Twitter: Where the Elite Mete Neat Tweets

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Twitter might be the current darling of the online social networking world…but the Harvard Business School is finding that in some ways, Twitter’s 140-character message limits and simple follow-and-be-followed model make it fundamentally different from other social network sites it has examined. The study looked at a random sample of some 300,000 Twitter accounts last month, and found that—for instance—men on average have 15 percent more followers than women, and that men are almost twice as likely to follow another man’s tweets as a woman’s tweets. This gender discrepancy flies in the face of a typical social networking site like Facebook or MySpace, in which a major portion of the activity is centered around women.

Twitter’s usage patterns also differed from other social networking sites, where users tend to explore different features and try things out. In contrast, Twitter has essentially one feature—tweeting—and among Twitter users the median number of lifetime tweets per user is—get this—one. In practice, this means that more than half of Twitter’s users are posting tweets less often than once every 74 days.

However, there’s no denying that some individuals are extremely active on Twitter—and it turns out they account for a huge amount of Twitter’s traffic. According to the Harvard Business School study, the top 10 percent of highly active Twitter users account for over 90 percent of all tweets carried by the service. In contrast, the 10 percent most active users of a typical social networking service usually account for about 30 percent of the overall traffic. The study concludes, therefore, that in some ways Twitter is less of a social networking tool—whereby people have conversations and forge connections—than a one-way broadcasting medium whereby a small number of users—and companies, of course—broadcast their messages to an audience without necessarily participating in any Twitter-based conversation.