Thursday, September 30, 2010

Calling "BS" on Twitter Study

I'm seeing many people tweeting and trembling over yesterday's Mashable headline story, "Most Tweets Produce Zero Replies or Retweets." Many are reading this as "Tweets Are Ineffective Means of Communication" (one exception: Tom Guarriello). Okay, first the data, then why I am seeing the silver lining.
  • 71% of all tweets produce no reaction "in the form of replies or retweets"
  • 23% of all tweets solicit replies
  • only 6% of all tweets produce a retweet
  • 96.9% of replies and 92.4% of retweets happen within the first-hour
The first dangerous assumption here is that 100% of tweets were intended to inspire a reply or retweet. Many (maybe the majority) of my tweets are intended to inspire a click through to a link (such as, perhaps, the one you followed to this blog post). This study did not include click-throughs, lumping them in as "no reaction."

The study also looked at "All Tweets." While this sounds like a fair basis to pin their analysis on, we are all aware of certain companies and marketers who don't quite "get" twitter, and whose twitter stream is nothing but "Buy our Products" repeated every hour. These thousands (millions?) of tweets are included in the study sample. Is anybody other than the hucksters surprised that these tweets get no retweets or replies?

While it may not have been quite so democratic an approach, I would really expect that if the study were of "top tweeters" the number of replies and retweets would be far higher. The inclusion of twitter spam in the study skewed the data set to produce these results: Garbage in, garbage out.

The creators of the study, Sysomos, a "maker of social media analysis tools," seem distressed that retweets are so low (6%). Frankly, while it's really nice to when somebody is inspired to retweet something I've posted, I'm thrilled that 94% of what I see in the stream of tweets from my friends is original content. If somebody I follow does nothing but repost other people's content, why would I follow them?

Of course, Sysomos has a different point-of-view. They're selling their services: to "Identify and engage with key influencers to build relationships and buzz." In other words, they sell their clients retweets. My point-of-view is different: I'm only a lowly user of twitter.

And then there's the "shocking" news that most activity on a tweet happens within the first hour. Of course it does! Did anybody really think that a tweet had a shelf-life any longer than that? It's a conversation, and it's constantly moving on. Jump in when you can, and don't worry about catching up on what happened yesterday.

That Sysomos and others who think of twitter as nothing but an advertising tool are dismayed by the results of the survey does not surprise me. But Mashable should know better. They begin the article on the survey by saying, "[It] suggests that an overwhelming majority of our tweets fall on deaf ears," and concludes with, "Perhaps our tweets really are just pointless babble  after all."

Think about all the chit-chat and small-talk you put up with during an average day. Pleasantries exchanged with co-workers, neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store, etc.. If 29% of that led to a measurable reaction (your being quoted, or a getting a memorable reply), you've had quite a productive day. Perhaps Mashable is just pointless babble?


  1. I guess this all underlines a widespread misunderstanding of just what social media is all about. The so-called social media "experts" want to sell measurable results; many in the public don't know any better.

    Hmmm....I think I'll retweet this article...I hope you don't un-follow! ;)

  2. Great post Ken & you can probably guess that i'm in total agreement with what you've said here.
    I second what Rich said as well. This is a perfect illustration, if we needed one, that so many people just don't "get" social media. They're too focussed on the business aspect.

  3. All I know is that every time I don't get a measurable response to "how are you" or "what's up" of "have a nice day," my life feels all the more pointless :)

  4. Good points and interesting take on the study. As far as using Twitter for a "conversation", I believe this study leaves out all DMs which definitely play into it. Not every tweet is public.

  5. I end up defending Twitter *a lot*. Mostly because it has truly changed my life in ways that casual interactions "IRL" never seemed to be able to.

    You're so right though, the thought of me walking around, interacting with people, and then having them run down the hall and say "hey, let me tell you what Lisa just said" is laughable.

    Through Twitter, I've been able to meet hundreds of people with whom I connect *over ideas*. It's given me advice, inspiration, information, business leads, laughs -- and yeah, sometimes mindless chatter. Don't hold it against me. :)

  6. i love how well you document your points. i never thought about these things. you make sense, coming from direct expereince with the phenomenon.

  7. Thanks, Karen - I must have had good teachers ;^)


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