How Twitter is Changing: A new study reveals Twitter’s new direction

2010 will be forever commemorated as the year Twitter matured from a cool but undecided teenager into a more confident and assertive young adult. While there’s still much room to mature and develop, Twitter’s new direction is crystallizing. With a new look, Dick Costolo as the new CEO, and an oversold new advertising platform, Twitter is growing into something not yet fully identifiable, but formidable nonetheless.

At a minimum, Twitter is an extension of each one of us. It feeds our senses and amplifies our voice. We’re connecting to one another through shared experiences creating a hybrid social network and information exchange tied by emotion and interest. While Twitter provides the technology foundation, it is we who make Twitter so unique and consequential by simply being human and sharing what we see, feel, and think – in Twitter time. It’s both a gift and a harbinger of enlightenment. As new media philosopher, and good friend, Stowe Boyd once said, “It’s our dancing that makes the house rock, not the planks and pipes. It is us that makes Twitter alive, not the code.”

Combining our senses with digital inner monologue is something that we must learn to use wisely . While we may have freedom of Tweet, we are also witnessing that in some cases, common sense is not so common after all.

As there are multiple sides to every story, in this case, Twitter, its users, and the sentiment in between, let’s look at the opposite end of the stream for a moment. Twitter isn’t the only character in this tale to have matured. You, me, and the other 150 million Twitter denizens also changed over the last year. Social media monitoring service Sysomos released new data that highlights just how far we have come between 2009 to 2010.

Let’s start with the population of Twitter. Twitter reportedly attracted more than 100 million users in 2010. While it’s not quite the size of Facebook, which currently serves as the digital residence of 550 million, its impact on media, culture and society is profound.

Social Biography

As Twitter is an extension of your digital identity, users are finding comfort in sharing more about who they are. In 2010, 69 percent shared a bio which is more than double of those who did so in 2009.

Bios are only one part of establishing a digital identity. Whereas with instant messaging services of old, with Twitter, we are encouraged to share our name rather than an alias. The jump here is also profound. 73 percent provide a detailed name or descriptor. Last year, only 33% were as revealing. This is part of the transition from Twitter as a micromessaging or microblogging network to a more personal extension of who we are.

Where in the world are we? On Twitter, 82 percent want you to know. In 2009 however, the number of those who shared their location was only half the size.

If Google “was” the resume of the individual in 2008 and 2009, perhaps Twitter, and also Facebook, are presenting us with a more favorable opportunity to design our online persona. Now 45 percent, up from 22 percent, share a URL in their Twitter profile.

As we can see, privacy is something that’s discussed on the “other” networks…not just Twitter. Here, its natives live in public and do so willingly.

Who are These Tweeple Anyway?

We are what we say. How we describe ourselves says much more about the greater community as well. Twitter’s citizens are expressive, combining emotion and fact as their verbal self portraits. Love. Life. World. Friends. Family.

In 2010, Twitter realized its greatest velocity of growth in its short four-year history. In just one year, 44% of its total population moved in to the micro utopia in the hopes of finding and sharing something missing elsewhere online and IRL.

Who you follow says a lot about us. While many use the follow as a strategy to boost follow-backs, following the right people is also where we can fine tune the signal versus noise in our social stream. As we can see, only .05 percent of the total Twitterverse have more than 10,000 friends and only 2.05 percent connect to more than 1,000. The majority of Tweeps, 95.8 percent, maintain a network of less than 500 friends.

On Twitter, one of the most popular discussions is popularity versus influence. No, influence is not popularity and popularity is not influence. But that doesn’t mean that earning a vast network of followers isn’t a remarkable achievement in and of itself. Only .06 percent of micro socialites on Twitter boast more than 20,000 followers. Again, the trend continues across the network. Still only 2.12 percent have more than 1,000 followers. This leaves the greater population to connect everyone else with 95.9 percent maintaining less than 500 followers. For those who pay attention to influence however, influence is measured by the quality and resonance of a network, not its size.

