How To Do Better Targeting on Twitter

“Good relationships aren’t transactional.” – Dan Ariely, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations

Twitter communication is transactional. The Dan Ariely quote above may illustrate that conventional wisdom social media interaction is often wrong, especially on Twitter. We are not building substantive relationships at scale. Most businesses are segmenting communication to serve the needs of the different targets within social platforms. One tactic will hardly ever be appropriate for everyone that we want to reach on any platform.

What I want to do in this post is take a look at who is using Twitter and how the way they interact on the platform is important to how you reach them. Of course, the statistics that I cite will not be accurate for every business, but there are some important aspects of different Twitter users that we often overlook when discussing the platform.

Who Uses Twitter and Why?

Twitter Demographics
As is the case with most social platforms, participation on Twitter concentrates with younger users. The chart above from Pew Internet substantiates this, although it is worth noting that usage in the 30 to 49-year-old age group is likely a higher percentage than you would find on Snapchat or Instagram. For scale, Twitter’s monthly average users are relatively stagnant at 313 million, 82% of which are mobile (For perspective, Facebook has 1.70 billion monthly average users). Also, the US accounts for only 21% of Twitter users.

The reasons that people use Twitter also may be a bit counterintuitive to what you might think. The majority of people polled by Pew Research Center say that they use Twitter primarily as a means for news discovery. In fact, only 30 to 45% of respondents say that they use Twitter for self-expression. But more on this a little later…

Facebook and Twitter News Use is on the Rise

So a “birds-eye” view of aggregate Twitter users is a group of 313 million that trends (kind of) young, and are more interested in news discovery than in self-expression on the network. And all of these users are having to adjust to changes such as “Moments,” “Mute,” and increasing exposure to advertising and promotion. So, let’s try to identify some of the primary groups that you may want to (or not want to) target with your marketing or communications.

The Illustrious “Superusers”

A few years ago, a study was conducted demonstrating that 90% of the messaging on Twitter is created by 10% of the users. These “super users” have never been shown to be more or less likely to convert a click through on a Tweet than anyone else, or to consume any more or less content than anyone else. The general assumption about superusers is that they spend more time on the platform and are more likely to consume and amplify content. Presumably because of API restrictions, there isn’t any more recent data to suggest a change in this dynamic. We do know that the actual number of tweets has decreased in 2016 from its 2014 peak. Considering robots and autoresponders also fall within this category, it is likely that the number of superusers is well below 10% of all users.

Assuming that a superuser has a larger audience (because of the increased amount of time they spend on the platform) and has a disproportionate amount of influence because of the frequency of their messaging, you may consider segmenting superusers with the intention to co-opt their widespread influence on the platform. When setting up metrics for a superuser, if all other factor remain the same, superusers should convert more often than any other segment because of their time on site.

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The Dynamic “Ghosts”

A couple of studies demonstrate that a sizable proportion of active Twitter users do not post content (Tweets) to the platform. The ghosts of Twitter are numerous. In fact, numbers from a 2013 study, indicate that slightly less than 50% of all active Twitter users fall into this category. This is fantastic news for communications and marketing professionals, because these Twitter users’ entire (Twitter) existence is devoted to content consumption. If you can get a Follow from these users, they may be targetable for conversion events despite the lack of interactivity that they demonstrate on Twitter.

The numbers for this demographic are stunning: 50% of 313 million active users is about 156 million. So finding ways to reach this audience and perhaps to convert them to a more interactive platform such as email or even Facebook could be a critical aspect of your social media strategy. That said, these folks are not amplifiers and probably require discovery by another means: either acquisition within Twitter or some referral from a third-party (using a tool such as the Follow button).

The Magnanimous Averages

If 10% of all active users are super users and 50% of all active users are ghosts, then there is another 40% of users that I like to call the “magnanimous averages.” These folks are creating 10% of the content on Twitter and most likely have modest followings, perhaps of friends and family. They may use Twitter for news discovery or as the second screen, and probably their time on site trends closer to the ghosts than superusers.

80% of Twitter users have less than 50 followers (this is more illustrative than the mean, which would take Katy Perry’s and Justin Bieber’s accounts into consideration). Same as ghosts, the magnanimous averages are most likely to be connected to friends and family rather than to a lot of strangers. But unlike ghosts, the averages create Tweets (content) to their followers. So, magnanimous averages may not only be a target that is more interactive, but capable of influencing within a close-tie peer / familial group. This isn’t universally true, but people who use Twitter to communicate with friends are most likely to fall within this categorization.

The Inactives

Finally, we get to the inactive. The percentage of overall Twitter users that are not active on the platform. As time goes by, the number of inactive followers for any account will increase. Assuming that there are perhaps 1 billion Twitter accounts in service, this means that 68% of all Twitter accounts are inactive. There are plenty of third-party tools (such as ManageFlitter or Fakers) that can identify this percentage for any account fairly quickly.

The important insight about inactive accounts is to understand how prevalent they are, and that the capability to communicate and or market to users on Twitter is less than the number of Twitter followers that a business or person has.

Conclusion

Whatever we use the term “social media,” we lump in a lot of disparate things: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc. Most communications and marketing professionals would never use the same strategy on YouTube that they would use on Twitter.

What I wanted to highlight in this post was that even within popular social platforms, there is a tremendous amount of diversity about who is using the platform, why they are using the platform, who they use the platform with, and for how long they use the platform. Twitter is not unique in this regard, but they do have some well-established segments that communications professionals would do well to consider when creating a social media strategy. Marketing and PR professionals will not build a long-lasting relationship (in a traditional sense) by using transactional social media – we have to create value where the user sees value, and this is where understanding these distinctions may prove useful.

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