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Participation inequality on Twitter

— Media & Technology —

A new Yahoo! research report titled “Who says what to whom on Twitter” claims that only 0.05% of Twitter users attract attention. The study was picked up by Mashable and everyone and his/her grandma started to discuss the value of Twitter and its potential as a social media marketing tool. Some discussions even occurred offline. Imagine that!

Everyone who knows me, not even well, knows how much I love the Twitter. It’s a human Google Reader on steroids. It’s entertaining. Hello @CharlieSheen! And it’s the easiest way to learn from and meet really smart people, that’s how I met Sue Spaight. Ohh, and did I mention you can get free stuff? Ask Nick Pipitone about that.

You can read this Facebook vs. Twitter post that Sue and I wrote a few months ago. I can tell you about some organizations that have used Twitter in successful and interesting ways. I can introduce you to @NORDSTROMdave (read about how he uses Twitter here) and @BronxZoosCobra. But the issue isn’t about who is on Twitter. The issue is how we use it.

Twitter is participant medium and participant media are notorious for participation inequality, a term defined by Steve Whittaker, Loren Terveen, Will Hill, and Lynn Cherny in “The dynamics of mass interaction” (1998). The term describes the lack of active participation among most users. In 2006 Jacob Nielsen took the theory further and defined the 1:9:90 ratio (creators: editors: audience). However, a more elaborate model has existed for over 15 years, according to Thomas Hoegh, founder and CEO of Art Alliance (see image). The visual speaks for itself and I will not even attempt to explain it.

Participation inequality according to Thomas Hoegh

Participation inequality according to Thomas Hoegh

Still surprised by the statistics from the study? Why did we even expect anything different?

Let’s quit panicking that Twitter might not be the best tool for social media marketing and redefine what “active user” means because even the consuming audience can be very active in consuming. Remember Forrester’s Social Technographics?

Forrester's Social Technographics

Plus, the fewer the creators and conversationalists, the greater the opportunity for brands to receive more attention online. They/we just need to provide value (e.i. content, utility and entertainment) and build relationships. Shouldn’t be that hard.

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