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?

How Are Social Media Behaviors Changing?

Social mediaWith the steady growth of social networking sites – particularly Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – the characteristics and behaviors of their users continue to evolve.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has been studying these changes in recent years through conducting a variety of consumer research surveys, and its lateest findings have just been released. And some of these key findings are quite revealing.

For starters, Pew finds that nearly eight in ten Americans are now using the Internet. Of these, nearly 60% are also using at least one social media site. And social media users now skew more heavily female (~56%), which represents something of a shift in recent years.

The Pew research also finds that among those people who engage with social media sites, Facebook is the 500 pound gorilla; more than nine in ten respondents reported that they are on Facebook, compared to only ~18% who are on LinkedIn and an even smaller ~13% who are on Twitter.

Moreover, engagement with Facebook is at a higher level. About half of the Facebook users report that they are on Facebook every day. By contrast, only one-third of Twitter users engage with that social media platform on a daily basis.

The Pew study also found that the average number of Facebook friends a user has is nearly 230 – a figure that frankly surprised me a bit. What constitutes “friends” break down as follows:

 Friends from high school: ~22%
 Extended family members: ~12%
 Coworkers: ~10%
 Friends from college: ~9%
 Immediate family members: ~8%
 People from affinity groups: ~7%
 Neighbors: ~2%

Interesting, on average about 10% of Facebook users’ friends are people that they’ve never actually met, or met only once.

Another interesting finding from the Pew survey is that Facebook users tend to be more trusting of others and more active in the extent of their social interaction on a personal level. This would seem to refute the notion that Facebookers may be more susceptible to pursue “cyber” relationships in lieu of old-fashioned personal relationships. To the contrary, the Pew report observes:

“The likelihood of an American experiencing a deficit in social support, having less exposure to diverse others, not being able to consider opposing points of view, being untrusting, or otherwise being disengaged from their community and American society generally is unlikely to be a result of how they use technology.”

And what about LinkedIn? Clearly, it operates on a completely different plane than Facebook and even Twitter. It has become the de facto Human Resources clearinghouse on the Web … an employment fair on steroids.

LinkedIn’s unique position in the social media sphere is reflected in characteristics like the educational level of its users. Whereas only ~20% of Facebook users have a four-year college degree – and just ~15% have post-graduate education – those percentages on LinkedIn are ~37% and ~38% respectively. (Twitter’s educational demographics are nearly identical to Facebook’s.)

LinkedIn’s age demographics also tend to skew older. This means is that even though LinkedIn users may not be engaging with the platform on a daily basis — in fact, only ~6% do so according to the Pew survey — they do represent a highly attractive professional audience that offers good potential for many companies in marketing their products and services.

Additional information on the Pew Research survey findings is available here. Check it out and see if your own social media behaviors mirror the Pew market findings.