There was some interesting data released about twitter in the August 08 edition of Hitwise Media Round Up. The most surprising headline (for me at least), was that twitter is officially more popular with Brits than Americans – and it’s the stats that say so.
A social media fave for many ‘early adopters,’ Twitter has started to ramp up its UK user base in 2008. In the 12 months up to 12 July 2008, UK internet visits to http://www.twitter.com increased by 631%, with 485% of that growth coming this year. And for the week ending 12 July, the nations favourite tweety site’s share of UK internet visits was 70% higher than its share of visits in America. As a result, twitter entered Hitwise UK’s rankings of the top 50 Social Networking and Forum websites for the first time in July 2008.
Hitwise say that Twitters service demographics in the UK are starting to point towards more wide-spread adoption. Over the 4 weeks to July 12th, visitors were split 50/50 male and female, with only 15% originating from London – so growth is national. 25-34 year olds are the most over represented age group visiting the site, while 37% of visitors are aged 45 and over.
The two most over represented types are City Adventurers (High-salaried, twenty-something singles in smart flats in inner urban areas) and Town Gown Transition (Students and academics mix with young professionals in terraces relatively close to universities). There are a number of other over-represented types that indicate more mainstream appeal, in particular Settled Minorities (Young families and singles of varied ethnic descent, in high density, pleasant urban terraces) and White Van Culture (Younger owners, many in good quality ex-council properties, taking advantage of local economic opportunities). So although growth isn’t ring fenced to ‘media centric’ London, it is tied to that ‘city living urban thing,’ for the moment at least. Another sign of maturity (says Hitwise) is that mainstream media organisations are starting to pick up traffic from Twitter. For example, BBC News accounts for 1.46% of the site’s upstream traffic, but 1.73% of its downstream traffic. So, the Beeb is receiving more traffic from Twitter than it sends.
In terms of my own experience (I joined twitter in 2006), I initially used twitter to ‘find out what it was,’ and promote my niche website interventtech.net and associated news and threads blog. Tweeting provided my network with a ‘heads up’ on new posts, and when I added a twitter widget to the site home page, visitors could instantly find out what’s new. The widget also made the home page feel more dynamic. Over time, I began to build up my very own ‘tweetwork,’ and strarted to use twitter to more social ends. I feel that I’ve got to know many fellow tweeters pretty well – and I hope they feel the same about me. I know for example that @billt likes coffee and beer breaks, @freecloud loves robots, @davewiner supports the Obama campaign, @benmatthews sits next to @domw at work and @cridland gets annoyed with blipfm twitter spam! Much like other online social networks, although I know a proportion of my twitter network in real life, many I have never met but found connection through common interest. I have also forged what I term ‘tweetships,’ with many people in my network. Many of these friendly interactions that occur via twitter have resulted in positive real world introductions too. All good… 🙂
What I like about twitter (and in part why I think it’s successful), is that it’s simple, flexible and makes time spent on the network (which is still mainly via desktop or laptop) feel more personalised and ‘human.’ As well as posting tweets and keeping up-to-speed with activity in your network, users bounce off each other and conduct ‘sociality,’ too. This happens in public via @name (so tweets are visible to others) in private via direct message (hidden) and in communities around events using #event. Using twitter via applications like Twhirl enables users to feed tweets to their desktop in real-time (well almost), making personal and interactive tweeting much quicker, easier and arguably more meaningful. For me, Twhirl transforms twitter from a disconnected social archive to an real-time enabling social news network. So, in between the human insights, heads up’s, recommendations and messages that I receive via my trusted network (the people), I also receive real-time news alerts spanning politics, technology, culture and transport for example.
Since I started using Twhirl, my level of tweeting has soured. I have also established my own 70:30 rule for posting to help manage my tweeting. The purpose of my 70:30 rule is to make sure that at least 30% of my tweets add some level of value to my twitter community, above and beyond ‘day-to-day insights.’ In other words, tweet about stuff that people in my network may find of interest (e.g. recommendations, niche news, heads up on blog posts, local traffic info, live reviews etc) or entertaining (reviews, jokes and humorous observations)! Of course, not all tweeters follow my special rule :-). A friend of mine for example uses twitter solely to keep in touch with his close group of friends (so they block people they don’t know). For them, the purpose of twitter is to share recommendations and ‘stay social,’ throughout the day. They let each other know where they are and what they’re up to, making it easier for others to join in. But that’s the joy of twitter – you can use it your way.
So I’ve touched on why I think twitter works, why it’s popular among it’s user base. But why is the service growing faster in the UK than the US? What is it about the the UK experience that is spurring this surprising level of growth? A difficult question to answer, but my instinct tells me that in part, it’s tied to the locality of Connectors and Mavens within the twitter network. Connectors are the socialites, they have many followers and invest time in maintaining and fueling social networks. From the networks perspective, Connectors are central nodes in the health of the social network. They drive user growth and social momentum. A Maven on the other hand is someone who has a disproportionate influence on other members of the network. The role of Mavens in social networks is to propagate knowledge and preferences across domains, from politics to pop and other social trends. The Maven is the opinion leader while Connectors pick up on information, opinions, taste, advice and insights drawn from Mavens and distribute this to broader networks, their way. So in terms of the social architecture of twitter, it could be that in proportional terms, there are more Connectors and Mavens based in the UK than in the US.
A second (and perhaps related) reason for twitters growing success in the UK, could be to do with the breadth of the new media media industry here in comparison to the States. As well as commercial start-ups, media agencies, games producers and digital production companies, the UKs creative industry also includes public service media production companies and social enterprise start-ups. Although it’s early days for these emerging sectors, public service media and social enterprise is certainly gaining pace as a result of new and revived commissioning players such as BBC 24/7, BBC multi-platform, BBC THREE, BBC Vision and 4IP. They also reflect aspects of the UKs media industry that just don’t ‘fit’ as well in the States where market growth is more often than not driven by commercial business models.
The fact is, twitter is a user driven social space that values and enables knowledge sharing and transparency in interaction. Levels of knowledge sharing and transparency that we might like commercial industry to get more involved in, but just doesn’t seem to fit with their business case right now, particularly in terms of how they relate and interact with consumers. Public Service Media and Social Enterprise on the other hand fits much more neatly with the kind of social values and architecture that underpins twitter. These industries are all about knowledge sharing, public participation, conversation and audience engagement. Now, it’s worth mentioning in closing that I have no hard evidence or even ‘indicative’ audience research to back this final piece of analysis up…just claire_w intuition. But it’s an acorn worth sharing no…?