{{ searchResult.published_at | date:'d MMMM yyyy' }}

Loading ...
Loading ...

Enter a search term such as “mobile analytics” or browse our content using the filters above.

No_results

That’s not only a poor Scrabble score but we also couldn’t find any results matching “”.
Check your spelling or try broadening your search.

Logo_distressed

Sorry about this, there is a problem with our search at the moment.
Please try again later.

When discussing the internet's social media revolution, you can count on Twitter being mentioned. While Twitter may not be structured like, say, Facebook, Twitter is commonly thought of as an online social network.

But what if it really isn't much like a social network at all, and what if the media sharing on Twitter isn't very "social"? According to a study conducted by Yahoo Research, which looked at 260m tweets sent on Twitter between July 28, 2009 and March 8, 2010 containing bit.ly-shortened URLs, that seems to be the case.

A whopping 50% of all content consumed on Twitter is generated by only 20,000 users. This is no 80/20 rule: even if we assume that a significant number of Twitter accounts are dormant (which appears to be a valid assumption), a very, very small group of "elite" users (0.05% of all users by Yahoo Research's calculation) is producing half of the content that gets consumed.

Although these elite users are not part of the traditional media, the researchers observe that "information flows have not become egalitarian by any means."

What's more:

  • Yahoo's researchers found that Twitter isn't very "social" in another important respect: individuals on Twitter follow back far less than they're followed.

    According to the researchers, "The Twitter follower graph, in other words, does not conform to the usual characteristics of social networks, which exhibit much higher reciprocity and far less skewed degree distributions, but instead resembles more the mixture of one-way mass communications and reciprocated interpersonal communications".

  • There's significant fragmentation on Twitter. In other words, "Celebrities listen to celebrities, while bloggers listen to bloggers." Even if this isn't necessarily surprising, it does highlight the fact Twitter users organize themselves around subjects more than they do other people.

The full Yahoo Research report is well worth the read, particularly for social media wonks. But the basic findings raise some important questions for anyone involved in social media in a professional capacity.

Is Twitter really a social network?

If it isn't because of the way individuals interact and information is shared, what is "social" about Twitter? If the answer to that is "not a lot" or "far less than is commonly thought", is it beneficial to approach Twitter as a "social media" platform for marketing, content distribution or customer service?

After all, many social media experts frequently implore brands to treat Twitter differently (read: avoid thinking of it as merely a one-way communications channel). But what if it really is a one-way communications channel?

Certainly, platforms are largely what we make of them. But separating the Twitter hype from the Twitter reality is increasingly important as brands invest more heavily in social media.

Understanding how individuals interact and share via online platforms is crucial to setting expectations, developing goals and using those platforms effectively.

Recognizing that Twitter has a lot in common with more traditional one-way mass communications channels may be one of the most important steps marketers can take as "being there" gives way to "finding ROI."

Patricio Robles

Published 28 March, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2377 more posts from this author

Comments (39)

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Avatar-blank-50x50

Pete Austin, MarketingXD

Not sure. The headline result could just be a measurement effect, judging by this report.

The study only measures tweets containing bit.ly-shortened URLs. It seems possible that these are less social than the average tweet.

For example, when I send a social Tweet, for example to say what music I'm listening to, this almost never contains a shortened URL.

But when I send a non-social Tweet, for example to announce a blog post, this almost always contains a shortened URL.

I suspect others do the same, so the study could have disproportionately measured non-social tweets.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Duncan Birch

I think Twitter has not been defined a social network for a while now IMHO. Was it not a Microblogging platform originally ans is now seen as a content sharing platform or real time news platform?

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

People + content = social media. Perhaps Twitter isn't strictly a social network, but it certainly provides plenty of opportunities to benefit from exchange of ideas with others, and to make new connections.

The headline statistic is surely due to the fact that there are a small number of super-followed people, rather than the fact that only a small % are creating much content. In fact, the super-followed people, usually don't tweet that often. In this research, I think Yahoo must be counting a single Charlie Sheen tweet, earning 1 million 'impressions', as 1 million 'pieces of content', and one of my tweets, earning 100 impressions, as 100 'pieces of content'. Hence, by Yahoo's methodology, Sheen has generated 10,000 times as much content as me. But a more logical way to look at it would be that Sheen and I have each generated 1 piece of content - a single tweet each.

