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Bigwigs and Big Business Key Twitter Growth

March 14, 2010

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The popular social media site Twitter recently surpassed a milestone, ten billion tweets.  Yes, ten billion!  It’s nearly impossible to comprehend just how fast the social media hotspot has grown.

Since its public launch in July 2006, Twitter’s rate of growth and activity has dramatically increased.  The first one billion tweets were recorded in November 2008.  By October 2009, the service quadrupled their numbers with five billion tweets.  It took only four more months to reach the ten billion tweets plateau.

Graphic by Flowtown (Click to enlarge)

There are about 50 million users currently registered with Twitter.  That’s a lot of people in the network doing a lot of chirping – at least you would think.

A report released by Barracuda Labs, an Internet security firm, offered some information that may prove otherwise.  The study, focused on about 19 million Twitter accounts, was conducted to understand how people were using the social media service.

The study established the premise of a ‘true user’ as someone with a minimum of ten followers, follows at least ten others, and has tweeted a minimum of ten times.  Based on that measuring stick, the report indicated that only 21% of all active users fell into the ‘true user’ category.  In other words, almost all of the tweets were originating from about a quarter of the entire user population.

The report also revealed a growth rate spike, dubbed the “Twitter Red Carpet Era,” that occurred November 2008 through April 2009.  This is the period that an influx of ‘celebrity’ users – such as Ashton Kutcher, Oprah Winfrey, and John Mayer, joined the network.  The amount of total user accounts increased 21% in the month of April alone.

These growth and activity findings indicate that most of the users weren’t joining Twitter to socialize with friends.  Instead, they subscribed to ‘follow’ celebrities within the network.

So, if the tweet count has surpassed ten billion, then who exactly is doing most of the chirping?  Another report, released by Burson-Martseller, may offer some additional insight.

This study was aimed at Fortune Global 100 companies and how they were using various social media platforms including:  blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

According to the report, approximately 65% of Fortune Global 100 companies are registered with a Twitter account.  During the span of a week, about 82% of these companies were tweeting on company news.

Interaction between companies and consumers was also evident with 38% of businesses responding to people’s tweets.  The average number of followers was nearly 150,000 for each big business account.  In turn, companies followed an average of 73,000 users per account.  Consumer ‘word of mouth’ was significant throughout Twitter as 42% of companies were referred to in users’ tweets.

Although Twitter is generally considered a social media service, it seems to have evolved into a hybrid news aggregate and advertising forum.  Most people aren’t concerned with interaction between actual friends.  Instead, Twitter has become a source for news feeds, celebrity updates, and corporate promotions.

What do these numbers indicate about the future of Twitter?  Will it continue to experience huge growth numbers even after the stampede of celebrities?  Will the service continue to be a predominant hub for free advertising?

“The bottom line is, most of these people are getting online because Ashton (Kutcher) asked them to,” said Paul Judge, chief research officer at Barracuda Labs.  “If those people do nothing after that, [Twitter’s] growth can’t hope to continue.”

The key to Twitter’s sustained success and future growth will most likely come from more interaction between ‘typical’ Twitter users.  Sounding off with tweets creates a more diverse network, and waters down the chatter from the bigwigs and big businesses.  After all, we would much rather hear from our ‘real’ friends than Ashton, right?

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