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Yet Another Twitter “Study”

On June 1, the internet was abuzz about a study published by the Harvard Business School. The general gist of the study was that men primarily follow other men on Twitter, and that on average, the growing user base of Twitter hardly tweets. Of course, this was big news in the “Twitterverse,” which has been the case with any article that speaks to the usefulness or lack thereof of this latest craze. After reading the study, I felt motivated to respond to the following “findings”:

Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women
Are we really surprised by these figures? First of all, given that Twitter is a service that was first adopted by all the techheads (which tend to skew male), it’s not surprising that these folks have figured out how to provide useful information on Twitter. As a general point of social media, anyone who produces useful information will attract followers/readers.

The top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets
Again, as everyone slowly figures out whether or not Twitter is right for them, they will begin to generate more information. Plus, I tend to think that this figure is being skewed by the large number of spam accounts that have been created, which artificially increases the number of Twitter users. That said, I would hope that in a sample size as large as 300,000 that the end statistics would not be affected by the spam phenomena, but I am a skeptic at heart, and I can’t help but wonder what percentage of Twitter’s registrations are real humans.

Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one.
I think with a lot of web technologies, particularly those that receive a lot of hype like Twitter has, there is a natural sense of curiosity. So one might create an account to see what Twitter is like, but honestly, Twitter is something that takes a bit of time and understanding to determine what its relevance is for you. If you do not have the patience to figure this out, you may never come back again or tweet. So, am I surprised by this number? No.

An average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman—which was juxtaposed to the fact that on a typical online social network, most of the activity is focused around women—men follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know.
Um… do I even need to respond to this? Twitter is text information, which means there are no pictures. We’ve all know the “men are cavemen” mentality and should immediately know that men like to look at pictures of women. But on Twitter, the lack of pictures means a man is basing his decision to follow or friend another member strictly on rational criteria.

That said, after reading through the study, a part of me wondered how familiar the researchers were with the service prior to conducting the study, and whether or not they use Twitter. If so, how do they use it? Also, of the 300,000 profiles that they studied, how many of those were brands, and how did that influence the gender statistics? And what was the point of the study other than to rile up all of the social media pundits?

It feels like every media source has gone on record telling us why we should or should not use Twitter. What amuses me the most though are the comments from people vehemently bashing Twitter. “Twitter is stupid, it’s a waste of time, it doesn’t make sense, etc.” But as David Pogue from the NY Times wrote back in February, and what I emphasize to my colleagues, family, and friends, Twitter is what you make of it. Twitter is not going to be right for everyone, just as some people prefer MySpace to Facebook. And unless you take the time to get to know how it works, the different means to access it, who uses it, and how they use it, you won’t know how it fits into your life.

My point to all of this rambling is that we all need to take these studies and articles with a grain of salt. Do your due diligence and understand what the capabilities are of a given technology yourself and make your own judgement about its value. Personally, I love Twitter, and like everyone else, I’ll be happy to share how I use it in a future post. And like everyone else, I’ll be waiting for all of the bashers to tell me why they don’t like it. [wink]

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Brad Clark

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