Can Twitter Survive?

Build It and They Will Come … and Go.


by William F. Walker, The Friendly Curmudgeon 


Like other media research firms, The Nielsen Company (best known for rating TV shows) has on occasion released interesting, but un-actionable, findings as a way of keeping their name in the public eye. But one of these recent throw-away releases may prove more telling than even Nielsen could have anticipated: The firm teased a study where they found that Twitter, the red-hot, must-have, social media vehicle sweeping the electronic landscape, had a monthly drop-out rate of 60%, far higher than any other social media they had ever measured.


The real meaningful data (such as the reasons for the drop-outs) is information you have to pay Nielsen to see, of course.  But you don’t need to write a check to do the math. Twitter works in a finite universe. With a monthly user drop-out rate of 60%, it’s impossible for Twitter to ever have more than 10 % internet audience reach. And because advertising is going to be the only way to sustain social media over the long term, Twitter, with its current model, is never going to realize the critical mass needed to battle competitors like Facebook or MySpace. *


Both Facebook and MySpace already have more audience reach than Twitter can ever hope to achieve, and both have audience retention rates that are more than double that of Twitter. Even so, the odds are that only one of the two leaders will survive and thrive. (The smart money is on Facebook.)


In my undercover role as an astute observer of the popular culture, I’ve noticed that the expression ‘too much information’ has been floating around for quite some time — and with good reason. It is a reaction to a judgment by baby boomers that privacy, which used to be highly valued, isn’t all it was cracked up to be. In attempts to achieve new heights of ‘authenticity’ people have begun retailing the minutiae of their lives, peeling back three or four more layers of the onion than is desired by their audiences. (Arguably, this is why the biggest TV reality shows are beginning to lose viewers as well.)


Twitter is a dream come true for these ‘open book’ folks, a way to live their private lives in public, and in real time. But, most people’s lives – with the exception of some key celebrities and politicians — are of little interest to anyone but themselves. It’s been said that nothing is as boring as a man with no secrets.  Twitter has become the high tech equivalent of being locked in a room watching somebody write his autobiography 140 characters at a time.


Will Twitter survive to challenge Facebook or MySpace?  Evan Thomas, the Twitter CEO, recently went on the Oprah Winfrey show to affirm that Twitter “was not for sale.”  (Translation: Make me an offer, but it better have a lot of zeros in it.) Maybe not right now, but hopefully very soon, Thomas and his investors will apply the lessons learned from the great Internet business meltdown of a decade ago and will be clever enough to get out at the top.  Sometimes a good idea is worth a lot more in theory than in practice.


*Another recent finding, albeit far less scientific than Nielsen’s, comes from a LinkedIn poll conducted by Julia Tanen of (Twitter@juliatanen) and reported in the June 2009 issue of Women’s Business Boston.  Asked “Have you had tangible results from corporate use of Twitter?”and given the choices of Yes, No, Not Sure, and Still Measuring, 100% of the respondents answered: Not sure.

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