Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Twitter: Oversharing or Just Enough Sharing?

I ran another TwtPoll Tuesday, here are the question & results:

Question: Twitter has been called part of a new "culture of oversharing."  Which answer best reflects your opinion?
  • I don't really care about the details of most people's private lives. That's not why I'm on Twitter. 25% (24 votes)

  • I'm curious about what is going on with my friends but not strangers. 9% (9 votes)

  • The daily lives of celebrities are kind of fascinating to me. 0% (0 votes)

  • I find the details of people's lives which they choose to share to be the most interesting part of Twitter. 31% (29 votes)

  • Not only do I not mind other people sharing details of their lives, I like to "overshare," too. 18% (17 votes)

  • I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "overshare." 3% (3 votes)

  • Other (send your opinion to @nwjerseyliz) 14% (13 votes)
There are some very interesting observations you can make about these results:
  1. The most obvious result to note is that there is a clear lack of consensus on the appropriateness of private information posted on a online public network. This might be frustrating for those 25% of people who answered that they use Twitter primarily for business or information but it's in keeping with the vision of Twitter's creators that Twitter be a tool for whatever people want to use it for (like email, I was told).

  2. Except for the 25% who would rather not hear about the details of people's daily lives, most people were comfortable with the personal sharing nature of Twitter whether they preferred to read about the lives of their friends, people in general or not only other people but sharing of themselves as well.

  3. There was NO ONE who responded that they really prefer to read the inside scoop on the daily lives of celebrities. This probably says more about the tastes of people who follow me & those who ReTweeted the blog link than about the general Twitterverse. I still think there is a strong element of celebrity voyeurism especially among new users to Twitter.

  4. There was some confusion about the word "overshare", whether it meant sharing too much personal information (intimate information) or sharing too frequently (quantity). I meant it to mean the former.

  5. There was a substantial number of "Other" answers and I received quite a few personal replies explaining people's point of view. The comments were so diverse, it is impossible to generalize about them except that they also reflect the fact that opinion on this issue vary quite a bit. The main issue in question is how much to share (level of sharing) & who to share it with (personal network). This can be easily adjusted by unfollowing people who share too little or too much.

  6. Several people objected to the term "overshare". I chose this term because  I've heard it used by Social Media Analysts. Those who disliked it, accurately noticed that it is inherently negative as "over" implies "too much". Typically in polls or surveys you aim for either neutral language or equally strong language for all options (my choice).
There were 95 votes, a bit short of my goal of 100 votes but I'm happy because a lot of the votes came in long after I first posted the link on Twitter (9 am EST US). Thanks for everyone who either voted, ReTweeted the link and/or commented on the poll.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Celebrities on Twitter: Love 'em, hate 'em or just don't care?

Recently, there has been a lot of media buzz surrounding the rush of celebrities on to the social network Twitter. Ashton Kutcher's (@aplusk) race with CNN (@CNNBrk) to obtain a million followers, Twitter co-founder Evan Willaims (@ev) appearing with Kutcher to show Oprah Winfrey (@oprah) how to Tweet, Twitter's Biz Stone (@biz) making an appearance on the Colbert Report (@ColbertEpisodes). Not just young Hollywood but even veteran journalists Barbara Walters (@barbarajwalters), Larry King (@kingsthings) and Daniel Schorr (@danielschorr) are getting on to Twitter.

A lot has been written about said about the celebrities themselves but what does this mean for the average Twitter user? Looking into the blogosphere, some authors have been enthusiastic about this development, others a little apprehensive while a few have kept a neutral point of view.

I had my own ideas about what this meant for Twitter users but I decided to conduct a small survey of users to see what their opinion was on the matter. From Tuesday, 3/21 9 am until Wednesday, 3/22 9 am, I ran a poll on TwtPoll, asking users for their opinions on the issue.

Over the 24 hours, the link was ReTweeted dozens of times and I ended up with 177 replies. While this doesn't sound like much, this gave it a rank of the #15 most popular poll on TwitPoll so that is a good gauge of what kind of response to expect in a Twitter poll.

