For years now we have seen social networking evolve into a few key services and features that the mainstream population has deemed worthy enough to adopt.
Your top 3 power houses today are of course Facebook, Twitter, and LinkdedIn and we can possibly soon add Google+ to the list.
Each serving their own purpose and overall niche model. With LinkedIn obviously in control of the professional / business community and Facebook being the “end all be all” for what we accept as “general” social networking, Twitter has it’s own slightly more difficult to pin point role to play as well. Yet to what purpose and to what end, some may wonder? Where exactly is Twitter headed and can it maintain it’s current position as things evolve around them? To answer this we only need to look back at what created Twitter, how it’s grown, and the current trends and statistics that can give us a short peak into what may lay ahead for the popular micro blog.
Twitter became relevant basically from the input of “celebrity” figures from most notably the Hollywood and political spectrum of users. As people like Ashton and Oprah showed the world that we would hang on their every word, others saw opportunity to strengthen their brands by giving frequent “updates” and news in a small but powerful package. Engagement with your base keeps you relevant and reduces “churn” or falling by the way side, so to speak. We also had the opportunity to feel closer to these celebrity figures than we ever had before. With a feeling that we are somehow involved or connected to their day to day lives. Though in reality the disconnect is still very much there, it definitely blurs the line a bit and now we live our lives along side these other figures instead of simply reading about them in magazines or seeing them in the news.
While this is all an impressive and unarguably an innovative new way to get news and information about people and brands we have interest in, the ability to have a true conversation is very limited in comparison to other services.
Direct communication is limited to the requirement of that person following you, and the great lack of connections made between actual friends and family leaves Twitter a sometimes confusing space for some to operate.
Facebook has devised a method to connect us with people we at least have some connection with, but Twitter seems to have forgone this path for a model that more promotes following, in direct contrast to an actual two way connection. Not to say this is a bad thing or it somehow cheapens the service, however for some users, finding a voice or trying to engage can be a bit frustrating and pretty unfruitful at times.
In this past February (2011)*, only 19% of Twitter accounts had 10 or more followers and more importantly 41% of users have never actually said anything. Also according to a study done by Yahoo Research in a report titled ” Who says what to whom on Twitter”, we find that shockingly only 0.05% of Twitter users are actually creating 50% of the content on Twitter and you can take that a bit further with still only 5% of users making 75% of the tweets, and 32% of those tweets are done by bots and not an actual person. That is an incredible majority of the “conversation” being handled by just 5% of the user base and often times not even originating from an actual person. You can also go on to see that 52% of the tweets made are classified as being pointless babble, self-promotion, or spam. Most all of which I am sure we can live happily without. So the question becomes, what is Twitter, and what will it become?
I am optimistic and a cheerleader all the way for the future growth and success of Twitter, but sometimes I am afraid that it’s bleeding internally and no one wants to acknowledge there is a serious problem here that needs some guidance.
There are some that see Twitter as a corner stone in social networking that cannot be moved, however many see some serious weak points in it’s armor that may make it vulnerable to becoming replaced or made irrelevant by some other competing service.
The only one I think that has the money, infrastructure, and overall market power to take a swing at Twitter is definitely Facebook, at least in today’s market. By simply creating certified celebrity profiles with access to more private direct communication options and a marketing budget to back it up, you could realistically see a mass exodus of the Twitter power users moving shop into the Facebook ecosystem. With access to a much larger base of users, power users, celebrity figures, PR firms and social media managers would all gladly take the opportunity to add more people to their audience.
After all it was this very thing that sparked Twitter’s popularity and drove it’s massive growth. Arguably without these people, Twitter would have never become a powerful player in the market and even more debatable could not sustain the loss of those users. I don’t think necessarily that they would “leave” Twitter as much as create an identical presence within Facebook. However doing so would cause Twitter to slow substantially over time because Facebook users are already getting the same content along with their regular feed. Not saying that everyone would automatically start following these people, but it does have an air of convenience to it and many would prefer the more approachable comment and like structure Facebook provides, as we have seen some level of confusion in regards to Twitter’s current model of replies, retweets and the lack of a like feature to access that level of measurable interest in a certain post.
Let’s not get down on Twitter though or freak out about it’s future because regardless of the negative points we see and could arguably point out just as many with any other service, they still have a wide open opportunity to remedy these shortcomings and further evolve into an increasingly powerful player in the market.
I do however think we need a serious conversation about where the Twitterverse is really heading and how they can leverage their strong suites to overcome some of these challenges they face. Again I for one remain optimistic, but Twitter’s existence has been peppered with bad decisions and controversy behind the scenes, and it sometimes gives an impression that the people in charge are clueless to the realities they face, or the consequences of their inability to really grow and turn a profit that matches their size. Right now every dollar that Twitter makes, Facebook makes thirty five. Yet they are not thirty five times the size. Making it obvious that there is a pretty big disconnect between Twitter and it’s main competitor just in terms of their abilities in creating revenue.
This article is not to bash Twitter by any means, but more to bring to light some of the potential weak links in it’s chain. And with this highly competitive environment of social networking and startups coming to the table every day with new and exciting ways to interact in the social realm, it suffices to say that Twitter has some work to do. If anything to shift their goal from simply existing to really competing and growing a richer, more engaged user base.
What do you think about Twitter’s current standing? Let me know what your perspective carries on this. I would be interested to hear what some of your personal impressions have been.
*Source can be provided by Brian Ash