Recent Study Finds 90% of Tweets are Done by 10% of Twitter Users…So What?

zzaudienceYou may have heard about a recent study conducted by the Harvard Business School that found more than 90% of the content posted on Twitter is generated by only 10% of all users. To some, the study results may come across as negative, perhaps enticing social media skeptics to believe that Twitter is overrated, or worse, useless.

To these individuals, I ask: “Why is this necessarily a bad thing?” Just because 90% of Twitter members aren’t highly active in posting tweets does not necessarily mean that they aren’t active in some other way. And, it certainly does not mean that individuals and companies still can’t derive quantifiable value from marketing on Twitter.

The survey results are misleading. Who can speculate that the 90% of idle Twitter users aren’t enthusiastically reading Tweets posted by the active 10% of users? Who is to say that these “idle” users aren’t deriving value or enrichment from the active ones? Obviously there is some proof to this, or companies would not continue to utilize Twitter as a marketing tool, blogger’s would not continue to link to their posts and other trends, opinions and ideas if only 10% of users were reading.

Dell actually revealed in early June that in their 2 years of tweeting, the company has earned over $3 million as a direct result of activities and exclusive promotions via Twitter. Not bad. And, an Indianapolis-based marketing firm followed 17 Twitter corporate accounts over a 3 week period in late May, and found a 24.29% increase in their average follower count. None of these accounts were found to have decreased their amount of followers over the 3 week period. Moreover, the survey doesn’t even shed light on the monitoring tools available (Tweet Grid, Twellow, Radian6, etc.) that allow users to search for tweets from people they may not even be following at that time.

Active social media blogger and tweeter Doug Haslem agrees, mentioning on his blog that “the lurkers, the ‘Idle Class’ of social media, are important…who’s to say they don’t pass along the conversations offline?” Good point. New York Contributing Editor,Will Leitch, not a social media expert but someone who knows an emerging online platform when he sees one (he’s the former Editor of popular sports blog Deadspin), offers a different but equally supportive take in a recent post titled, “Why Twitter Is More Fun The Less You Use It.” Leitch finds enjoyment from reading tweets, not writing them, and he certainly has no problem writing about (read: promoting) the tweets that he reads in his blog posts and conversations.

Twitter is also still relatively new. There is a strong likelihood that the “10% of active Twitter users posting 90% of content” will shift to a more proportioned ratio in the near future. Many individuals and companies are still just starting to explore Twitter, and are hiring agencies to help them develop a more strategic approach.

Bottom line: if your company generates just one possible business lead, has a 1% increase in website traffic, notices important customer behavior taking place or finds out just enough background on a potential prospect, Twitter has benefited your company. If you are just an individual on Twitter for the heck of it, then it’s up to you to determine how to make it valuable.

3 thoughts on “Recent Study Finds 90% of Tweets are Done by 10% of Twitter Users…So What?

  1. Hey Jeff,

    Great post. I agree many people who are “collectors” or “gatherers” of information online are important conduits in the offline world for marketers. I would also agree anecdotaly that much of the information I see on Twitter is from the same people – again and again. What’s interesting to me is that there is so much reused content by the small number (10%) of people who are actively contributing to Twitter.


  2. Hi Jeff,

    You bring up some really great points about Twitter and the ubiquitous studies that seem to be coming out in an attempt to undermine what’s happening there. The 80/20 rule is nothing new in business, but anyone who truly thinks that Twitter isn’t changing anything need only ask Domino’s, Comcast, politicos following the Iran conflicts, and the countless business – including ours – that have built loyalty and increased sales through its powerful network.

    Thanks for a solid discussion.

    Amber Naslund
    Director of Community, Radian6

  3. Gotta agree with you, Jeff, and Amber noted some great examples too (from Domino’s to Iran). Twitter’s still breaking out of its underground mold right now: while not exclusively used by trendsetters any more, it’s still mostly a tool for the early adopters. It’s making its way into the mainstream of social media though, as celebrities from Oprah to Ashton Kutcher create accounts and show people who haven’t boarded the bandwagon yet that there’s no reason to fear this real-time microblogging tool. Who cares if only 10% of users are generating 90% of Twitter’s content? Thousands of people are still joining the site daily, and better that they ease into it. It’s much less intimidating to join a new site and monitor for a while in order to get a better feel for how to get the most out of it than to feel obligated to hit the ground running – or tweeting, in this case – and worry about making an embarrassing mistake. Who cares if everyone isn’t jumping to tweet at once? If nothing else, it’s a whole lot less of the fail whale that we have to see for when the site’s overloaded!

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