Is Twitter more one-way than two-way? I think that's a fair point. The original concept was birds 'twittering' in the wind - sending out messages that would be received, but not necessarily responded to. @messaging is the exception rather than the norm. 'Microblogging' implies putting stuff out there for people to take or leave - without the expectation of a reply.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Lorraine

As well as dormant accounts Twitter also has lots of automated / news aggregator feeds which are in all likelihood making up the bulk of those 'elite users', rather than being 'real' people.
Personally I think that whilst Twitter might be less 'social' (depending on how you measure that of course), it has more in common with real life / traditional 'networking' than most other platforms...

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Courtney Hunt

Twitter doesn't view itself as a social network. One of the founders said as much in a NY Times article earlier this year, and I heard their Chief Legal Counsel reiterate that point at an event last week. As Adam noted, it IS a social media platform, but it is more dominated by content sharing than by relationship building.

Twitter wants to be thought of a news and information sharing source, which can still be social (in that content is user generated and can come from "unofficial" news sources). It will be interesting to see how their efforts to regain control of their brand and their business model will play out in the coming months, esp. since they're likely to face resistance from (a small but vocal group of) aficionados who swear by the social networking value of the platform.

Courtney Hunt
Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Nick Stamoulis

I have to agree with Adam. People + content= social media. It's just that Twiter is so unlike the other big social networking sites, that sometimes it feels like a completely different platform. Twitter is still defining itself, so maybe it will end up being more of a traditional communication channel, but only time will tell.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Bharati Ahuja

I think Twitter is a social as well as a business PR tool.

More than the social aspect on the personal front Twitter is a platform which is widely used as a customer support or a PR tool for brand building.

Moreover Google giving more importance to Twitter for the social aspect to search results is adding this marketing tool value to Twitter more and more.

According to me it is giving a different qualitative touch to Twitter which will carve a separate niche for it on the social scenario.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Andreas Ramos

The study is deeply flawed. They looked at 290m tweets between July/09 and March/10 (7 months). They only looked at tweets that included URLs.

However, some 40m people write 150m tweets daily, which is 4.5 billion per month. The study looked at 41m tweets per month, or less than 1%.

The study actually supports the opposite view: 20,000 people generate less than 1% of the content.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

catherine clinch

Twitter is the best possible way for celebrities to keep their fans thinking of them day and night. That's about it. Two-way communication is "opt in" and most celebs don't want to hear from fans all day - so if you're not a fan there is very little incentive to follow the constant streams of self-promotion. The irony is that with a two-way of flow of information, the celeb (or politician or news outlet or whatever) could opt not to read and/or respond to it - but there would at least be the presumption that one was able to participate in an actual exchange rather than just being the the receptacle point in an information delivery system. That being said, I believe that Twitter is the first wave in a new generation of PR and Advertising - and as soon as a program comes along that removes the opt in aspects of two-way exchange it will blow Twitter out of the tree top.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Tish Grier

Was just discussing with some marketing friends how Twitter has lost its sense of "social." Not too long ago (in the past year??) I could DM someone, receive a DM back. Or "@" someone and have a meaningful conversation which might actually lead to a better connection on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Now, people are more interested in their follower numbers than in having conversation. I've tried to get in touch with several people who I've bumped into at various places in my career, who may know me through others, and they simply do not respond.

My conversation circle in Twitter is far smaller than my conversation circle on Facebook now--when it was the opposite before.

Twitter is micro-blogging, and with all the hype about it, many are interested in it only to broadcast their wonderfulness. How boring.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

John Norton

I wouldn't argue with the finding that Twitter may be dominated at the moment by "elite" ("engaged" is the word non-marketers might choose) communities. But the way I use Twitter every day is quite similar to the way I use Facebook or Ning -- to share information and ideas with a community that shares some of my interests. Whether that's family or football or taxidermy techniques, it's my personal/professional social network. It would be interesting to see research from others who are examining the content for reasons other than e-commerce. Social anthropologists?

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Shennandoah Diaz

First of all I have to say that whoever did this study obviously hasn't heard of #USguys nor have they actually participated on Twitter. I have more regular social interactions on Twitter than any other platform. When I say social I don't mean mass followers/autofollow backs as the study suggests. Social circles are based on people congregating because they have similar interests and values (its not centered around people only though shared connections matter just as much on Twitter as elsewhere). We have conversations with people who are talking about tings that interest us, not just because of who they are (I don't follow celebrities FYI because I don't care about what they have to say on twitter).

