As Jennifer Van Grove wrote at Mashable yesterday, “research shows that 71% of all tweets produce no reaction — in replies or retweets — which suggests an overwhelming majority of our tweets fall on deaf ears.”
Sysomos, maker of social media analysis tools, looked at 1.2 billion tweets over a two-month period to analyze what happens after we publish our tweets to Twitter. Its research shows that 71% of all tweets produce no reaction — in the form of replies or retweets — which suggests that an overwhelming majority of our tweets fall on deaf ears.
Sysomos findings also highlight that retweets are especially hard to come by — only 6% of all tweets produce a retweet (the other 23% solicit replies).
I’ll admit, this doesn’t shock me, based upon my experience over the years.
Many of my tweets are retweeted but then I have above-average reach at @digiphile and engaged followers.
I know I’m an outlier in many respects there, and that the community that I follow and interact with likely is as well.
This research backs that anecdotal observation up: people are consuming information rather than actively interacting with it. But my own experience doesn’t gibe with that greater truth, and that’s why I chimed in, even though I know it may expose me to more of my friend Jack Loftus‘ withering snark. (If you don’t read him at Gizmodo you’re missing out.)
Why Don’t People @Reply more?
So what’s going on? I have a couple of theories. The first is that @replies are much like comments. Most people don’t make either. Even though social networking has shifted many, many more people into a content production role through making status updates to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare (and now perhaps LinkedIn), the 90-9-1 rule or 1% rule still appears to matter most of the social Web. Participation inequality is not a new phenomenon.
That scope of that online history suggests that the behaviors of yesteryear aren’t completely subsumed by the explosion of a more social Web. Twitter and Facebook do appear to have diminished long form blogging activity or comments on posts, as netizens have moved their meta commentary to external social networks. And even there, recent Forrester research suggest that social networking users are creating less content.
In other words, it’s not that Facebook or Twitter sucks, it’s that human behavior is at issue.
It’s not that Twitter or its employees or developers per se are at fault, though you can see where, for example, Quora or Vark are expressly designed to create question and answer threads.
It’s that, for better or worse, the culture of the people using Twitter is expressed in how they use it, including the choice to reply, RT or otherwise engage.
If the service is going to grow into an “information utility” and become a meaningful venue with respect to citizen engagement with government, the evolution of #NewTwitter may need to add better mechanisms to encourage that interaction.
So is Twitter useful?
As Tom Webster pointed out at his blog [Hat tip to @Ed]:
As a researcher, if I were writing this headline, I would have written it thusly: “Nearly 3 in 10 Tweets Provoke A Reaction.”
I follow about 3,000 people on Twitter. If we assume that this lot posts five tweets per week (a conservative figure), that’s 15,000 tweets I could see in a given week, were I to never peel my eyes away from Tweetdeck. The Sysomos data suggests that of those 15,000 tweets, 4,350 were replied to or at least retweeted. See, I think that’s actually a big number.
In other words, 29% of tweets do get a response. That’s better than the direct mail or email marketing, as far as I know. I don’t expect a response from every tweet, though I’ve been guilty of that expectation in past years. That’s why I often ask the same question more than once now, or tweet stories again, or why I’ll syndicate a given post, video or picture into multiple networks.
I continue to find Twitter a useful tool for my profession. While inbound Web traffic from Twitter is negligible when compared to Google, Facebook, StumpleUpon or even Fark, I’ve found it useful for sourcing, sentiment analysis, Q&A, a directory, a direct line to officials and executives, and of course for distributing my writing. Twitter may not be essential in the same sense that a cellphone, camera, notebook and an Internet connection are in my work but I’ve found it to be a valuable complement to those tools. I’ve definitely sourced stories, gathered advice or recommendations through crowdsourcing questions there, with far less effort than more traditional means.
Reflections on online cruelty and kindness
This morning, I read an interesting reflection on dealing with online cruelty in the New York Times by Stephanie Rosenbloom:
When I checked her reference, I found that Rosenbloom made an error with her citation of research, along with failing to link to it: the 2011 report on teens, kindness and cruelty on social networking sites by the Pew Research’s Internet and Life Project she cited found that a vast majority of young people (88%) had “seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social network site,” not 69%. That percentage refers to a happier statistic: “69% of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites.
On that count, I’m glad the author chose to end with a reflection on kindness and the psychology involved with focusing on positive comments and compliments, as opposed to the negative ones. Anyone who wants to see how a positive feedback loop works should look at how Justin Levy’s friends & networks are supporting him, or how dozens and dozens of friends, family and strangers supported me when I lost my beloved greyhound this week.
I’m not sure about the New York Times editor’s summary — that the “Web encourages bad behavior,” through anonymity and lack of consequences.
I think that what we see online reflects what humans are, as a mirror, and that what we see on social media (which is really what is discussed here, not the World Wide Web) is
1) a function of what the platforms allow, with respect to the architecture of participation, and
2) what the community norms established there are.
Compare newspapers’ online comments, YouTube comments and Twitter to what you find in the comments at Ars Technica, BoingBoing or even, dare I say it, in the blogs or public profiles I moderate. As Anil Dash has observed, the people who create and maintain online forums and platforms bear responsibility for what happens there:
It’s a surprisingly delicate balance to allow robust debate and disagreement on politics, current events, technology choices, or even sports (hello, tribalism) while guiding conversations away from cruelty, anger, or even hatred, whether we lead a classroom or an online discussion. The comments we allow to stand offline or online largely determine the culture of the class, town hall or thread they’re made within:
While people bear always responsibility for their own cruel actions or words, it’s incumbent upon those of us who host conversations or share our thoughts publicly online to try to respond with empathy, kindness and understanding where we can, and with polite but resolute moderation when others do not respond to those tactics or attack our friends and communities.
[IMAGE SOURCE: Amanda Lenhart, Pew Research Center]
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