Tom Webster, writing and speaking

The Uneasy Relationship Between Twitter and Social Media Measurement

Added on by Tom Webster.

Recently, I presented some brand new research into the adoption and usage of social media in America at Blogworld in New York. This report, entitled The Social Habit 2011 (you can download the complete study for free here) was based upon a random, representative and projectable study of 2,020 Americans 12+, and was the 19th in an ongoing series of reports we've issued since 1998. Sometimes, when I present research, I'll hear people say things like "I knew that," or "this doesn't surprise me." Here are three facts from that study that I suspect will surprise you - and, taken together, should cause you to completely rethink how you use social media data. I'll buy you a drink if they don't.

First of all, let's take the relative popularity and usage of Facebook and Twitter:

Social Network Usage 2011

Now, you may or may not be surprised by this. Certainly you knew that Facebook was the ten-ton gorilla of social networks; they are, in fact, the great outlier. You might also have therefore deduced that Twitter was necessarily smaller. The fact, however, that Twitter is 6-7 times smaller than Facebook (and this has been corroborated both by our previous tracking studies, and in work done by the equally reputable Pew Internet and American Life Project) does surprise most people I run into, particularly if they spend lots of time on Twitter, which does tend to bias the sample :)

Second, we asked those Americans who follow brands, products or services on one or more social networks, what social network they use the most for brand-following behavior. The answer should not surprise you, though the magnitude of the disparity might:

The Social Habit 2011 by Edison Research 050

So, while Facebook is already 6-7 times larger than Twitter, the disparity in brand-following behavior is even larger, with over 12x more Americans who follow brands on social networks saying they do so most on Facebook than those who do so most on Twitter.

Finally, we asked all social networking users what social site or service is the most influential to their buying and purchase behavior. The number one answer? None of them. Number two, however, should again be no surprise:

The Social Habit 2011 by Edison Research 051

While 24% of social networking users named Facebook as the "most influential" to their purchase decisions, no other site or service broke 1%, including Twitter (which was just at 1%, actually). So, for this particular question, Facebook was named 24 times more often. The biggest disparity of all.

With all of that said, I'm not denigrating Twitter - it's a very important service to me, and (if you do the work to determine this) it might be very important for your business. Or it might not. But consider this:

Most of Facebook's user data (and, even worse, an indeterminate amount of Facebook's user data) is not exposed to sites and services that measure sentiment, buzz and influence. So all of the new crop of sites and services that measure these things, from Klout to Crimson Hexagon to Radian6, rely heavily on Twitter, the Internet's great easy button, as their most easily accessible source of unstructured social media data.

Think about this, however. If one percent of social media users actually tell you that Twitter is the social site that most influences their buying decisions, and services like Klout measure social media influence predominately through algorithms based upon Twitter (they could hardly dispute this), just how far apart are the measures you derive from these services from actual reality?

The answer itself isn't scary. The fact that you don't know the answer is what is scary.

That answer is knowable. It isn't rocket surgery, though it is work to figure it out, no question - it's the work I do every day for brands. If you aren't doing that work - the real work of social media measurement - then I would submit you don't know anything about the real impact of your social media measurement efforts.

But I'll happily buy you that drink, if I'm wrong.