I always find it so fascinating when the Pareto principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, continues to prove itself over and over again. In Twitter’s egosystem, Of all Twitter users, 22.5 percent post 90 percent of Tweets.

.18 percent have published more than 25,000 Tweets. 2.7 percent have Tweeted more than 5,000 times. Just over 80 percent have either a bit of stage fright or they’re still finding their voice, with only sub 500 Tweets to their avatars to date. After almost four years on the service, I’ve published just over 9,000.

To this day, the friend to follower ratio continues to serve as an important benchmark. I think this is a dying stat as it only encourages us to dilute our streams with updates that don’t improve our Twitter experience. In 2011 and 2012, we will focus on ridding ourselves of the information overload that buried us in email and social networks in the past, concentrating on substance over numbers.

According to Sysomos, the follower-friend ratio is even until users reach about 1,050 followers. After, the numbers skew greater towards followers. The trend continues as followers outpace friends. For example, someone with 5,000 followers usually averages 3,700 friends. As we approach 10,000 followers though, the ratio balances again. Sysomos found that someone with 10,000 followers will most likely maintain an average of 9,600 friends.

Twitter continues to change how we discover, communicate, and share. Each time we do, we reveal a bit more about who we are and what moves us. As we embrace the new year, Twitter’s numbers will expand, but I believe the nature of the service and also how we use it will change significantly.

What do you think? Is this you?

UPDATE: To balance this post a bit, I ran traffic numbers for Twitter.com using Compete and I found something worthy of sharing. It appears that visits to Twitter.com in the U.S. is receding. Between July and October 2010, visits have gradually diminished from a high of roughly 29 million down to 26 million – close to the ~24 million closing out 2009. While many users access Twitter via third-party apps, traffic to the dotcom is a good indicator for potential growth. I should point out however, that globally, Twitter.com earned just over 100 million visitors in October, up 79 percent from 2009.

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  • Bobbycalise

    Really interesting stuff, thanks for providing. Great angle looking at the profile stuff as a way of seeing who is really “into” Twitter versus the prior year.

  • http://twitter.com/markgr Mark Greenfield

    Great information and analysis here, thanks for sharing.

    I am seeing an exponential increase in the number of people who follow me who, in reality, couldn’t care less about what I have to say. They have no connection whatsoever to my interests, they are just looking to build the number THEIR followers. 9 out of 10 unfollow me within a day. The signal to noise issue will be a major factor moving forward

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Interesting. I do appreciate services such as Klout and PeerIndex placing greater value on activity over popularity. Perhaps one day soon, people will figure out that it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the effect.

    • http://twitter.com/mikeschinkel Mike Schinkel

      Agree it is the affect, but unfortunately a follower number is so much easier for people to grasp than the effect. Klout numbers are interesting, but so many assumptions have been rolled into one number that it makes it less useful for decision making that we’d like.

      So not at all disagreeing, just lamenting that difficulty of quantifying true influence.

    • http://BestSellerAuthors.com Warren Whitlock

      So right.. it’s great to see the numbers and I do appreciate your insight.. but end of the day, one connection with a person on Twitter can be worth millions (in currency or any other indicator) while most tweets are worth pennies.

      Only the people involved in a conversation can tell what the value of the connection is… sometimes years after a simple tweet or two.

      When we see the effect of something working in our lives, we can try to repeat it. These numbers serve a one set of guideposts. To view them as a complete picture would be a mistake.

      Whenever I see COMPETE or such measures of traffic to the dot com.. I wonder “what’s the real number?”

      Wouldn’t # of tweets be a closer approximation?

