Understanding and Quantifying Twitter Usage

How do we to get the biggest bang for our social media buck? In other words, understanding the metrics of Twitter is on everyone’s mind these days. As marketers attempt to determine the efficacy of their overall social media marketing strategy and how “the new kid on the block” fits into it, the challenge becomes, how do we optimize and monetize our efforts? In other words, how do we quantify Twitter?

As noted in the first two articles in this series, Twitter has taken the world by storm. Or to use a corny pun, Twitter has the Internet a-flutter! The fact is, the growth rate of Twitter is nothing short of phenomenal. The mini-blogging phenomenon has taken the social media world by storm, 140 characters at a time. On Thursday, June 25, 2009, Alexa ranked Twitter #17 in the world, up 66 in 3 months, with an average rank of 36. The growth has been steady, with quite a few peaks and very few valleys. In fact, the valleys seem to be reflective of daily usage patterns rather than any sort of a dip in popularity. The only two areas of decline are in Pageviews/User and Time on Site, down 14.2% and 5%, respectively. The popularity of Twitter in the United States is immediately apparent, with 43.5% of all traffic coming from the States. However, the social media phenomenon is also ranked high in South Africa at #10, #13 in Australia with 2.6% of all traffic to the site originating Downunder, #14 in the US and UK, with 6.2% of all Twitter traffic originating in the British Isles. Significantly, Germany is ranked #20, contributing 8.7% of all traffic to the site, second only to the US. Finally, Japan #137, Russia #153, France #161, and China #169 are at the bottom of the list, in terms traffic rank for those countries listed by Alexa.

One of the most remarkable things about Twitter is that it is entirely free, at least in terms of dollars and cents. Interestingly, the real cost, and one difficult if not impossible to quantify, is the cost in terms of time. As Marc Warnke notes in “ONO: Options Not Obligations,” his masterpiece on “Family First Entrepreneurship,” “money is time.” Marc Warnke discusses, at length, the link between family and business, the book is an awesome template for business and life. “Money is time,” not the other way around! An interesting point, crucial to understanding the real value of time, one that takes some time to get your thinking wrapped around. The book is an awesome template for business and life, one that places emphasis where it belongs and creates a new awareness of the value of time and family.

Money is time!

With Marc’s words in mind, it is easily recognized that Twitter can be addictive. Beyond that, the real benefits of having a presence on the social media platform may be difficult to track in terms of traditional “metrics.” Yes, I know I just used a gobbledygook term! “Metrics!” The real and lasting value of an online presence on Twitter, an Internet image if you will, may rest with the fact that the social media platform offers the “newbie,” just beginning to emerge as an Internet marketer, to establish himself or herself with a foothold, a place to test the waters and hone their message and skills. The advantage to such a presence should be immediately apparent, particularly if the entrepreneur has chosen the Internet marketing niche, a niche that may appear incredibly incestuous at times. A social media presence may allow the new marketer an opportunity to assert himself or herself in what some have referred to as an “old boy network,” and others have referred to as a “high school clique,” of sorts. Whether a valid point or not, the difficulty for the “newbie” to break into the Internet marketing niche is eased somewhat by the ability to connect, build relationships, and indeed bond with perspective clients and fellow entrepreneurs, alike.

So, how do you track the effectiveness of your social media marketing campaign on Twitter or on any other social networking site for that matter? Remember, I called that phrase, “social media marketing,” an oxymoron in a previous article! Beyond that, what is the return on investment (ROI) in this case; and, the chief investment being…time? Before we get into the various tools available to track message and impact, the balancing act between message and selling must be addressed. In other words, when does your message become spam and when is it posting useful information? Because of the nature of this very unique social media platform, it is recognized, even by Twitter, that because you consent to follow someone, either by following or following back, that the dynamics of the relationship come with an implied permission to message. If you don’t like the message, you may simply unfollow the messenger!

During an unscientific study conducted over the course of an hour on one of the slower days for Twitter, Saturday, June 27, 2009, I counted links. Peak days are actually Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. The next highest “tweeting” day of the week is Friday, probably as a result of #FollowFriday, then Monday, Thursday, Saturday, and finally, Sunday. I counted tweets during the peak period for tweets on any day, from 12:22pmEST to I:22pmEST. And, I counted the number of links per page at 5 minute intervals, for 10 minutes at a time. The number of links was actually pretty surprising! Of 800 tweets, 20 per page, 200 every 10 minutes, there were 636 links provided by 612 Tweeple. Interestingly, 2 Twitterers or Tweeple linking up more than once on the same tweet, 1 with 3 on the same tweet. That’s 79.5% of all tweets having links, provided in 76.5%of all tweets provided on the individual Twitter result pages or TWRPs!

Spam or not to spam, that is the question?

Whether ’tis nobler to tweet for tweets’ sake, as opposed to “for Pete’s sake,” little pun there, or is it OK to link away? The evidence seems to suggest that the group-think allows it, if not by rule, certainly by action. However, I cannot help hearing the admonition of Mark Twain, written in his 1904 Notebook, that…”

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).”

