Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

New research from Harvard Business School and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project give new perspective to the social media and social CRM phenomenon and raise a yellow flag for all those people proclaiming social media the second coming.  First Harvard.

The Economist ran one of its special report sections this week (the issue with Steven Jobs dressed as Moses on the cover) on social networking.  While generally laudatory of the technology’s promise — headlines include “Profiting from friendship” and “A peach of an opportunity” — the report also delivered the unvarnished and synamic truth about adoption.

A section titled “Twitter’s transmitters, The magic of 140 characters” quoted the work of Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, a Harvard Business School professor, and one of his MBA students Bill Heil.  According to The Economist, the researchers surveyed more than 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009 and reported results that include:

  • More than half said they tweeted less than once every 74 days (not quite twice per quarter).
  • The most active 10% of twitter users published 90% of all Tweets.

By comparison, the article says that on other social networks, “the most active users typically produce 30% of all content.”  Holy #$%^ Batman!

So who are these people?  According to Pew, they’re the kind of people you might want to have a beer with — when they’re older.  As reported in “Fast Company” Ninety-three percent of teens between 12 and 17 go online, 66% say they text.  The 18 to 29 group also has a 93 percent rank of online users and though the numbers slip for real adults — 81% of those 30 to 49 and 70% of those 50 to 64 — the numbers are very healthy.

Get more numbers here:

The question though is what are these people doing when they are online?  Teens are giving up on blogging, their numbers are about half what they were a few years ago.  Facebook is the big winner for kids and time-starved parents like Twitter.  Only 15% of young adults bother to blog, down nine points over two years.

What’s it all mean?

The Fast Company article ends with this, “Meanwhile, blogging is on the rise for adults over 30, who increased to 11% from 7% in 2007.  And 47% of adults now use social networking sites, up 10% from a year ago.”

It seems the most economically viable demographic is getting its act together but there are caveats.  There are many more readers than writers — that’s not surprising, it’s human nature.  But I think you need to be wary here.  Diane Hessan, CEO of Communispace, likes to remind me that in social networking, participation is very important and knowing the demographics of participation is vital.

The ten percent of Twitter users contributing ninety percent of tweets with more than half logging on very occasionally is a red flag for anyone contemplating social media marketing because it exposes an important truth that membership is not participation.  There is no t enough data on the Twitter users who tweet once per quarter.  Do they go to Twitter daily to read stuff?  I am sure some do, but I wouldn’t want to base a marketing campaign on it.

The decline in blogging is a clear indication that there is, or soon will be, less to read on blogs and less to comment on, though there will be more personal stuff to see on Facebook, if you have a lot of friends.

I have recently seen a number of CRM products that capture such valuable information as a person’s Twitter, Facebook and Blog account information.  The vendors are certain that this information is the source of new insight and business opportunity, even in the B2B space.  I am not.  This data suggests that just as vendors are ramping up, the raw material that they expect to mine may be drying up.  Notwithstanding the 11% of adults over 30 who are blogging more, it seems to me that people are moving to personal expression that may not have a great deal of business utility.

Some of the explanation for this may be the rotten economy but we’re about four months into a turnaround, and numbers complied last May are already becoming obsolete.  Business activity is picking up but it is unclear if people are turning to social media to do their business networking.

The lesson from this, for me, hews close to Hessan’s advice.  You need to understand who is participating — not their names and other identifying data but participation per person or organization, demographic data and the like.  A lot of 17 year old boys might be attracted to the new models on an exotic car site for instance, but you wouldn’t want to develop a marketing campaign for them.

Clara Shih is a friend I met through  She recently published The Facebook Era, which looks at the relationship of social networking to front office computing.  She is really busy these days promoting the book and she recently left Salesforce to pursue new ideas in social networking and to form a company dedicated to the task. 

Shih is bright and articulate and she’s been involved in social networking and social media for several years.  She even wrote a little code — the first integration of Salesforce and Facebook (Faceforce now Faceconnector).  I caught up with her in an airport as she was leaving to visit family in China.  I wanted to congratulate her on the book and learn about her thinking on some important issues surrounding front office computing and social networking. 

I think we’re in violent agreement on most points and I have to respect the fact that she spent a year researching social media — especially Facebook — and writing her book.  One thing Shih makes clear in the book as well as in conversation is the disruptive nature of social media, “As disruptive as the Internet was for any industry,” she says.  “Who knows who and how will be critical in sales going forward.” 

True enough. 

As the market continues to move from one where innovators sell to early adopters toward one with more stability, we can expect that personal relationships will become increasingly important, that only makes sense.  When early adopters buy something it’s to gain a competitive advantage by being the first to implement a new technology.  Early adopters are like the one eyed man in the land of the blind.  They buy stuff and play with it to find a profitable use.  They don’t need a lot of hand holding and often the most basic documentation is fine so it’s no surprise that selling to early adopters is pretty easy.

Most of us today have lived through a long series of new waves not just in technology but throughout the economy and we have all been early adopters.  The new economy is a lot more about mainstream buyers and many of us might have forgotten (or never learned) how to sell to them.  That’s where social media comes in and it’s why the amalgamation of CRM and social networking is such a big deal — if it gets done right.

What exactly is meant by doing things right is a tricky question.  According to Shih, if you think about a maturity model for the space, “We’re about at phased 1.5.  In phase one people didn’t understand what it (social networking) was or why it mattered.  We’re at the stage now where people know Facebook and Twitter but they don’t necessarily know what to do with them in business.”

Shih makes the analogy to the early Internet when no one knew how to monetize their investments in Web sites.  In a lot of cases companies simply “…tried to apply old models to new media,” it sort of worked but today we’ve moved on in many respects.  Whenever you apply old models to new media you are basically trying to extend the old paradigm, getting the most you can out of it before you have to invest in something new and expensive.  It also gives you time to see which models are most likely to be the winners because no one wants to go down the wrong path and end up spending twice.  Not that that ever happens in the software market.

There is also the issue of developing the right metrics for measuring success and to do that the business objectives need to be in place.  So what are the business objectives and which social networking tools are right for each objective?  “It depends,” Shih says diplomatically.  “There are different tools for different environments,” and her book goes into more detail.  But suffice it to say that a blog has a different purpose and orientation than Twitter with a 140 character limit.

It might seem that several social media are carving out niches for themselves.  Facebook for sales, Linked-in for personal networking and Twitter for quick bursts, Shih is the first to acknowledge that things are very fluid.  “We’re in an exponential growth phase,” she says, “ Everything can change in a year.” 

Right you are.  In a year we could have more clarity or simply more companies contending for hearts and minds (and wallets) as the social networking boom takes over in full force.  If things work out as Shih expects, there will also be a company headed by her to advise companies about social networking and its uses.  WE could all use the help.