Why am I writing about Twitter at midnight? Even Ashton Kutcher is icing his iThumb at this hour. I’m chasing a brainstorm for my keynote at New Media Expo/Blogworld on Sunday. My talk is about the future of social currencies and the new economics of work. Since launching several successful loyalty services at MasterCard and American Express, I’ve been obsessed with deconstructing what motivates us. That’s why social media and gamification are so amusing to me. They’re a shiny new set of controls that can change – or exploit human behavior. But before drunkenly commandeering The USS Twitter, it’s best to first meet its passengers. Like my 15 Faces of Facebook article last year, here is a deconstruction of Twitter – what it is, who uses it, and what motivates them. In future articles, I’ll go deeper into tools to change both customer and employee behavior.
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Twitter is not what you think…
Twitter has 200 million active users, but is definitely not a social network. Though it looks social, it’s more hyperactive than interactive. Of the billions of tweets sent, 71% get no response, only 36% are worth reading, and a majority is generated by a tiny fraction of users. Twitter is a personal announcement system that captures the collective pulse of a world screaming for attention – or revolution, or discounts, or Kanye. Twitter is a tiny, evolutionary step towards a “global mind”. Making sense of that mind has spurred a gold rush of mind-readers trying to sell you shovels, pans, and a donkey. Of course, Twitter itself is evolving and like any analysis, this is a snapshot in time.
Who are the 10 Types of Twitterers?
Here is my deconstruction of the major behavioral groups on Twitter, what they do, and what they get out of it. The chart illustrates how a tiny population (bubble size) gets the greatest return (in followers) for each tweet. For each person they follow, the truly famous – or big spenders, have 25-500 following them.
Note: My analysis is based on stats from beevolve and proprietary sampling of about 25 random accounts in each category. (These are not representative, but directional. For segmentation purposes).
- Undead – Let’s get this one out of the way – 60% of Twitter accounts are inactive. They don’t tweet or maybe even exist. Some are unused second accounts, forgotten passwords, or reserved for babies yet to be born. We’ll never know because they’ll never tweet.
- Protector – Almost 12% of people lock up their accounts, making their tweets as precious as Platinum and harder to find than Rosie O’Donnell’s ballet slippers. Sure, they’re missing the entire point of Twitter, but they can sleep safe knowing no one will ever use their disjointed thoughts and hyperlinks to build an evil cyborg clone.
- Chirper – Chirpers range from stay at home moms to bored teens to professionals. Their one common characteristic is a lack of strategy. They have a vague idea that they might need or should use Twitter, but no clue why. Many abandon it after getting few responses or followers. Others hang around, sending Tweets out like prayers – in case they get heard. After all, it seems harmless, requires little effort, and nothing in their house is on fire. Their tweets range from new recipes to American Idol votes to Staples coupons. Twitter is the Chirper’s repository for dull deliberations that would otherwise bore their cat to death. A smaller, younger group of over-Chirpers reveal way too much. Eventually their tweets will be called ‘Exhibit A’.
- Fan – Though many Fans aren’t much more popular than Chirpers, they have two advantages: purpose and focus. They’re keenly aware that Twitter is a place to follow their favorite athletes, singers, TV shows, and brands. They gobble up their tweets, products, and appearances. They faithfully retweet and reply in hopes of someday bagging that ever elusive @reply or retweet. The ultimate honor is their hero following them back. That day, they’re not taking any nonsense from their spouse and definitely not washing their mouse.
- Networker – The Networker is the most ambitious, optimistic and sometimes, delusional Twitterer. They believe Twitter is important to their career and invest time in finding and following people who might advance it. Many are genuinely interested in others’ ideas. Others are angling for influencers to follow them back. Some Networkers are so persistent they rack up tens of thousands of tweets, follows, and reciprocal followers. Some get a boost from working for a hot brand or having a relevant title. What sometimes vexes and disappoints top Networkers is their massive time commitment and big stats produce little real influence. Twitter’s dirty little secret is that real influence almost never happens in 140 character nibbles. It must happen in the real world first – building a great company, writing a bestseller, saving Darfur. Twitter happens to be a good place to manage existing influence. Networkers represent the best and worst of Twitter. Some know how to use it to find clients, connect with peers, and arrange real-life meetings. They use tools like Hootsuite to control their feed like it’s the Starship Enterprise. Others stoop to buying followers to puff up the veneer of influence. Or, they aggressively un-follow people who don’t follow back. A few post incessantly about social media itself, creating an excruciating echo chamber – like having every show on NBC be about having a show on NBC. (Though tweeting this article is a noble, un-ironic exception.)
