Is Twitter a One Way Street?

Harvard Business just published a very interesting analysis on Twitter’s user trends. From a random sampling of 300,000 Twitter users, they found:

Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This “follower split” suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or have more stringent thresholds for reciprocating relationships. This is intriguing, especially given that females hold a slight majority on Twitter: we found that men comprise 45% of Twitter users, while women represent 55%. To get this figure, we cross-referenced users’ “real names” against a database of 40,000 strongly gendered names.

They also found that:

an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman. These results cannot be explained by different tweeting activity – both men and women tweet at the same rate.

But here’s the most interesting finding and allegory from this research.

The top 10% of Twitter users represent 90% of the tweets. This concentration is higher than Wikipedia, which has its top 15% of editors representing 90% of the edits. So HB implies that this makes Twitter more of a one way, one to many publishing service, since Wikipedia is clearly a one way publishing channel and the usage patterns of power Twitter users are more concentrated than Wikipedia.

When you look at prolific Twitter users such as @Guy Kawasaki, @Evan Williams, @Pete Cashmore @Shaquille O”Neal, and others, this hypothesis resonates. Most of these folks have a huge following base and they use Twitter as a vehicle to push their own interests (i.e. links). And it would be awful challenging for them to reasonably respond to their audiences if everyone responded to their “tweets” as frequently as they sent them.  Further, if you look at the top Twitter-ers from WeFollow we see that its dominated by mass media outlets like CNN, ABC, Oprah, and by stars like Briney Spears, John Mayer and Ryan Seacrest and commercial companies such as Zappos, Dell, and Whole Foods.

To me, I don’t think this analysis surprises me too much.  It basically reinforces the 90%/9%/1% rule of online social media consumer behavior, where 90% of the audinece lurks, 9% may contribute some, and 1% account for all the activity and contributions.  But what is interesting is how these behaviors imply Twitter is a one way publishing service, even though its cleary a multi-channel (browser, client, mobile), dead simple enabler of two way dialogue.  I suppose this validates that the spoken word is still the best two way dialogue going!

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