Let’s face it, most people are sheep. It is much easier to follow than to lead, and on Twitter it is no different. A full 80 percent of Twitter accounts have fewer than 10 followers, according to an analysis of seven million Twitter accounts provided to TechCrunch by Web security firm Purewire (which operates TweetGrade). What’s more, 30 percent have zero followers.
Does this mean nobody is using Twitter? Or that they are using it more as a one-way information consumption service?
The fact that an estimated 32 million people around the world visited Twitter.com alone in April certainly indicates that there is something going on there. It just may be that Twitter really isn’t as much about two-way micro-conversations as it is about one-way micro-broadcasting. Indeed, a recent Harvard Business School study suggested that the top 10 percent of Twitter users produce more than 90 percent of all Tweets.
Here is how Purewire breaks down activity on Twitter by number of followers, followings, and Tweets:
FollowersWhat stands out from this data is that about a quarter of all accounts are not following anybody, nearly 30 percent have zero followers, and more than a third have not posted a single Tweet. The problem with all of this data, however, is that it includes abandoned accounts (as most likely does the Harvard data as well).
Accounts with 0 followers: 29.4%
Accounts with 1 to 9 followers: 50.9%
Accounts with 10 or more followers: 19.7%
Accounts following 0 people: 24.4%
Accounts following 1 to 9 people: 43.4%
Accounts following 10 or more people: 32.2%
Accounts with 0 Tweets: 37.1%
Accounts with 1 to 9 Tweets: 41.0%
Accounts with more 10 or more Tweets: 21.9%
Like any popular Web service, millions of people create a Twitter account, try it once, and never come back again. The Purewire data shows that about 40 percent of users have not sent out a Tweet since the day they created their accounts. You can compare this with the 60 percent abandonment rate claimed by Nielsen. But even these may not be the true abandonment rates. Just because you are not Tweeting does not mean you are not listening.
After getting rid of the dead accounts and spam accounts (24 percent of accounts follow nobody), what do we have left? All the activity on Twitter is coming from the remaining people who stick around—that 20 percent with more than ten followers and the 32 percent following more than ten people. If you look at active accounts—which Purewire defined as those with at least 10 followers, 10 followings, and 10 tweets—it shows that Twitter is still filled with sheep. Of those active accounts, 63.6 percent follow more people than they have followers (2.8 percent have the same number of followers as followings).
But that is what you’d expect. When only 22 percent of accounts have more than 10 Tweets, people who bother to Tweet on a regular basis will attract more followers than people who prefer to sit back and read. Twitter is no different than any other form of participatory media. A small fraction of users produce the overwhelming amount of content, even if it is just 140 characters at a time. Everyone else just drinks from the stream. Baaaa!