A social media monitoring company says only 29 percent of posts on Twitter are retweeted or get a reply. That’s prompted claims that the figure proves Twitter is full of empty noise, claims that are neither accurate nor relevant.
Sysomos examined 1.2 billion tweets posted in the last two months. (Presumably these don’t include those made by people who only allow their tweets to be seen by selected users: it would be interesting to know if the figures are different among such posts.)
The company found that 71 percent of posts got “no reaction”, six percent were retweeted and 23 percent got a public reply. That automatically prompts a “Huh?” as it adds up neatly to 100 percent but doesn’t account for messages that get both a retweet and a reply.
Of these responses, the vast majority (92.4% of retweets and 96.9% of replies) happened within an hour of the original tweet. That’s hardly a shock: if a message has gone an hour without a retweet, the chances of anyone new seeing it drop immensely: the audience becomes limited to those users who scroll back through their entire timeline.
Some writers have jumped to quick conclusions about the results: Mashable’s Jennifer Van Grove believes the study “suggests that an overwhelming majority of our tweets fall on deaf ears.” That’s nonsense. By definition Twitter account holders make scarce use of the retweet and reply function. If everyone retweeted every post, the service would be flooded and the message sent out by a retweet, that *this* post is particularly notable, would be meaningless.
As for replies, the Sysomos study and the response to it in some circles again misses the point. It shows that of those posts that prompt a reply from a user, 85% only have that reply, 10.7% have a reply followed by a response from the original poster, and 1.53% go a step beyond that. Sysomos writes that this “shows that only a small number of users actually have the ability to engage on Twitter in a significant way.”
This misses the point in so many ways. First of all, many Twitter users follow an etiquette that you don’t treat Twitter like an instant messaging chat service: if you want to get into a personal conversation, you take it to direct messages. It also fails to realise that many Twitter users know one another in “real life”, so a conversation may continue via e-mail, telephone or a face to face meeting. And it works on the flawed basis that a one off “conversation” of three consecutive replies is somehow more of an engagement than months of daily posts back and forth with the occasional Twitter reply.
But beyond these specifics, the problem is that surveys such as this utterly miss the point of Twitter. These figures are for the aggregate of all users, whereas every Twitter user’s experience is personal. Even if 71 percent of posts were completely pointless, that doesn’t make it a good or bad thing because people choose which posters to follow and how to engage with them. Sysomos is using the same logic as saying that there’s no point owning a cellphone because most cellphone conversations are trivial.