Saturday, 28 November 2009

Twitter is the new TV [but a lot smaller]

To some extent, I think this little scenario may be familiar for most of us: I opened my email this morning and had another 5 emails from my dad.
  1. A funny image attached (Here, of course it's kinda NSFW)
  2. A video of a funny ad for Bud Light attached (This one).
  3. A Powerpoint slideshow attached with misspelled notes from parents to teachers
  4. Another Powerpoint attachment with an illustrated joke in about 12 slides
  5. A written joke in the body of the email
I generally receive one of those a day. No written text in the body of the email most of the time, my dad might just modify the sender / receiver list. Depending on whether the jokes are in French or in English I can gather a guess to which of his networks it's coming from: the US/UK old work crew, or the French/Swiss massive. And that's not counting his Dutch or German family and mates - I can't speak those languages that well so he doesn't send me those.

This reminded me that when it comes to using digital stuff I live in a bubble with a very small number of people. Nothing dramatically new here in terms of idea, but when you hang out with the same people all the time, you tend to start behaving like that's how everyone is.

Even though I know intellectually that Twitter has a tiny user base in proportion to Facebook, I don't really think very often about the fact that it's also tiny compared to MySpace. Yes, just because I don't use it anymore doesn't mean no one is using it. And the real shocker is that Twitter is microscopic compared to email.

Apparently there are about 27.3M tweets sent every day. Considering 30% of the approximately 11M registered Twitter users make up 97.4% of the total activity, that's like having 3.3M people out there that like chatting together. A lot. Nothing wrong with that, but now if we compare it with the 63 billion emails being sent everyday (Excluding the 70% of spam - in total it's about 210 billion), Twitter is just ridiculously small. About 7,692 times smaller.

On the other hand, the talk about Twitter is huge. Just to give a little impression I searched for a few terms on Google News and Google Blogs:
A hefty 362,000 news articles in English and a whopping 225M blog posts about it in just a few years. As a side note, it's interesting to note that the level of news mentioning Twitter has halved and I just read a couple of posts about Twitter traffic stagnating in the US.

I compared that with a few other search terms, here Myspace:

Twitter had almost the same amount of news mentions in about half the time, and apparently bloggers have never been as fascinated with the social network as they are with Twitter.

Definitely more news mentions than Twitter, but nowhere near proportional to how bigger Facebook is. I'm not saying that it should be; I have no idea, but it still seems interesting.

Not sure this one tells us that much given email is a commonly used word now, but in terms of sheer numbers, the amount of blog posts mentioning email isn't that much more than Twitter.

So here are a few points:
  • If you're a business or someone who advises businesses on these matters, please take a serious look at how clean your email database is and how your business is communicating via email (everywhere: internally, marketing, customer service, suppliers, etc) before getting all excited about Twitter.
  • If you're some kind of writer in media (news, journalist, reporter, bloggers) and want to distinguish yourself from the competition, you might want to write about something else than Twitter. I obviously don't follow my own advice.
  • If you work in PR, apparently the writer types like hearing about Twitter stuff, so keep going I guess - the trick there is probably going to be about segmenting the twitter information depending on associations (eg. Twitter + celebrity endorsement, Twitter + new product launch; etc)
  • If you're a celebrity I doubt you're reading this, but thanks anyway. It's mainly your fault if these people in the points above can't stop talking about Twitter [And assume it's important. And also assume everyone is interested in hearing about it].
  • If you're about to get on your high horse and start huffing and puffing about the good differences businesses or crowds have made with Twitter (Like raising cash for Twestival, awareness of news and events like the Iran Election, Dell selling more computers, etc), I already know about them but I'm not talking about that here. There are plenty of articles and posts about that elsewhere.

Twitter is making so much noise because its nature lends itself to it. Facebook, Myspace, and even email aren't originally built as broadcasting tools. But Twitter is made for broadcast. Just like TV or radio. It wasn't built for people to interact as they do on it now (Check Evan Williams' talk at TED). People just find ways to communicate and interact with one another because that's what we do.

I think that's why the media, PR, marketing, advertising industries like Twitter so much. It's easy to understand and you have simple visible numbers of people who receive the message you broadcast. Using it at that simple level doesn't really demand any behavior change from businesses or marketing departments. They're still talking at people as they used to, not with them.

I'll finish by certainly preaching to the converted but I don't think businesses should bother talking with people that much anyway. They should concentrate on making shit worth buying and they'll sell more of it. Or they should concentrate on making shit people are interested in, worth talking about, and they'll sell more of it. Or they should hire a good advertising partner if they have nothing new to talk about.

What do you think about all this?

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