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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  • Anonymous

    Great article, thanks for sharing. I wonder though whether Twitter has overdone it’s critical mass and may become less effective and useful as it continues growing.

    Definitely been a game changer though.

    Mark

  • http://richardrbecker.com/ Rich Becker

    Nice recap of the report Brian.

    I especially love that you did run an independent report on the number of visits from the U.S. Perhaps it’s related to the new desktop model that defies the original simplicity.

    Best,
    Rich

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Thanks Rich. Traffic data is usually met with the same pushback…people feel that since many use third-party apps, traffic to Twitter.com doesn’t reflect true activity. The point is however, that it’s also an indicator of new users and potential growth. Cheers!

  • Hello

    It’s a fab post but I’d be interested to see the breakdown of profiles, names and URLs on accounts by business user v personal user. Otherwise the appearance of businesses, spambots, professional social media types etc. on Twitter the last few years makes the numbers rather dubious as evidence that people are becoming more open.

  • Hello

    It’s a fab post but I’d be interested to see the breakdown of profiles, names and URLs on accounts by business user v personal user. Otherwise the appearance of businesses, spambots, professional social media types etc. on Twitter the last few years makes the numbers rather dubious as evidence that people are becoming more open.

  • Christina Pappas

    I registered for Twitter this year so I am also part of this ‘trend’ identified. There were a couple reasons I did so. The first was because I recognized that people had evolved the Tweet-versation from updating their followers on every task they had done throughout the day (had coffee, went to the bathroom, had a blt for lunch, dreading the commute home, etc.) and are now providing thought-provoking commentary in 140 characters or less and sharing some great stuff. The second reason was because I had not had the opportunity before in a previous company that was not a cheerleader for social media and still believes people use it to share their lunch (I know David Meerman Scott mentioned @AmandaPalmer making $$ off of this in a post today).

    Would love to see Twitter connect people in more ways than recommending who to follow. I understand a majority of the ‘work’ is up to us, the Tweeter, but would really like to see more communities be born from this.

  • Sandra

    I’ve got a Twitter account though I’m not a heavy user of it. I generally log into my account to see what friends or other interesting twitters I follow are talking about. tHANKS FOR THE POST!

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  • ReaderX

    I was confused by the friends & followers issue. Twitter deals in followers. There’s no such things as friends AFAIK. What are you referring to as “Friends” in the charts? No one has 10,000 friends in real life, so it must be an assignment/label of some kind from some place…

  • http://kbskobac.blogspot.com kskobac

    How are you defining “friends” on Twitter, a relationship with reciprocal follows?

  • http://kbskobac.blogspot.com kskobac

    How are you defining “friends” on Twitter, a relationship with reciprocal follows?

  • http://twitter.com/insideview InsideView

    Another great article that can be used to show companies that social media sites like Twitter are worth investing in. So many conversations being held and businesses should be engaged in them.

  • http://twitter.com/legalchap Michael Williamson

    Stimulating study – thanks. I joined Twitter less than a fortnight ago after promising myself for weeks that I ‘must look at it’. I wish I had done it sooner having found the most efficient way to feed my Facebook business page with news stories that are drawing attention and raising name awareness.

    It also says that I’m switched on to something that isn’t just a gimmick, for the nerds who have nothing better to do.

    Oh, and isn’t it kind of exciting to be part of something?!

    Thanks Brian.

  • Michael Smith

    I am humbled by the speed of change in the world of social media. Twitter is a perfect example of an application that is transforming the way we interact. But, future Twitter versions and the applications that consume ‘Tweets’ will bear fruit that is almost impossible to predict. The paradigm of information consumption will change dramatically once Google/Facebook/[pick one] has designed a taxonomy to dynamically categorize and distribute Tweets. Cool to ponder…

  • http://twitter.com/RustyCawley Rusty Cawley, APR

    I’m actually disturbed to see Twitter “grow up.” I’ve always admired Twitter’s ease of use, its shallow learning curve, its enforced brevity, its ever-expanding support community, and its chaotic nature. It lacks that “gated community” feel you get from Facebook. Its creators and at least some of its users are starting to take Twitter a little too seriously … and that’s often the death knell for a cool and useful technology.

  • http://www.billgluth.com Bill Gluth

    Very thoughtful and well researched article, Karen, nice job. Thank you for sharing your findings. I found them particularly helpful.

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  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/mdyoder Michael D. Yoder

    Excellent analysis, as usual, Brian. Especially appreciate the “update” section at the end of your post. Thank you for your ongoing analysis of Twitter and social media in general throughout 2010. Your insights have been a continual source of light in disseminating the nuances of the ever changing landscape of social media. Keep up the great work.

  • http://www.tmcinteractive.com GRTaylor2

    I’ve noticed more and more that there is little difference between my Twitter stream and my Facebook stream and I think in 2011 the lines will blur even more.

    • Stefan

      Honestly, my Facebook is an echo of my Twitter feed. I set it up that way because anything pertient I have to say on one applies just fine to the other. I’d welcome more of a blurring to consolidate my social networks a bit.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      I jokingly refer to the Facebook News Feed as the graveyard of Tweets as many individuals realize that time and attention are not infinite. But like in anything, we get out of the experience what we invest in it. I’ve stopped interacting with people on Facebook who port their Tweets simply because they’re not there to respond…nor is it important enough to them to introduce their thoughts uniquely to me. It’s an update vs. a conversation. Neither are wrong, they just have different intentions and outcomes.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      I jokingly refer to the Facebook News Feed as the graveyard of Tweets as many individuals realize that time and attention are not infinite. But like in anything, we get out of the experience what we invest in it. I’ve stopped interacting with people on Facebook who port their Tweets simply because they’re not there to respond…nor is it important enough to them to introduce their thoughts uniquely to me. It’s an update vs. a conversation. Neither are wrong, they just have different intentions and outcomes.

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  • http://cfcl.com/vlb Vicki

    Brian – please update the article to explain what you mean by “friend”. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/Inspirationf Inspirationfeed

    Great article, this is very eye opening!

  • http://www.benchmarkemail.com/email-marketing email marketing solutions

    Twitter through time has become a huge marketing tool for businesses and with that realization, companies are beginning to flood Twitter with as much of their information as they can for self-promotion. It’s just good for business. Much like Facebook, creating a Twitter presence has become a big priority to many companies, because they consider it to be “being in the conversation” as they should.

  • http://twitter.com/bossapps Bill Long

    Wonderful stats! The analysis will probably continue to evolve as others delve into them. And these aren’t ALL the stats, either.

  • Chris-3seven9

    Interesting to read an article that not only informs about the volume of Twitter users but the actual business application of those users. Very encouraging to see the increased emphasis on Bios etc – Social Media blogging is awash with promotional stats but the majority of these are of some genuine applicational use Brian so well done!

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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