I do agree that Twitter has a unique culture and set of norms and understanding that allows one to make better use of Twitter (and other social media). Still, I think the people who published this study need to rethink what it means to be "social" and look at the real conversations happening on twitter, not just link sharing.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Ron Weinberg

This is a great article that looks at twitter in a practical manner.

Social media has taken on the idealistic connotations of highly attentive people sitting around a coffee table, with not a care in the world, equally and politely sharing their meaningful thoughts in "conversation".

In the real world, you will often find one person dominating in a group as others listen. Maybe they are a better storyteller, have better jokes or just full of themselves.

Producing content is work, even under 140 characters. Plus, if everybody is talking, nobody is going to be listening.

Twitter is just starting to mirror the real world of interaction, not a hyped offshoot.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Gyurka Jansen

I don't 'get' this article. Sure I read that information flow is not as egalitarian as some would expect, or want us to believe. I read that there is significant fragmentation about users organizing themselves around topics, that follower-rates are uneven. These are all social structures!

Nowhere in this article can I see anything that leads me to believe Twitter is 'not social'. Sure it's not egalitarian, but that's hardly unsocial. Perhaps you're looking at the wrong definition of social, a social network is a social network because of social interactions, like all the examples you've mentioned in this exact article! It's not a social network because of what we colloquially call "social behaviour" (ie "being nice" or the anti-thesis of "being anti-social").

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Emily Binder

I agree with Andreas Ramos: The study is flawed. First, this is year-old data. For a social platform that evolves so rapidly like Twitter, data that old is obsolete and not generalizable. Second, Patricia, you write,
"'Celebrities listen to celebrities, while bloggers listen to bloggers.' Even if this isn't necessarily surprising, it does highlight the fact Twitter users organize themselves around subjects more than they do other people."
The fact that people organize themselves around mutual interests is the basis for community in every societal respect. The fact that Twitter is fragmented doesn't make it less social. Information may not be totally democratized in the front end; not everyone has an equal likelihood of getting RTd as does Charlie Sheen. But do we all have an equal shot? Yes.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

howie g

First off. You use an old study done by a biased source. And if you think Twitter isn't Social Facebook is worse. Users share an average of 1.7 items a day on Facebook. Which is almost zero.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Rene Power

Yahoo has a vested interest in trying to derail Twitter's ridiculous growth curve. It's a social network, a micro-blogging tool, a broadcast medium, a real time news service - the works. Sure, there are a small group of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities with massive followings, but by and large scores of people interacting with people they know and people they didn't pre-Twitter on common areas of interest. Sounds like a social network to me.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Gianluigi Cuccureddu

Hard to say.

Could be just part semantics, but on the other hand Costello has branded it as an information network a couple of months ago.

This branding and characterisation fits Twitter and its behavior.

"a very, very small group of "elite" users (0.05% of all users by Yahoo Research's calculation) is producing half of the content that gets consumed."
Lurking is no different than a network as Linkedin or Facebook.

"Although these elite users are not part of the traditional media, the researchers observe that "information flows have not become egalitarian by any means."
By any means... meaning they would have expected differently based on the democratization of data for instance? People are people and digital follows people's behavior.

Every technology passes through the Hype Cycle, Twitter is no different. Twitter is perhaps too hyperconnective, too much of an info overflow to interact on a sensible scale.
This also explains the following outcome:
"The Twitter follower graph, in other words, does not conform to the usual characteristics of social networks, which exhibit much higher reciprocity and far less skewed degree distributions, but instead resembles more the mixture of one-way mass communications and reciprocated interpersonal communications".

I use Twitter for competitive/market intel, trends, focus and more, the actual interaction finds place on Linkedin and other more appropriate networks (in relation to my objectives).

Companies must not underestimate or not look back on Twitter, speed of visibility is high, and focus is key in what to do on Twitter. Do it for Customer Service issues and other customer centric objectives if companies have a limit on resources.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Chris Bagon

20.000 people worlwide! Some of them are nerds, celebs, bloggers listen to bloggers. It's definitively not social.
Whom fault is that ? I guess that the super blogger is too individualist to share his passion in order to make people involve.. just small actions, just small results.. just the idea that companies should spend advertising budget on it..

over 5 years ago

Matthias Zeitler

Matthias Zeitler, CEO at MarkTheGlobe, Inc.

