Don’t believe the celebrity Twitter hype

This excerpt from E! Channel’s The Soup is from one week of Twitter mentions on prime time TV in the US. Even though the celebrities have been drawing the masses onto Twitter, Nielsen reported yesterday that around 60% of users signing up to Twitter “fail to return” after a month. The report has been picked up verbatim by the ABC & SBS and has been retweeted throughout the day. In Australia, the report hasn’t been given any kind of analysis or insight by people who actually use Twitter

In one corner we have “celebrities are bringing the masses to Twitter and ruining it for early adopters”. In the other corner we have “Twitter has only 40% retention rate for new users and won’t keep exponential growth”. Reality is somewhere in the middle, but do celebrities amplify the Twitter hype?

  1. Retention rate does not take into account those who sign up for an account try it out and go “dormant”. I was one of these users, being a very early adopter signing up and tweeting occasionally in March 2007.¬† I “reactivated” more than a year after signup. and now classify myself as a heavy user.
  2. Nielsen’s analysis of Twitter is just like it was any other “site”. Not sure if its taking into account the Twitter clients – 3rd party applications particularly iPhone and Blackberry applications. The rise and rise of Twitter can almost be directly linked to the release of iPhone 3G in July 2008, and mobile Twittering (with or without GPS) is one of the most useful tools
  3. Celebrity users do attract mainstream users, but whilst they have thousands of followers, very few celebrities follow back or respond to the mainstream. Celebrity feeds tend to be one way broadcast channels, all valid because fans can still feel closer by observing the minutiae of celebrity everyday life. This ready reckoner shows the followee/follower ratio for many US celebrity twitter accounts.
  4. New users need a reason to continue to use Twitter. Whether its chatting to their existing friends, finding new ones, using Twitter to promote their business, blog, website, product or service, it helps to have someone you know/trust who can show you the way. Celebrities are useful role models for other things – why not Twitter?

Nielsen concludes Twitter needs a higer retention rate to compete with Facebook and MySpace (currently at 70% of new users), to keep the exponential growth. Ironically it’s Facebook that has Twitter envy, not vice versa. Twitter has not changed its basic structure or functionality since its launch, whilst Facebook might have high retention rates, it continues to alienate its core users by chopping and changing and trying to emulate Twitter’s newsy, fast paced quality.

What do you think? Do celebrities encourage new users to stay and use Twitter? Or do they encourage sign ups and subsequent abandonment of Twitter because it fails to live up to the hype?