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Twitter is one of those digital things that creates a great divide within business people and the general population. On a ratio of roughly 99 to 1, the comments I hear about Twitter are against using it – “why bother” or “why should I waste my time?” or “I just don’t get it“.

I rarely hear or read why it is worthwhile following Twits or being followed. Certainly the eBooks and Twitter experts rarely discuss the cost to tweet or the financial benefit. They just focus on tweeting for tweeting’s sake.

In fact, nobody I know in business has given a good argument for its use, yet I know many people who use it to some degree. This blog is automatically linked to Twitter, but I gave up using my Twitter account months ago due to the overwhelming amount of spam.

I get hundreds of fake posts daily from people/names I’ve never followed. I changed my password a number of times, but over 90% of the feeds in my account are spam. So I just don’t look at it, as my time is worth more doing things other than sorting through tweets.

Here’s a screen shot from today for example – I have no idea who this Twit is:

Twitter screen shot

Once again the DIY weakness of the internet. People have to sort out every digital glitch themselves, from email problems, to pages not loading, to spam in everything. Most suppliers of digital technology avoid providing customer service in the form of humans on the phone to help users. They force users to solve it themselves online via FAQ,s alleged help sections on sites, and in some cases live chat. And this DIY help takes so much time it’s often easier to stop being a user.

13 countries account for 74% of users

This infographic – I had to drop in a marketing buzzword – shows the breakdown of Twitter usage.

Twitter infographic

5 countries account for 50% of users and 13 countries account for 74% of users. The graphic is interesting given that China and India, the number 1 and number 3 users of the internet, aren’t represented. Tweeter isn’t allowed in China and India just doesn’t seem interested. Given there are about 200 countries on the planet, then less than 2.5% of countries account for 50% of usage, while 7% account for the majority of Twitter usage.

Countries in the developed world are by far the biggest users of the internet – 77% according to this list. So the only anomaly in this infographic is Saudi Arabia. It is the 34th biggest internet user, all the others are in the top 25 users.

Twitter is dominated by US “celebrities”

tweet by Bill Maher

If you review the Top 100 global Twitter accounts by number of followers, it reveals even more about the users, or more importantly the messages. I may have allocated the odd account to the wrong celebrity segment, but here’s how they stack up:

  • US celebrities: musical, television, movie and vacuous – 58%
  • Non-US celebrities similar to US ones – 15%
  • Websites such as YouTube, 2 Twitter sites, MTV – 10%
  • Football clubs, footballers, basketball players and NBA – 8%
  • News sites – 4%
  • Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Dalai Lama – 3%

There isn’t a single consumer brand in the Top 100!

The biggest users in my country, Australia, are quite insignificant in the number of followers relative to the global Top 100. We only have 2 accounts over 1 million followers and one is of a failed Prime Minister whose account will significantly decline now he’s no longer in office. I think the other is an actor. I have no idea who she is and she probably doesn’t know me either:)

Australia has a larger percentage of sports people in its Top 100, which reflects our society’s high involvement in sport. Every live sports coverage now invites 140 characters of input from viewers. There are even plans to have Tweet screens spread around stadiums so fans can share their Tweets with each other as the game is played. Most live TV shows (eg the News) and many print journalists offer hashtags for readers and viewers to “join the conversation”. Am not sure how many viewers will be “conversing” with a journalist as said journo is reporting a cat stuck up a tree, but that’s just me.

The really interesting thing in the global and local rankings is the almost complete lack of consumer brands in the Top 100. The Aussie list has airlines and a telco. They use Twitter as a customer service tool, due to the problems with delays, flight cancellations and technical issues. This is a very good way to use Twitter if you have a very large customer base and you need to reach them quickly.

But generally speaking, the leading Twitter accounts are not brands or corporations, rather they are individuals or media properties. So why should a company bother with Twitter you ask, particularly given its churn rate?

Twitter churn rate is one of the highest of any service in history

Depending upon the research you read, the churn rate of Twitter users varies from 30% to 80+% within the first 30 days of usage. In 2010, RJMetrics claimed “Twitter’s rate of churn isn’t 60% as Nielsen found, it’s 80%+, with only 17% of Twitter accounts sending a single tweet over the past month“.

Where is the value for companies – apart from using it as a customer service tool to monitor complaints? It costs money to have Twits posting and monitoring tweets, money that could often be better spent elsewhere.

And here’s a fact. If your company never used Twitter, nothing would happen. Your business would not go broke, your share price would not decline and you wouldn’t lose profit. Customers wouldn’t be complaining “Brand X doesn’t tweet, so I’m not going to buy it“.

So relax. Twitter is a nice-to-have not a have-to-have media channel. It’s head-hour intensive and depending on what/how you are tracking, can also involve significant software costs. So it’s not cheap. But it’s here to stay – as it does work for certain niche categories.

As a business owner or marketer you have to decide “is Twitter essential to make and keep customers, or can I make and keep customers without Twitter?”

The answer is simple really. Run a test. Measure the cost of Twitter versus the benefits. This small data, about a BIG DATA product, will paint the picture and make it very easy for you to make the decision.

Hmmm – I wonder if this will be retweeted?

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