So what did I find out? Well, I have a perfectly sized screen capture which I can't convert into a photo file so I'm left with text:

Question: What do you think about the recent rush of celebrities on to Twitter?

  1. The more users, the better (14%)
  2. It's exciting! I think it will enhance Twitter's image (9%)
  3. It's like the E! Channel now. Who needs these celebrities? (7%)
  4. I fear Twitter will lose its edge and become mainstream (11%)
  5. I think that the flood of new users will mean more Fail Whales and will tax Twitter's system (11%)
  6. I focus on my own social network. Lots of new users & celebs doesn't affect my experience (44%)
  7. Other (3%)
Seeing how #1 & #2 are positive responses, and #3, #4 & #5 are negative responses, we can lump together these responses. I asked those choosing "Other" to write and tell me of their reason which boiled down to either a) I'm undecided/mixed feelings or b) I don't care or am indifferent. I think it is fair to put #6 & #7 answers together as "neutral".

Question: What do you think about the recent rush of celebrities on to Twitter?

  • Positive response: 23%
  • Negative response: 29%
  • Neutral response: 47%
Because of rounding off, the total comes to 99%, not 100%.

These are close to the attitudes I had expected to see. The excitement surrounding getting Tweets from celebrities and the high media profile of a network we love mixed with fears of Twitter crashing or losing its "coolness" factor obscured the fact that for many people, celebrities have little or no consequence to their experience on Twitter.

Even with a conservative estimate of 10 million Twitter accounts, the fact is that only 13% of Twitterers (roughly 1 out of 8) follow the comings & goings of the Ashton Kutcher, the most popular person on Twitter. Or, that is, they have follow his account, we have no idea how many followers actually read the messages they are sent.

But for nearly half of Twitterers polled, they concentrate their efforts on their own social network. Twitter isn't a social network, it is 10 million different social networks that share some nodes in common with each other. If you don't follow someone, there is little chance you will encounter them unless their message is ReTweeted by someone who follow. And it might be safe to say that even some of the people who responded positively & negatively to the question also hold this view of their own personal Twitterverse.

Celebrities do affect the culture of Twitter, whether the infrastructure holds up, the public perception of the network but individual actors, singers, politicians, athletes or talk show hosts are not the people who cause most of us to join a social network and check in regularly with "our people."

Hollywood might add a few sprinkles on top, but our network of friends and acquaintances is the cupcake we have for dessert.

P.S. Because I neglected to set up and "end date" for this poll, it will actually be running indefinitely and the votes have increased to 184 while I've written this blog entry. Feel free to add your two cents:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tweens on Twitter?

Last week, The Jonas Brothers created a Twitter account at @JonasBrothers. At first, just a few announcements were posted to the account but the band members began talking with fans yesterday. Their followers reached 60,000 in less than a week and added another 6,000 since last night. They could easily reach 100,000 followers by the end of the week and could surpass Britney Spears (#2) & Ashton Kutcher (#3) in followers if they keep up this momentum.

The Jonas Brothers are huge among the Tween (8-13 years old) audience as well as some Teens. They were mobbed the outside of the Manhattan MTV offices during Jonas Brothers Week last year which I saw for myself when I tried to pass by. The band earned about $12 million in 2007 and in 2008 they were listed #9 on the richest pop acts of 2008 list making over sixty-two million dollars.

Twitter has experienced different waves of users: 1) the tech, early first adopters (2006-2007), 2) social media types, bloggers and some entrepreneurs (2007-2008), 3) marketing folks, companies & celebrities (2008-2009) [these are general trends, YMMV!]. But Teens have never showed much interest in Twitter, they seemed to prefer phone calls, texting and traditional instant messaging to a "micro-blogging" social network.

