Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

(Almost) No One Is Reading Your Tweets

empty shutterstock Pavel L Photo and VideoDo you like to post things on Twitter? That’s cool.

As long you’re cool with the idea that almost no one will read what you type.

That’s the gist of a report published last week by Jon Bruner, a data journalist working for O’Reilly Radar. Bruner surveyed Twitter accounts and concluded that almost all of them are all but ignored: “The median Twitter account has a single follower. Among the much smaller subset of accounts that have posted in the last 30 days, the median account has just 61 followers.”

On the other hand, if anyone is paying any attention to you on Twitter, then slap yourself on the back. You are Twitter Famous!

By Bruner’s count, it takes a mere 458 followers to land in the top 10 percent of  all Twitter users. It takes 2,991 followers to crack the top one percent.*

But here’s the thing: Twitter has been like this for a long time. Lazy typers like myself will still often describe Twitter as a “social network,” and the notion of a platform where anyone can sound off is inspiring. But Twitter’s most basic use case is a one-to-many broadcast platform.

Twitter fessed up to this idea years ago. Way back in the fall of 2010, when Ev Williams was still nominally in charge of the company he co-founded, he was promoting the idea that Twitter was a “consumption environment” —  a  great place to read (and eventually watch) stuff other people created.

Twitter’s official messaging still promotes the idea that you, ordinary you, can find your voice on Twitter — its newly tweaked welcome screen invites new users to “start a conversation.” But Twitter’s business plan — based on its “asymmetric follow model” — assumes that you and Twitter’s other 230 million users will spend almost all of your time reading about the conversation, not leading it.

Check out Twitter’s onboarding sequence for new users, for instance, which is dedicated to helping you “find and follow well-known people.” (Twitter seems particularly interested, by the way, in helping you find Neil Patrick Harris.)

There are exceptions, of course. It’s easy to think of examples — like an MBA in Abbottabad, Pakistan, or a woman paid to represent Barry Diller to the press —  of people you’ve never heard of becoming Twitter Famous. It’s one of the things that makes Twitter so much fun (and sometimes not fun).

But just because you have access to a printing press doesn’t mean you can force people to read your stuff. Even if you keep it really, really, short.

* There’s one caveat to Bruner’s numbers. For whatever reason, his figures are calculated by defining an “active” Twitter user as someone who has posted once in the last 30 days. Twitter defines an “active” user as someone who has logged in to the service once in the last 30 days. So presumably, if Bruner had used Twitter’s definition in his calculations, the math would have changed a bit. I don’t think the conclusion would be an different, though.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Pavel L Photo and Video)


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