- Scouts – Scouts are motivated by discovery. Some break news about protests. Others ferret out details on newsworthy topics. Many are the cool hipsters of Twitter, posting what they see, experience and enjoy. Photos, meals, bands, gadgets, TV shows, video clips, etc. They are constantly monitoring and retweeting others who share information relevant to their passion. Though they’re a small population, Scouts have tight networks that can amplify stories and influence mainstream media.
- Stars – Stars are the ying to the Fan’s yang. The top 1000 twitter accounts have over 3 billion followers. (IdeaFaktory analysis using twitaholic). From Lady Gaga to beefcake Brazilian footballers, Twitter is the place for celebrities to lead their flock, promote their wares, and selectively engage with their audience – without having to douse themselves in Purell. For each tweet, Stars get the most disproportionate level of amplification.
- E-lebrities – E-lebrities are the larger “working class” of celebrities – comedians, writers, top podcasters, authors, tech gurus, and columnists. They are Twitter’s greatest beneficiaries. Though typically not as large as that of Stars, their audience contributes directly to how they earn a living. For example, comedian Joe Rogan can sell out shows across the country using Twitter. His fans will often do the same for others he recommends. E-lebrities are like the country music stars of Twitter, they get closer to fans than Bon Jovi ever would – or need to.
- MediaCo – Of the top 1000 brands on Twitter, most are (unsurprisingly) big media and entertainment companies – CNN, NFL, Time, The Onion, etc. (A few are Twitter tools.) Some MediaCo’s are better than others at maximizing Twitter, but it’s no surprise that businesses built for creating metric tons of digital, shareable content get shares on Twitter.
- Organizations – Businesses are Twitter’s big spenders. Many pay a fortune for social media teams, software and consultants. However, few non-media companies crack the top 1000 list. That rare group includes Starbucks, Whole Foods, Zappos and H&M – all branded sellers of tangible necessities. (OK, you might not need coffee, but let’s face it – you’re addicted and want it really bad.) For most organizations, the big ROI never comes. At least not in sales. Some use it as a poor customer service channel, to monitor brand perception, or fix a self-inflicted tweeting disaster. Most Organizations will never be as lovable or relatable as people. You can’t hug Samsung. It’s not that they shouldn’t try, but Twitter’s real potential lies on the back-end.
The three types of incentives to motivate Twitter users
There are three main types of value exchanges between parties within reward systems: tangible, perceived, and informational/data. On Twitter, some are more effective than others, depending on which user type you’re dealing with.
- Tangible incentives range from good old cash to discounts to free tickets to jobs. Any quantifiable exchange of cash, goods or services is tangible. Chirpers are particularly responsive to transactional rewards. So are Fans, but they’re much more specific in their demands. Some Networkers respond to coupons and deals, but many are hunting bigger game, like jobs or projects.
- Perceived incentives are almost always psychological. It includes feelings of respect, convenience, confidence, access, and loyalty. In the social media era, some perceived rewards, like respect, can now be quantified. For example, if an E-lebrity follows and re-tweets a Fan’s posts, it’s a proxy for respect and be classified as informational. Networkers are particularly attuned to perceived rewards. They can be motivated rather inexpensively, but a high degree of creativity needs to go into creating and matching the reward with the Networker.
- Informational/data – Everyone is awash in data, but to feel rewarding, it must be actionable, even if that action is self-improvement. Scouts live and breathe novelty and thrive on exclusives. Organizations crave understanding big trends that can be broken down into individual actions. They also put a premium on closing the loop – understanding which of their actions caused the right or wrong customer response.
While the act of tweeting has become simpler, the reasons why you should have not. Twitter could facilitate a revolution or it could save you $10 on flowers, but most discover a big, empty desert with a few oases. That means the Twitter crowd isn’t particularly wise or diverse, yet. Until that changes, Twitter remains a tantalizing database with incredibly high bias and potential for flawed, unrepresentative analyses. So feel free to weaponize those incentives for existing Twitter users, but extrapolate at your own peril.
(This is a premium version of Steve Faktor’s original article on Forbes)