    • http://www.infinigraph.com Chase McMichael | InfiniGraph

      Brian @InfiniGraph has taken this much further by looking at the social context around brand affinity. Activity without enough relevant connections to other in common brand topics causes social velocity to drop off fast. We address this here Influencer, Content Intelligence and Social Engagement http://bit.ly/bklBvJ

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Chase, the intent of this post is good, but I’m not sure this sends a complete message. It’s more than just publishing and content marketing it’s about experiences and outcomes as well. We just don’t see enough of those examples…Tom’s Shoes is a good case study for this, not because it’s cause marketing, but because its great content marketing that impacts the brand and bottom line.

    • http://www.infinigraph.com Chase McMichael | InfiniGraph

      Brian your right on the money as always. I agree its more but some of these brands need the basics with advanced intelligence. One thing we have found is not all brands can pull off cause marketing but can be part of a cause that is most relevant to their audience. Content marketing at the end of the day without typing into the passion of the audience is just more bla bla bla. I’m sure we will see in 2011 a melding of measured performance to content and if the brand can draw in the consumer passion all wins. I attempted to address part of this here – Stream Marketing, Social Intelligence and Influencer Media http://bit.ly/e5ntjx

    • http://twitter.com/jlsimons Jeffrey Simons

      I have to agree with Mark, Brian, and want to amplify his comment with a question: do you think that the increase in sexy pic/posts about DUI from the Lawyer-bots and the “auto-delete in one day if no folllow back” followers represents an actual threat to the usability of Twitter?

    • http://twitter.com/kanemurphy Kane Murphy

      How do you determine your success then? @’s, RT’s, Link clicks?

      I’m in the same boat, would be interesting to know.

      Thanks Mark.

    • http://busylearners.com Robert Bacal

      One of the issues about evaluating success has to do with “what is good enough”, and the consequences of drawing wrong conclusions. Another is that your metrics need to reflect your BUSINESS goals as directly as possible.

      The more you lower your risk of bad conclusions, and the more directly you measure success in terms of business goals, the more expensive the whole thing gets until the cost of measuring exceeds your profits.

      SO, what people do is what you suggest — measure what’s easy to measure rather than what is meaningful to measure. On Twitter, I think we know enough to say that ALL of the one’s you suggest have almost nothing to do with business outcomes, although obviously if nobody reads, clicks or RT’s, you can’t have positive business results.

      About 92% of tweets receive no measurable response from anyone. Often RT’s are done without people actually reading the links from the original message (it’s kind of fun to test this out…a little imagination, nd one finds out how absolutely foolish some twitter behavior is).

  • http://busylearners.com Robert Bacal

    What is a real concern here, and something that reflects on the credibility of both the study, and Brian is that there are NO potentially negative indicators mentioned here. For example, what’s the account abandonment rate relative to year? Who is abandoning? How many businesses have failed at Twitter (it’s a huge invisible number). Why did those businesses fail?

    With all due respect, this kind of superficial coverage may be great for “social media reporting”, but it’s simply not good enough for serious students and learners interested in social media, OR decision-makers in business.

    In fact, the stress on positive numbers and ignoring any possible negative ones, results in bad business decisions.

    For example, did you know that the number of people who use Twitter as a means of getting customer service is SO minimal it’s almost non-existent? (Hey, you can look it up too?)

    • http://stopdoingnothing.com Patrick Allmond

      Well stated Mr. Bacal

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Please see above…

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Robert, it is what it is. That doesn’t take anything away from the significance of the discussion however. But just for you, I’ve updated the post with something that adds a bit of balance if you will…the update is above.

      p.s. What leads to bad business decisions isn’t posts about data, it’s not conducting research specific to the business you’re in prior to making strategic moves. The onus is on each one of us to research markets, especially when insight is a rare commodity.

    • http://twitter.com/kanemurphy Kane Murphy

      If somebody doesn’t already know that twitter has bad abandonment rates then I think they should go away and read a few more studies/reports before this one, and if you think someone is suggesting that a business is succeeding exponentially in every single facet that’s a little absurd.

