Shocking News: People Use Twitter Differently

I was wondering when we would have a really solid bitchmeme. Well, everyone is obviously in the holiday spirit because we have a new bitchmeme, Twitter authority and searching. As is typical of the bitchmemes, people are focusing on what is being said, not the actual problems. Robert Scoble puts forth some interesting data points on what Twitter Authority may really mean:

Study the metadata that really matters.

Here’s some on Twitter:

1. Number of retweets of that tweet.
2. Number of favorites of that tweet.
3. Number of inbound links to that tweet.
4. Number of clicks on an item in Twitter search.

If you search some blogs, you will find some other interesting measures of what authority could be. These metrics are all fine, but authority only helps with part of the problem. It tells you who you “should” be listening to for a particular topic. But wait, Twitter does not have “topics” or tags or anything. So how do we segment people? On Twitter, you don’t. So what good are these authority numbers? Michael Arrington makes what initially sounds like a good comparison:

The number of followers a Twitter user has is effectively a volume button – the more followers, the higher the volume of what’s being said. This is exactly what Technorati does with blog search

That sounds right. Um, wait, no. Technorati measures the number of links from unique sites that a blog has. It does not measure the number of subscribers, which would be the more “apples to apples” comparison. Subscribers is really just a relative metric for traffic. Robert Scoble is not fond of measuring traffic and makes an interesting point:

We’re off the rails and well into idiot land now.

Why is former TechCrunch author Duncan Riley is writing about celebrity news more on his Inquisitr blog than trying to find another tech scoop? Look at the traffic curves. TechCrunch is headed down for the past few months. Inquistr, Riley’s new site, is headed up.

Jesse Stay backs up the traffic argument as well:

More people listen with a larger audience than those with a small audience.  And like it or not, all bloggers trying to compete play the numbers game – that’s simple marketing.

This is another spot where the arguments are falling apart. It started with wanting to know who is an authority on a particular topic. On Twitter, there is no way to find this out without collecting a large quantity of metadata on the numerous tweets. Twitter search is not directly integrated with the site yet, which compounds the problem. Twitter is really just a basic communications platform, and is not meant for this type of analysis. This is not to say that it could not be done, just that Twitter has some work to do before getting there.

The other problem is that different people are using Twitter for different things. Arrington and several others use Twitter to drive traffic to their revenue source. As Jess Stay says, it is simple marketing. On the other hand, Robert Scoble is trying to find interesting people to have conversations with. Obviously, he has a different goal and needs to use Twitter differently. Basically, it boils down to Twitter is a tool. People will use it differently.

If you are in the mood for a good rant, read Steven Hodson’s take on this topic. I always like a good rant, and Steven does not disappoint.

12 thoughts on “Shocking News: People Use Twitter Differently

  1. Chacha, great minds think alike 🙂 I have a feeling this “issue” will die quickly, but spawn different conversations about functionality people want in Twitter and other applications.


  2. If following someone meant allocation from a fixed pool of attention, then number of followers could be a great measure. But of course there’s not cost to following someone–no requirement to actually pay attention to their Twitter stream. Which means that if people start thinking that number of followers is a source of value (as some evidently do), then enough people will game the system that the statistic will become meaningless.

    A much better thing to measure would be actual influence, but that’s hard to do quantitatively. But the idea is this: how much do someone’s tweets affect the collective conversation? Re-tweets are a step in the right direction, though even those can be gamed.

    There’s still a question as to whether anybody cares, other than those few who expect such a measure to help them gain influence personally. But if you’re a company using Twitter to monitor your customer base, it’s probably a good idea to monitor known influencers more carefully, rather than just waiting for the avalanche of influence their tweets will eventually trigger.


  3. Daniel,

    I agree that the gaming of the number of followers will be a problem. It has already started in some spots. “Does anybody care” about authority/influence? I am not sure. Though I do like your idea of brands tracking influencers. However, the brands will know the influencers from outside of twitter, like a blog, and hopefully know who they should be following. Thanks for the excellent comment.


  4. Rob, you’re welcome, and I’m happy I can contribute to the conversation.

    And conversation is what this is all about. To the extent that a brand wants to know what people are talking about, it makes sense for them to track, in aggregate, the conversations about them on Twitter and other social media. Trying to single out influencers can only buy them time–after all, if they are influencers, their influence will show in the propagation. But that time might be critical, so I could see why a brand would make the extra effort.


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