
      2. One main problem is, that you need to have your tweets send when your followers are online Twitter, if not your tweets will drown in their flood of tweets. – I have seen a tool that can keep your tweets until that happen but later I forgot the tool. Any help, please, Thanks :-)
      3. You have to send helpful tweets most of the time so your followers will tend to open your links. That means that your marketing has to be on a very discrete level.

      I am experimenting a little with a WordPress tool that shows your recent tweets on your blog / website as you can see here on one of my blogs http://www.sorens.org/ in the right menu (sorry to have to ‘advertise it’), but I think and hope that could be one way to get more benefit of your invested time on Twitter. Because, Eric, I really agree with your points of view related to the invested time on Twitter – lots of wasted time, for most if not all, unless you have a very tight group you are mutually following around a common interest.

      Thanks again
      Soren Breiting
      Denmark

      Reply
    19. Ray

      Wonderful insight into the division of multitaskers and onetrackminders like me.

      Thank you again Eric.

      Reply
    20. Alice

      Eric,

      I am reading this at the end of July, not in April, when you published this, but I thought it would be noteworthy to mention an article I just read on Webpro News. Twitter has just cleaned house and deleted a lot of people’s followers, due to the increased use of their platform by spamming marketers.

      As with anything on the internet, someone will always find a way to abuse something to the point that it has to be monitored or regulated.

      I expect some Twitter Use legislation bills to be proposed in Congress any day.

      I have just become a *Twit*, which I think is a better term for a user than *Tweeter*. The jury is still out as far as I’m concerned, but I will choose to follow you, for the time being and see where it leads.

      Great survey, very insightful questions. As fast as things change though, you should probably do it again. I would bet your responses will be somewhat different.

      Alice Cunningham

      Reply
    21. Pingback: LESSON #21: Surveying the Market & Focusing Your Topic | Eric’s Tips

    22. Rahul

      congratulation Mr.Eric Holmund

      It was a pretty comprehensive survey about twitter users and non users. Most of the findings were as expected,however there were some interesting findings.

      Rahul

      Reply
    23. Anita Campbell

      Hi Eric, really good report. I plan to use some of this data in my talk next week at the 140 Conference in LA. But question for you: is there any updated info?

      Reply
    24. Eric Post author

      I do not personally have any updated info, other than to say I still feel the same about twitter.

      I have not seen a lot of results from twitter, but I believe that is primarily because I have not spent much time on twitter building relationships. I have plenty of followers, but without building real relationships and trust, it’s not a very potent marketing list.

      Partially for this very reason, some well known internet marketers are cancelling their twitter accounts, Frank Kern being one of the most recent to do so.

      It’s a matter of ROI for your time, and if you can make more money focusing on other aspects of your business, it makes sense to put twitter on the back burner.

      On the other hand, there are marketers who have decided to focus on twitter (or social networking in general), and many of them have had great results. So I’d say twitter is one of those things in life that you get out of it what you put into it.

      Reply
    25. Jack

      Hi Eric,

      This is great information! I just noticed another interesting survey was currently being conducted about twitter use also. It is located at http://tinyurl.com/m5v9so

      Keep up the great work!

      Jack

      Reply
    26. Pat

      Hello,

      Great information you have compiled here. I have questioned the relevancy and the benefits of building a large list. I will definitely re-read you information a couple times over to digest all of the information. Thanks for the hard work and info.

      Reply
    27. Bill

      I appreciate the info. on Twitter.I have never used Twitter,but from what I have read or heard about it,its like speed reading on Twitter and your followers can fill in the blanks.Also it could also be compred to Cliff Notes,its just an outline of what you want to say.To me it sounds like it would take some practice to get used too.But I am sure this type of technology comes naturally to a lot of people.At the moment I am trying to catch up on a lot of technology with the help of your lessons.I checked into college but didn’t want to take all of the extre classes,also they didn’t teach what I wanted to know for Internet Marketing. Thanks From Texas

      Reply
    28. Frank Kern

      A product launch, as the name implies, is the process of bringing a new product to a market.
      In this Cosby Sweater Project, each episode offers different kinds of game to recreate his magic loud shirts.
      Develop Willie’s discipline in yourself and you’ll be well on your way to
      being successful.

      Reply

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