      We can only work with the stats we have, and use them as a reference, not gospel to apply to our business.

    • http://twitter.com/kanemurphy Kane Murphy

      If somebody doesn’t already know that twitter has bad abandonment rates then I think they should go away and read a few more studies/reports before this one, and if you think someone is suggesting that a business is succeeding exponentially in every single facet that’s a little absurd.

      We can only work with the stats we have, and use them as a reference, not gospel to apply to our business.

    • http://www.jeffmolander.com jeff_molander

      Robert…
      A the heart of your thoughtful comment is what Brian’s blog is all about. What is Brian’s responsibility to the audience? Who’s the audience? Why does Brian even blog at all? (heh heh, demand creation??)

      I Brian addresses this in his comment point blank below. Again, I agree but “what do you expect after all?” :)

      And for those of you who don’t read Robert. Shame on you. Get to work!
      http://socialmediabust.com/business-social-media/3-excerpts.html

  • http://www.yourlifeyourway.net Tia Sparkles Singh

    Bookmarking!!

    I’ve seen twitter (and how I use it) evolve SO much over the past 2 years. The biggest change I see?

    People starting to get INTENTIONAL with social media instead of blindly running around wondering what to do. This is fantastic as there’s definitely a very clear “good” and “bad” way to do it and at the same time, rules are to be taken with a pinch of salt.

    I say, follow your common sense and do as you would in person. If you wouldn’t spout and spam in person, don’t do it on social media. Glad to see peeps learning this vital social media success tip.

    Thanks for the great wrap up Brian!

    • http://twitter.com/soumyapr soumyapr

      Excellent article, Brian. Thanks.
      I second everything Tia says. Bookmarking this article!

  • http://phylliskhare.com Phyllis Khare

    I have found over the last year that Twitter has mostly become a conversation medium – for me. I used to send out all sorts of promotional things, and I still RT great articles, etc., but now most of the time I use it for having short personal conversations – which is what it was designed to do in the first place!

  • Lolita

    Pretty interesting info….thanks for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/Artlifefreedom Cortnee Howard

    Great article and some great observations. Thanks for sharing and dissecting!

  • http://www.frominsidemusic.com Alex

    this post is awesome. I’m definitely in the 80% people as far as tweets and followers. This is a good breakdown and really shows the impact of twitter

  • http://www.frominsidemusic.com Alex

    this post is awesome. I’m definitely in the 80% people as far as tweets and followers. This is a good breakdown and really shows the impact of twitter

  • Anonymous

    Again, lots of really interesting data!

  • http://zachcole.com Zach Cole

    Very cool to see the increases in all these stats – especially Twitter users with a bio. It may seem intuitive, but having a bio on Twitter really does make it 10x easier to decide who to follow and who not to follow. Awesome numbers!

  • http://twitter.com/ChangWooUWSP Chang Wan Woo

    Thank you for the great info. I wish, though, to know if there is any correlation between the number of followers and first three charts. Can we say the more transparent we are, the more followers we get?

  • Pingback: Twitter evolution in 2010 « MST Digital

  • http://twitter.com/DavidPylyp David Pylyp

    There are some great responses here; speaking only for myself Twitter is the ultimate cold interruption possible, engage in a conversation, talk, chat and communicate with people I would never otherwise have access too. I am actively connecting with people who live or work in Toronto. I think thats cool!

    A previous poster made mention of quality of post and interaction as related to Klout scores, Exactly on point From the number of followers I doubt half actually follow me back, Less than half of that are actively engaged to communicate with me. Imagine if only half of that again would actively engage with me online to follow my tweets and connect on my links.

    That could be 500 dedicated connected individuals
    That could be my tribe,
    I like twitter

    Lets see how we can better use this communication tool

    David Pylyp
    Living in Toronto

  • Drmonica128

    Twitter has enabled me to reduce the number of email newsletters which fill up my inbox because all the must read now stuff is on Twitter.

