Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Research, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 14-10-2010-05-2008
The other day, Evan Williams from Twitter commented that ‘Twitter will get to a billion members‘.
I’ll talk to that in a moment, but I want to give you some background on my thought process first. If you want to skip straight to the data, see the lower sections.
Why don’t you tweet anymore?
I get asked about Twitter a lot. Sometimes in regards to my personal (declining) use of the tool. Often, it’s about Twitter for marketing or recruitment. I used to be excited about the possibilities of this tool but as of late, it’s probably apparent that I’ve dramatically changed my thoughts on it.
There are a few simple reasons why I’ve cut back. For one, I have thoughts longer than 140 characters that I want to share. Tweets can quickly get taken out of context at this character limit, so I find myself expressing thoughts and opinions on other platforms instead, where I have more room. I also think that ‘sharing’ can be beneficial, but in a large group it hampers innovation. And that’s what I often see on Twitter. (Which, ironically, was my last blog post here in August.) You can be “working” all day, and yet not accomplish anything at all.
I’ve also read a few books that have made me re-think a lot of my digital life. Here are a few quotes that resonate with me:
–” The more connected we are, the more we depend on the world outside ourselves to tell us how to think and live.”
– “We’re losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth. Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do. Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it’s astounding that we’re allowing this to happen.”
– “The goal is not longer to be ‘in touch’ but to erase the possibility of ever being out of touch. [...] Although we think of our screens as productivity tools, they actually undermine the serial focus that’s the essence of true productivity. And the faster and more intense our connectedness becomes, the further we move away from that ideal. Digital busyness is the enemy of depth.”
– “When a crowd adopts a point of view en masse, all critical thinking effectively stops.”
– “By virtue of its interactivity, the digital medium is a source of constant confirmation that yes, you do indeed exist and matter. Thus we’re forced to go back again and again for verification. Who dropped my name? Are there any comments on my comments? Who’s paying attention to me now?”
Quotes from Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers
There’s quite a bit to unpack here. But it boils down to this for me: I’m in the knowledge industry. (You probably are too.) My job to think and implement. When I impede the process of thinking and learning, I become less valuable. The opportunity cost of spending excessive amounts of time on Twitter is too great. It took me nearly a year to learn this. To paraphrase another great book, I want to go where my competitors don’t go and read what they don’t read. That just doesn’t happen on Twitter. I no longer look there for verification either. I don’t care how many people follow me (although we will look at this data next). I also don’t care how many RSS subscribers I have. I want deeper, more meaningful thoughts and interactions instead. I seek verification through a successful client project, not a single tweet.
On a side note, I’d also encourage you to take a moment to read what Joel Goodman says about the state of higher ed web. There is great value in contrarian opinions.
Has Twitter Hit a Ceiling?
Now, to finally expand on the original topic of this post. Twitter and 1 billion members. My response? Not Likely, and only if the growth is in international countries. At a conference earlier this year I responded to a question about Twitter’s growth as follows:
You’re either on Twitter, or you’re so sick of hearing people talk about it that at this point, you’ll never join it.
This would not be the case in countries where Twitter has not taken off, leaving potential growth there.
We know Twitter is great for one-to-many communication. And breaking news. And listening to your customers. I get all that.
Facebook sits at 500 million users, with approximately 70% of users outside of the USA. Twitter sits at 100 million users, and I honestly see no direct way for them to reach 1 billion members. Realistically, I think Twitter is approaching the end of its growth cycle.
That’s the world. Let’s talk about Higher Ed.
My follower numbers on Twitter have essentially crawled to a halt. It might be because I don’t use it as much, or because I don’t seek validation there, but I think the biggest reason is that Twitter has hit a ceiling in higher ed.
[I'm talking about professional/personal usage by employees in the industry here, not our audience's usage. But on that side of things, BlueFuego tracked nearly 2,500 higher ed accounts in 2009 and many were seeing 50-100% growth month over month over month. We stopped research in early 2010 because growth was slowing very rapidly.]
2009 was a huge year for Twitter usage/adoption in the higher ed community. But, I think everyone who is here… is here. This is our community. There will be some people that filter in and out of the industry, but for the most part, we are our audience at this point. We’ll slowly grow, and may actually decline, but the cast has been set.
To confirm my thoughts, I started looking at data of other users in higher ed. I pulled the 3 month growth rate of the 50 most influential people in higher ed (determined by WeFollow.com) using TwitterCounter. I also split the audience into 3 areas: Student Affairs, Marketing/PR, and Blog/News/Company.
The list shows that higher ed blog/news/company accounts continue to see strong follower growth (an average of 17%). There is the underlying incentive for them to grow an audience: more traffic, more ads, more business, etc.
The student affairs crowd in higher ed has seen an average of 11% growth since July 15th. And for good reason. They are a very strong group. #SAChat (article) is allowing student affairs professionals to find each other and connect.
Then, we have “the rest of us”. The marketers, the bloggers, etc. Average growth for us: 5%. We’re a bit different than student affairs. SA already has their students and wants to help each other communicate with them better. We… well, we’re competing for students and might not want to share quite as much to everyone.
If we haven’t hit the ceiling yet, we’re approaching it. Either fewer people are joining, or we’re less likely to follow others. I acknowledge that there are a wide range of variables that come in to play, but I think it’s quite clear that we’re at the top of the rollercoaster ride, and it’s only a matter of time until it heads back down the slope.
I’ll never have 4,000 followers on Twitter. I might never even reach 3,500. And you know what? I’m fine with that.
Because I need to do a better job at connecting with the 3,300 that are already there.
Which makes me think about my (your) job.
At what point do we stop investing all our time and resources in growing these new online communities and focus more on who’s already listening?
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.