The funny thing is that this article has already been tweeted over 900 times.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Nettie

I have more followers than people I am following, but I consider myself to be very sociable. The people I don't follow, almost without exception, are those who do nothing but tweet quotes, links,try to sell me stuff, claim to be psychics, want to have Justin Bieber's children.

Am I so wrong?

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

CanvasmanArt

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. The study is a sham. 99% of all twitter activity is excluded from this research.
So yes, it is very misleading....

1. 50% of Tweets containing (bit.ly-shortened URLs)come from 20,000 users (equiv to 0.05%)
2. This equated to roughly 1.2m tweets per day (written with a bit.ly-shortened URL)
3. Versus 150 million tweets that are reportedly written every day
4. So, less than 1% of ALL tweets are written with a bit.ly-shortened URL
5. Yahoo!?

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

Twitter.com itself says "Twitter is the best way to discover what’s new in your world" and describes itself as "a real-time information network that connects you to the latest information about what you find interesting". It even advises: "You don’t have to tweet to get value from Twitter".

You could argue that if communication isn't two-way, then it isn't truly 'social'. If a study really wanted to find out how 'two-way' Twitter is, it would need to look at the average number of people that an individual converses with. On Facebook it is less than 10, I think (despite people having hundreds of 'friends'). And a study like this would probably need to exclude non-personal accounts, such as news publishing feeds.

The study abstract itself says it found "the media produces the most information, but celebrities are the most followed" - not exactly a surprising revelation!

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Hutch Carpenter

"In other words, 'Celebrities listen to celebrities, while bloggers listen to bloggers.' Even if this isn't necessarily surprising, it does highlight the fact Twitter users organize themselves around subjects more than they do other people."

Actually, wouldn't that argue the opposite? Twitter users organize around people - those with similar characteristics - rather than subjects? Unless celebrities are listening to other celebrities on the *subject* of "celebrity"?

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

SamL 'aka @Chairmansam'

Interesting take on Twitter, but as its coming from a Search engine and community ecosystem owner, so I take it with a pinch of salt.

Also if the number of users generating the content is a small number, its no different than reading a bundle of different newspapers and making an informed decision based on the digested content.

Plus many tweets posted by users do not contain links either.

What it also does not take into account is that conversations then spin off a tweeted linked bewteen a users and so forth thus going viral.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Aleksej Heinze

Twitter = community of practice?

There is not much new really about Twitter and the way that Twitter users interact reflects trends in other communities of practice research.

Twitter = critical mass?

The concept of "critical mass" is probably important to understand when thinking about twitter. You need to develop your own critical mass on twitter to generate meaningful conversations around a topic. What is important to note is the use of twitter around events and the associated hash tag related interactions gives us a much clearer perspective on how twitter provides a "social networking" dimension to conventional events.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

steve O'Reilly

Twitter for me is a micro blogging site, a pr site and a place were i catch up with business people and friends. Is that a definition of a socail network?

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

bilgibank

Thank you for sharing it ! Very nice

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

mistersaxon

A larger study of Twitter will only reveal larger patterns. A larger study of email will reveal that 95% of email is binned unopened or never delivered - because it's spam. Is the argument, therefore, to "shout" louder and louder? No, that fails in email and it fails on twitter. In fact it fails harder on twitter because I can block - reliably and effectively - the nuisances. So in the hypothetical study the important part of the information is swamped in "noise" - high volume news items and tacky marketing attempts by people who don't understand interaction. a useful study of twitter as it is used would show how FEW messages are shortened URLs.
I can assure you that if marketers believe this study and start trying to "blast" twitter with messages with no intention of reacting to replies then they will fail - in fact they have already failed because they do not understand that twitter is NOT a marketing tool, it is a communication tool that can generate interest in a product IF the people marketing it are engaged in a dialogue.
Hopefully that won't happen in Twitter's future!

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Phil Lauterjung, President at Integrated LeadGen Results

If the purpose of the study was to determine the social nature of Twitter they left out a huge part of what goes on there every day. Limiting their sampling to only posts containing bit.ly links would naturally give them the results they got.

If all someone does is send out links without any interaction I don't usually follow them, especially the ones which are obviously automated. I'm looking for insightful people who are interested in learning and having a dialogue. I can't get that from a bot. Yet, the bots seemed to dominate this study.

If someone wants to do a study incorporating the interaction of real people on Twitter, then I might be willing to consider their study to be credible and worthwhile.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Courtney Hunt

I just published a blog post that cites this post/research. It's called "Unlucky 13? Twitter “Worst Practices” for Rookies (and Others) to Avoid" and can be accessed via tiny.cc/SMinOrgsTwitterPost (need to add http...).

