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The Uneasy Relationship Between Twitter and Social Media Measurement

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.

The Uneasy Relationship Between Twitter and Social Media Measurement is a post from: BrandSavant. Copyright 2010, Tom Webster. Thanks for reading!

Join The Conversation

  • Jun 30 Posted 4 years ago Nicole Feliciano (not verified)

     "My friends and family are on facebook and the people I share the majority of my interests with are on Twitter." Couldn't agree more we use twitter to seed trends and facebook to carry it to the next level.

  • Jun 30 Posted 4 years ago High Line Media (not verified)

    In my experience, Facebook is the best social media platform to reach consumers, Twitter, to reach influencers. 

  • Jun 9 Posted 4 years ago Lauren Nelson (not verified) I appreciate the work here, and agree with what Matt Cooper pointed out, but I think there's another piece of the puzzle being missed: the qualitative nature of the research. I'm not saying qualitative research is bad, but realistically, consumers are not always the best judge of what they're influenced by. Moreover, much of social media strategy revolves around the "soft sell"- meaning that it's about getting noticed rather than blatantly pushing people to the checkout. In this vein, I have to disagree somewhat with Patrick Lane, as information dissemination CAN BE brand building- it bolsters your reputation as an expert. One of my current clients has been in business in the investing world for 9 years now. I'd venture to say that 90% of their business has come from web-based referrals, and they have been ahead of the curve in social media for the past 4 years. Nearly all they do is publish educational materials and disseminate. Anecdotal evidence? Sure, but it highlights the fact that the study, while indubitably valuable, is not comprehensive.
  • Jun 8 Posted 4 years ago Patrick Lane (not verified) Interesting stats. I also find it very interesting that this article was retweeted 291 times and posted to Facebook only 21 times (as of 7:20 AM, 6/8). It seems like tweeting is better suited for information dissemination than brand awareness. The networks are however very different. Each made for social networking, but each having attributes the other does not. Facebook has many more options for interaction between individuals and companies and vice versa (even companies to companies). Just like MySpace provides better options for entertainment fan interaction, Twitter and Facebook’s options are different and not as targeted, which lead to less use in that area. It would be nice to see statistics based on key attributes of each service (that are similar) and see how many people use one service over the other based on those attributes. From there we could deduce the best service to focus our marketing efforts. But I still can't deny that Facebook has a huge user base, which is a great marketing target! Thanks for article!
  • Jun 7 Posted 4 years ago Jim Devine (not verified)

    Interesting/enlightening data.As you say Facebook is the gorilla,but the article makes me speculate on the lightning fast evolution in social media's influence on purchasing habits;retail, commercial and overall brand influences-Thanks 

  • Jun 6 Posted 4 years ago Matt Cooper (not verified)

    The stats are the stats, no question. I do think the survey is missing an important piece of info.  Not everyone uses twitter and facebook for the same reasons.  Look at this post for example.  Close to 100 retweets and only 3 facebook likes at the time I write this comment.

    The reason as I see it is that I interact and expect differnt things from twitter than I do facebook.  My friends and family are on facebook and the people I share the majority of my interests with are on Twitter.  Its by my design.  That means when I have a comment to make about a product or service, I don't complain on facebook, its not appropriate for the way I use it.

    So while facebook is the prodominate influencer for buying decisions when a story breaks about a bloggers customer service problem, it happens on twitter.

    I think that they both add value in different ways.  In this case I'm not convinced the right questions were asked?

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