But the presence of Teen/Tween celebrities could change that aversion. Twitter offers the illusion of immediate and intimate contact with pop idols. Although people like Ashton Kutcher & Miley Cyrus don't follow many noncelebrities, they will selectively (like 1 out 10,000) respond to people's @replies to them. This possibility of direct contact is very seductive in our celebrity-oriented popular culture.

Whether young people will begin to flock to Twitter remains to be seen, it's been less than a day since @JonasBrothers has been active but when it was, Jonas-related topics were 4 of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter. But Miley Cyrus has been Tweeting for less than 3 weeks and already has 253,318 Followers while Demetria Lovato (@ddlovato), another Disney celebrity, has 133,832 Followers. I can only see this growing as Tween fans are extremely devoted audiences.

The larger question to most of us is how an influx of younger users would change the atmosphere on Twitter. Twitter's Terms of Use insist that people creating new accounts be at least 13 years old but Twitter's execs have been shown to be very hands off in terms of regulating user behavior beyond suspending the most obvious spam accounts. I think they will either end up ignoring this new user base or changing the TOU.

I don't see a whole lot of cross-over between the Tween/Teen crowd and Adult users of Twitter. Older users are primarily involved in Twitter as a form of expression & interaction with others like themselves, as entertainment or to create business connections. There are a few enterprising teenagers who have large adult followings but that is in spite of their young age, not because of it.

My other guess is that--in my foggy memory--kids like to talk to other teenagers about each other so you might see more of them adopting protected status for their updates. This would give them control over who to allow into their conversational circle and allay parental fears about creepy people on the network engaging their children.

What do you think?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Why I Block Followers

Hubspot is an Internet Marketing company that provides website analysis and other kinds of useful marketing data to internet businesses. I know it primarily for the webinars they hold plus their Twitter Grader which is Hubspot's own system of ranking people's authority and reach on the Twitter social network.

This past week, they had an interesting entry on their blog, The Best Way to Build a Twitter Account? Step by Step. The graphs & information, collected through people submitting their usernames to Twitter Grader, was fascinating to me as a sociologist. But I had problems with the underlying assumption which is bigger is always better and that people on Twitter want their social networks to grow as big as possible. It's an interesting blog post (and the comments are interesting, too) and here is my slightly rewritten response:

This is very interesting data but your argument assumes that most people want to have lots of followers which is not always the case.

I know a Twitterer who went from a small network of followers to over 1000 and she discovered that some earlier followers (considered "friends") unfollowed her once her account took off...a fact that no one ever mentions but which happens more often than you'd think.

Many people use Twitter to form their personal online social network and it is easier to maintain a close network of 150 or 200 people than 2,000 much less 20,000. Then it just becomes a collection of strangers.

I think as Twitter gets more and more popular, there will be those business people in the numbers race but the bulk of regular users might even downsize their accounts to have a smaller network of closer associates. A similar phenomena is happening on Facebook where I know some people who are reducing their number of "friends" to only people they actually encounter in the lives (family and new & old friends).

In the past month, I've done something I never thought I'd do...block followers who I don't want following me. I'd rather have a lower follower number than have some MLMs following my account. And I know I m not the only one who has started blocking not only spammers but people who are only trying to game the system to boost their social profile.

I never thought I'd be a blocking type of person but there are some people I'd just rather not have in my life. I realize that blocking only prevents them from following me or sending me messages, they can still read my Tweets although I don't think reading content is very important to them. But until Twitter creates a Do Not Follow list where users can opt-out of being followed by overly zealous entrepreneurs, salesmen, and marketers, blocking will have to do.

Quality or quantity? There is no contest in my mind which is more important in social networking nor the difficulty of having them both.

So, my questions for those on Twitter is has your account gotten too big? Could it reach a number that would be too high for you? What are disadvantages of having a large account? Do you ever block annoying followers or just ones you don't want in your life?

I'm also interested in whether readers would like more posts on Twitter. There are plenty of blog entries that have been written about Twitter but if people are interesting in discussing the network as it evolves, I think this blog could make the transition. Let me know!