  • http://www.mesmo.co.uk monica seeley

    Twitter has enabled me to reduce significantly the number of email newsletters which fill up my inbox because all the must read now stuff is on Twitter. Hence its a great way to reduce the awful email overload syndrome by creating a pull rather than push information culture.

  • http://www.shaboominc.com/blog Molly Gordon

    Fascinating. In just over three years, I have 9,822 updates to me credit. I have 7,893 followers and 2,738 people I follow. They used to be more even until I did a radical pruning earlier this year.

    I rarely access the site directly, preferring to use Hootsuite on both my laptop and iPhone. From the beginning I’ve had a bio, URL, and name that represented who I really am (in this case, my company name). I do use Twitter to stay in touch with people in my biz network. That said, I have made a number of friends on the platform whom I would not have otherwise met.

  • http://twitter.com/merket Ryan Merket

    All of my bots have a Bio, URL, and full name. ;)

  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    I thought that I was really being new and revolutionary by ramping up my presence on Twitter this year. Turns out I was just part of a trend. How depressing!

    The new statistics released by the Pew Research team have got a lot of people talking. I wish I could learn more about what it was like to be on Twitter when it first started. I only have my own experience to go by. It makes me wonder if the advice that is being given now still can work as well as it did even a year ago. Are the people joining today interfacing differently than the first 15,000 users did?

    I have to believe so.

    For me, engaging with people on Twitter was not just a matter of finding quality people to follow. The people that were recommended to me were in that 20% stratum of untouchability. Guess how many responses I got when I was trying to talk to those people, along with 500,000 other Twitter users? That was a disheartening start to my Twitter journey, and I think a lot of people join Twitter unprepared to work and be frustrated for awhile. Is that new?

    I’d love to see a flashback to how Twitter was and how it has changed. I’ve been looking and have yet to find one :)

  • http://twitter.com/awesomeracefans Vinny – Nascar Fan

    Interesting numbers and I can see where the failure of some businesses that tried Twitter and failed come into play. They didn’t interact with their users they just blasted them with messages that start with an “I” and forced tweets down their throat. that = fail.

    Thanks for the facts Brian it was a great read.

    • http://busylearners.com Robert Bacal

      Actually, that’s not completely accurate. I’ve scanned information on hundreds of companies that have abandoned their twitter accounts. It’s true some used it badly. But many didn’t, at least as best one can tell. There are failures with lots of followers, a few, and lots of tweets and just a few and a bunch of other interactions of variables.

      There are reasons that make perfect sense. Twitter interaction doesn’t scale if its personalized as you suggest. Interaction is expensive, and it’s considered overhead (which it is). The startup costs for most small businesses in terms of time are staggering unless one “cheats”. Large companies have more ability to make it work, but you’ll see that there is virtually no interaction going on on Twitter at any level that goes beyond one or two interchanges. It’s a media crippled for interactive purposes on a larger scale.

      I share what you’d like to Twitter to be. It’s not going to happen. After two years of being quite active and trying to interact, I’ve pretty much left the building and use it just for broadcasting, and/or responding to specific people who initiate conversations.

    • http://twitter.com/awesomeracefans Vinny – Nascar Fan

      Having lots of followers and abandoning Twitter is not a factor for doing it right. In my mind its means that they had a brand and used Twitter wrong. Most of the companies you studied probably didn’t have a good plan. You need to make Twitter into your sales funnel and it doesn’t take much for that to happen.

      It doesn’t cost much to get personalized with Twitter and companies that see that as overhead are doing it wrong. I am sad to see you leaving the Twitter arena and just using it for broadcasting which in my mind is a fail.

  • http://www.cravepr.com Saskia

    Great article. I’m sharing with my clients

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  • Rahul

    nice and interesting article. Thanks for the posts.

  • Anonymous

    A very impressive article. It is very difficult to realise that twitter brings much more on the long term than facebook.

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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