Certainly, the majority, by example seems to condone and even encourage what I have come to call “linking up!” I have covered my feelings on this topic at length in a previous article, and intend to address it again in an upcoming series, but suffice it to say that while I too, from time to time “link up,” I am a reformed “linker,” a reformed “linkaholic,” if you will. I do suggest an occasional program and even offer an affiliate link now and then but “I can handle it!” Sound familiar? I wonder! The fact is, linking up may be hazardous to your social media life, and to you Internet image. Why? For a myriad of reasons, some already covered and some we will cover in the upcoming articles.

Back to “metrics,” and how to quantify your Twitter experience. The first tool worth mentioning is TwitterCounter. This application has a number of useful features. The feature immediately apparent upon entering the site is the graph showing the recent follower buildup. The side panel also displays other recent trends, such as growth per day and predictions for the future. It is also possible to compare Tweeple, more than two at a time if you ever had a need for such information. Additionally, you can track your overall follow/follower growth over last few months, as well as the number of tweets during that period. The app also provides a “badge” for your blog or website, featuring the latest Twitter follower stats. There are also a number of other toys you can play around with but they are distractions, beyond the scope of this article.

The next tool to review, one that is also basic like TwitterCounter, yet offers a few nice advantages and is actually quite a powerful application, is Tweetstats. This Twitter application allows you to track how active you have been with a rather nice, colorful graph providing the number of tweets per hour, per day, per month, a nice Tweet timeline, the number of reply statistics, and the number of @’ed Tweeps. On the day this article was written, the number one spot for @’ed Tweeps belonged to DonnieWahlberg with 133, and that was as of 2:33pmEST. The day’s Top 10 Twitte apps are listed as follows: the web, as in Twitter direct, led the way with 58.6%; TweetDeck was next, at 8%; mobile web (iPhones) followed, at 5.7%; and, twitterfeed was right behind, at 5.6%. TweetStats also includes the day’s “Top 10 Trends” and “Current Trending,” useful information for marketers. The application also provides two clouds, one with the “Top 50 Trends of All Time” and the other “Today’s Twitter TrendCloud.”

While a very attractive tool, and one with a great deal of promise, the length of time required to access the information is a real drawback and one that may push Tweeple out the door, particularly those with too little time to wait for the system to load the information requested. I got this as I waited:

Please be patient while I load your tweets. You are currently queued, with 439 other people. – Have a party! Hey, what can I say – people want their stats! ;o)

Interestingly, once the information is finally available, in my opinion at least, it was worth the wait. Tweetstats provides a “Your Tweet Timeline,” broken down by the day (tpd) and by the month, a “Tweet Density” broken down by the day and by the hour, very cool, “Aggregate Daily Tweets,” “Aggregate Hourly Tweets,” “Replies to @’s” (as a percentage of total tweets), the “Interface” most often used (i.e., web, TweetDeck, etc.), and “Who You Retweet” (RT’s as a percentage of total tweets). This is a great tool for tracking time spent, when that time was spent, and whom you have been tweeting with, to, and about. On a single page, this offers as much useful information as any tool available.

Next in line is a site called Twist Flaptor, just one of the applications offered by Flaptor, a very useful information retrieval engine. You may already be familiar with another Flaptor application, TwitterSearch Flaptor. The Twist Flaptor application is very helpful for breaking information down over periods of time, providing a glance at various trends and activity patterns, as well. The big difference with Twist is the fact that it is very powerful and quite up-to-date. Not only can you get trends for the last 24 hours, you can get them for the past 7 days and the last 30 days, all on the same graph. It will also provide the actual tweets for any keyword, and trend, you are interested in for any given day. Very useful! The side panel on Twist also provides the current “Trending topics,” including the most popular links, something the others do not offer. Overall, this application is quite useful, particularly when used in concert with other apps, and may add to our overall marketing strategy.

Last but certainly not least is Hubspot’s Twitter Grader! The Grader application is available for Twitter and for facebook. Twitter Grader is very interesting and useful, collecting data and then running it through an algorithm to establish the measure of an individual’s reach, authority, and even their power on Twitter. As the developer of the Grader explains how it measures and “grades” users, “when you tweet, what kind of an impact does it have?” The application measures number of followers you have, the power of those followers, the number of updates and the recency of those updates, the following/follower ratio is accounted for, and the “engagement” level, based on the reach of an individual user. Once all of the above factors are entered, a grade calculation, a ranking, and an evaluation as to “areas of concern,” if any, are delivered. The Twitter Grader also offers a powerful search application, several features of adding badges to blogs and websites, others for making tweeting easier, and still others for discovering the top users, cities, states, and countries are. Overall, the HubSpot Twitter Grader is a very nice application and one every marketer should have in his or her arsenal.

There are other Twitter tools we will discuss in the next article in this series on Twitter and social media. Some of the tools to be discussed are awesome for tracking links, some are great for ascertaining overall influence, some for helpful for tracking “ReTweets,” and still others are good for establishing how deep and wide your reach is on Twitter and in social media generally. Additionally, we will discuss applications with marketing possibilities, particularly those tracking up-to-the-minute keyword and trends on a display similar to a Twitter page. Overall, Twitter offers a number of possibilities for marketers and should be considered a valuable tool. However, it is still this author’s opinion that many are simply not using Twitter properly or at least to its fullest advantage. We will continue to discuss this position during the ongoing series of articles on social media, and yes, “social media marketing.”