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: