Twitter’s Way Forward: Analytics and Interest Graphs

With just a few days remaining before Facebook’s IPO, it’s clear that Mark Zuckerberg and his team in Menlo Park have built a substantial business opportunity around the world’s social graphs.  And, based on Facebook’s recent data showing a 45% year-over-year quarterly revenue growth, they’re monetizing at a respectable pace.

Is there a similar opportunity for Twitter?

The platform has been nothing short of a world phenomenon, popular in countries around the world, an undisputed factor in significant political change and a star for customer service. It continues to grow rapidly, with a recent eMarketer study projecting that Twitter’s growth will be up to 4x higher than Facebook (on a lower base) in 2014. And, there are many of us who greatly value the discovery and connections we achieve through Twitter.

Our own research suggests exposure to social content has a significant impact on brand perception and sales impact (2-7x increased probability of purchase lift based on a restaurant study).  So, the general outlook for social content is bright.

The Problem

Yet, even with its success in some high-visibility areas and its fantastic growth, it just doesn’t seem like Twitter has quite hit its stride yet.  It has been overshadowed by Facebook and, at least for now, new entrants, like Pinterest.

  • Active user base lags Facebook. It’s the number-two social network, based on visits, but its current total user active base is still significantly lower than Facebook’s (about 1/6 of Facebook in the US, according to eMarketer*).
  • Time spent is remarkably low. Monthly average time spent on Twitter (36 minutes) is 91% lower than time on Facebook (6 hours, 33 min) and 54% lower than Pinterest (1 hour, 17 min), according to Mediabistro/Statista.
  • Brand revenue growth has been slow. Partially as a result of the above factors, monetization has lagged, with Twitter’s estimated 2011 revenues at $139.5 million (eMarketer), or about 1/25th of Facebook’s $3.71 billion actual 2011 revenues (S-1 filing).

It seems that these issues are among those threatening Twitter’s ability to increase its momentum with brands and organizations.

The Way Forward

Based on the data above, some of our own research, and some thinking based on work with brands, it appears that there are three steps that could make a dramatic difference for Twitter:

  • Provide more business impact data and allow paid targeting around more business impact factors.  With their focus on engagement, Twitter’s analytics don’t demonstrate business value for brands (both for paid and earned engagement).  Facebook has built a useful brand lift analysis partnership with Nielsen (although that focuses on paid) and their newer ad products provide some additional ad targeting capabilities.  It would be very useful to see more Paid/Owned/Earned analytics around the core business impact areas of Reach, Positioning, Preference and Action/Sales.
  • Create improved experiences around interests.  The platform’s focus on a real-time stream of short data chunks has made it well-suited for lighter engagement, as reflected in the time-spent stats.  It’s great for checking out what’s trending, or shooting a quick @reply to someone, or Tweeting a customer service issue.  What about creating more of an experience around interests? From kayaking to cloud computing, it seems that there must be a better user experience for conversation and discovery around interests. And, make it a core experience element, not one provided by a third party. There’s unique value for brands and organizations if this happens.
  • Improve the visibility of relevant Tweets.  In our study, we saw a ratio of brand-related Tweet exposure that was significantly below that reported for Facebook brand-related stories, even when adjusted for the relative sizes of the active user bases. Some options for improving the visibility of Tweets from people one follows include word clouds, a squareified tree map, or just an optional Important Tweets view, drawing on signals like RTs and frequency.  Hopefully, some of those relevant Tweets would include brand or organization Tweets.

In summary, there are some important analytics improvements that would be great to see.  Additionally, it seems like discovery and engagement around interests are key underleveraged benefits of Twitter.

Much like Facebook has built an experience around social graphs, Twitter can and should build a better experience around interest graphs.


*Internet users who access their Twitter or Facebook accounts at least once a month, eMarketer March 2012

Published by

Irfan Kamal

VP, Digital Strategy