Tweet Surrender: The Truth about Twitter

tweet_twoThe decibel level of Twitter buzz only continues to crescendo. Harvard Business School is even studying the complexities of Tweet-ology. A Harvard MBA student examined the activity of a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users in May of this year—to try to understand the phenomenon that is Twitter. We hear it referenced almost daily—and more and more, you can follow just about anyone or anything on Twitter, but what’s really going on? And this begs the question—just how do we make it work for us?

Continuing along my own journey of social media comprehension, I have to admit I was startled by this recent data—especially in comparison to what I know about other popular social media sites, such as Facebook. The researchers discovered that 80% of those sampled were “followed by” or “followed” at least one user. By comparison, only 60 to 65% of other online social media site members have at least one friend (measuring these stats for sites at similar levels of development). This suggests that entrenched, active users really do understand exactly how Twitter works. (Unlike much of the non-Web 2.0 world.) The initiated get it — not really too much of a revelation, methinks.

However, it’s the metrics around gender behavior that particularly intrigue me. Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. And, men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This “follower split” suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or perhaps they have more stringent criteria for reciprocating relationships. This seems somehow counter-intuitive, though—especially given that females hold a slight majority on Twitter—45% are men, and 55% are women.

Even more enlightening is— who follows whom:
• A man is two times more likely to follow another man than a woman.
• A woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman.
• A man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman.

This cannot be explained by different tweeting activity, either, because both men and women tweet at the same rate. These results are remarkable in light of previous social media research. On other social networks, most of the activity is focused around women. Men seem to follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know.

Generally, men receive comparatively little attention from other men or from women. The researchers conjectured that perhaps men and women find the content produced by other men on Twitter more compelling than on other social networks. And maybe, men find the content produced by women less compelling because of the lack of photo sharing, detailed biographies, etc. After all, men are visual creatures.

Or could the cryptic nature of the 140-character-post limit and truncated URLs inhibit more meaningful sharing—that women often prefer? It’s a thought-provoking question.

Overall, Twitter’s usage patterns are also very different from a typical online social network. On Twitter, there is a small, very active user group. Specifically, the top 10% of Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. Oh, there’s that old 90/10 rule again! Fundraising 101, indeed. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for only about 30% of all production.

From this perspective, Twitter is actually more of a one-way, asynchronous communication vehicle than a two-way, peer-to-peer network. Perhaps nonprofits can harness the platform for a new way of crowd fundraising? Worth considering. The leaders initiate and the followers acquiesce. Hmmm . . . a whole new way to think about the social web? Perhaps a new social science. I wonder.

What do you think? @ellagantz

Contently Managing Social Media

Domino's Debacle
Domino's Debacle

It’s here—the social media tidal wave. You know you need to dive in, but where and how? How do you start? Do you “Tweet,” “Facebook,” “Friend,” “Blog,””Post,” “Follow,” “Poke,” or “IM”? There’s a whole new list of verbs my high school English teacher never even imagined. When do you do it? How often? What is the message? How do you monitor, and how do your manage it all? All of these questions can stop you in your tracks. And for good reason. But the power of social media is undeniable—now a potent, mainstream driver of connection and engagement. However, like any high-octane tool, you should consider and plan for the consequences—intended and unintended.

Even Oprah’s doing it. According to market tracker Hitwise, traffic to Twitter went up 43% in a before and after survey of the “Oprah Effect.” Additionally, on April 17th, the day of Winfrey’s first Tweets, 37% of visits to were new visitors, Hitwise says. By comparison, Hitwise says Facebook’s ratio of new visitors in March were 8%. And Ashton Kutcher’s recent competition with CNN put charity tweeting on the map! He emerged victorious in his broadly publicized race to be the first to line up over one million followers. Now Mr. Kutcher, or for the Twits out there—@aplusk, will donate $100,000 to the “Malaria No More” fund to diminish the spread of the deadly disease through net distribution.

Still, the question looms large— How do you maximize the impact without jeopardizing your carefully crafted and protected nonprofit brand? You may have heard about the Domino’s pizza employees who caused the company severe heartburn recently with their less-than-tasteful YouTube video that featured disgusting food-handling techniques. (We’ll just leave it at that.) Here are the details if you are so moved. It had hundreds of thousands of views before Domino’s reacted with a positive message on YouTube where this started. So what if something like this happens to you? Here are some recommendations:

1. Set up Google Alerts. Monitor what people are saying about your organization online. Keep tabs on Twitter (via Tweetbeep )and YouTube.
2. Assess the message, the messenger, and the audience. Are you dealing with one crazy loose cannon with no audience? Or if you feel the message is hitting your audience or it is picked up by traditional media, you may want to draft release a credible response. Ignoring it could backfire.
3. Respond quickly and responsibly. Slow reactions have a negative public relations impact. Web 2.0 replicates messages exponentially. You don’t want something to expand outside your sphere of influence. Just be authentic and sincere. Avoid a defensive posture. “We are addressing this issue or the source of this misinformation, etc.”
4. Respond in the right context. Respond to a Tweet on Twitter or to a video with a video on YouTube—thus containing the controversy in the community where it originated.
5. Stay in the conversation. You cannot spin it with a press release. Invite response, address questions transparently—and be prepared to engage in a continuing dialogue.

How are you monitoring your brand and your message on the social media frontier?