I welcome people's feedback on my ideas.

Courtney Hunt
Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Bryan Coe

It's interesting how many people are saying that Twitter is a micro-blogging platform therefor by definition it is not "social", because it puts it in the realm of blogs. There's a fallacy in that argument because blogs are actually one of the early forms of social media. It all depends on how they are used. Right now this blog is an example of "social". People are commenting about the original blog post as well as other people's comments. That's social. It's all about the interactions. Blogs/Twitter/Facebook/etc. can all be used in a very one sided way where there is no social interaction at all. It depends how you use the platform.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Janice McCallum

I was misled by some of the headlines that reported on the Yahoo Research study, such as this one. The report may say that Twitter "more closely resembles an information sharing network than a social network", but it's still a network with social media amplication properties.

I just posted an article on my blog (see URL above) that offers more insight into how publishers can benefit from amplifying the reach of their content via Twitter. As I say in my post, Twitter is a social networking AND a media platform.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Lisa Schneider

Having just launched my new business Twitter account, it's been interesting watching it develop. As stated in the article, yes, the reciprocity is not there between who follows me and who I follow. There have been a few who, for the life of me, I can't figure out why they chose to follow me. I won't follow just for the sake of reciprocating. My goal with Twitter is to find like-minded people to connect with, learn from and 'socialize' with. Having been a community manager for a medium sized business, there is no doubt Twitter is social - but like everything else, you have to cut through the spam and you'll find real people.

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

Well said Janice. It's both a social network and an information sharing network. But don't expect accurate headlines from a digital media blog!

over 5 years ago

Conrad Morris

Conrad Morris, Director at Match Me Now Limited

Isn't the real lesson that each platform needs to be treated differently. Twitter is Twitter; Facebook is Facebook; LinkedIn is LinkedIn. Each needs a different strategy. Whether they are all "social media" platforms or not does not really matter, although the thought that Twitter might be more like a traditional one-way mass communication channel is interesting.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Karen E. Lund

Twitter is a very simple tool, and as such it can be used in many different ways.

The measures used here are not particularly meaningful.

* That only a few Tweeps generate most of the content on Twitter simply demonstrates that not everyone has figured out how to be social and/or interesting on the site. Those 20,000 users who generated half the content during the study period are, for the most part, very social; the rest are probably broadcasting useful content that others like to read.

* Following back is a poor measure of sociability. Twitter's barrier to connection is much lower than sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn, where users must "accept" invitations from other users. In some ways that is automatically more "social" but it also means that spammers and automated accounts (bots) are more prevalent. Not following a bot doesn't make me unsocial.

* Do celebrities talk to "regular" people in real life? No. Most of us talk with people who share some common interest, whether it's technology, music, or living in close geographic proximity. Twitter (and other online social networks) break down the geographic barriers, but there's no reason to expect (or even desire) that they will cause one person to follow or converse with someone with whom they share no common interest at all.

Twitter can be extremely social for conversations between individuals or among groups. Twitter chats are almost mind-bogglingly social (try out #TweetDiner or #BlogChat if you don't know what I mean). Online tribes such as #UsGuys {waves to Shennandoah} make Twitter very social.

However, I also follow accounts such as the BBC, other news media, and emergency management organizations. I don't expect them to interact with me one-to-one any more than I expect a radio or television to engage me in a conversation.

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Chase Munson

@Adam Cranfield - I don't think that something has to be "two way" in order to be called social. Going to church, for example, is a social experience, even though everyone is being delivered content from just one pastor at the pulpit instead of having a conversation. In my most recent blog post, I argue that the Watts et al. study shows us that it isn't that Twitter isn't "social," its just that it involves a much more hierarchical kind of sharing than social networks like Facebook. http://www.bynd.com/2011/03/31/the-truth-about-twitter/

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

@Chase - yep, that's why I said 'you could argue', because in truth the word 'social' has a much broader meaning than the interpretation many people use when talking about social media (which is typically that, compared to 'old media', which was broadcast, it is about many-to-many and two-way communication). 'Social' actually just means 'relating to society'. So, if society is using Twitter, then it is a social phenomenon. I like your blog post - it makes perfect sense to me.

over 5 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Daily Pulse newsletter. Each weekday, you ll receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.