Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Twitter’s Quitters Compromise Its Long-Term Growth

In a recent Wall Street Journal Digits blog, Marisa Taylor cited a fascinating Nielsen Online study which revealed that — despite the dramatic surge in new Twitter users, more than 60% of them won’t be coming back the following month.

A user retention rate of 40% will limit a site’s growth to about 10%, according to David Martin of Nielsen Online, who is quoted in the article. By comparison, Facebook and MySpace only churned 20% of their sign-ups when they were at the same phase of growth as Twitter is today. Now, they both hover around 70%.

Taylor suggests that, while setting up an account is easy, “learning the lingo of Twitter, with its “RT” retweets and #hashtags, can be intimidating for new users. It’s also difficult to build up followers and figure out who to follow.”

I used to be in the school that it wasn’t worth the time to follow the random comments of people I know… However, I’ve come around myself.

My own personal opinion today is that, on a day-to-day basis, most users’ experience with Twitter starts and ends at the inane chatter that makes up a good part of the Twitter experience. But I’m seeing that the real value lies in two valuable functions. First is the ability to get live reports from the scene of breaking news…while you’re on the run. Many learned about Michael Jackson’s untimely passing through Twitter and followed many celebrities’ immediate reactions about it there. And during the protests in Iran, and the terror attacks in Mumbai, for example, the Twitter feeds added an important dimension that would have been hard for other news organizations to replicate. Second, and perhaps more important, is the ability to follow what respected thought leaders have to say and learn what that they are reading, which can be enhanced through using add-on programs like Tweetdeck, where you can organize folders to follow the opinions of people you respect and topics you want to follow more easily than just looking at your Twitter update stream.

My colleague Jonathan Blank says it very well:

“First, you should know that the metrics cited in the article are a little misleading. Just as most people that read multiple blogs daily use an RSS reader instead of visiting sites, most users of Twitter that follow a large number of people use a “client” like TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop, thereby cutting through the clutter in ways that are impossible on the current Twitter website. So much of the ‘churn’ is actually people being more active on Twitter, rather than quitting.

“Second, while casual users of Twitter primarily follow breaking news stories and friends’ updates, those that are daily users use it to filter through news on their primary occupation or areas of interest. I go to Twitter first thing in the morning to get the commentary of the day on social media, public relations, and improv comedy. After that I go to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal to see what’s happening in the broader world. Essentially, Twitter allows us to focus our news reading.”

Great perspective, Jonathan! Thanks.