The Twitter Machine: Keeping Hype Alive

Americans' Twitter usage isn't getting anywhere near Facebook'sI’ve blogged before about Twitter’s seeming inability to break out of its “niche” position in communications. We now have enough time under our belt with Twitter to begin to draw some conclusions rather than simply engage in speculation.

Endlessly hyped (although sometimes correctly labeled as a revolutionary communications tool – see the North African freedom movements) the fact is that Twitter hasn’t been adopted by the masses like we’ve witnessed with Facebook.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project estimates that fewer than 10% of American adults who are online are Twitter users. That equates to about 15 million Americans, which is vastly lower than Twitter’s own claims of ~65 million users.

But whether you choose to believe the 15 million or the 65 million figure, it’s a far cry from the 150+ million Americans who are on Facebook – which represents about half of the entire American population.

You can find a big reason for Pew’s discrepancy by snooping around on Twitter a bit. It won’t take you long to find countless Twitter accounts that are bereft of any tweet activity at all. People may have set their acount up at one time, but long ago lost interest in using the platform – if indeed they ever had any real Twitter zeal beyond “follow-the-leader.” (“Everybody’s going on Twitter … shouldn’t I sign up, too?”)

This is the purest essence of hype: generating a flurry of interest that quickly dissipates as the true value (or lack thereof) is discerned by users.

Of course, Twitter does have its place. Some brands find the platform to be a good venue for announcing new products and sales deals. And it doesn’t take long for the best of those deals promoted on Twitter to leech their way into the rest of the online world.

Other companies – although far fewer – are using Twitter as a kind of customer service discussion board.

And as we all know, celebrities l-o-v-e their Twitter accounts. What a great, easy way to generate an endless stream of sound-bite information about their favorite topic: themselves.

Analyses of active Twitter accounts have shown that a sizable chunk of the activity is made up of media properties and brands tweeting each other … a lot of inside-the-park baseball.

What’s missing from the equation is the level of “real people” engagement one can find on Facebook in abundance … and maybe soon on Google+ as well. That’s real social interaction – in spades.

Actually, you mightn’t be too far off the mark if you deduced that Twitter is the digital equivalent of a bunch of industry insiders at a cocktail party … saying little of real importance while trying to appear “impressive” and “hip” at the same time.

But who’s being fooled by that?

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