60% of Twitter users do not return the following month? They might return a year later
So we have all read the story about the so-called ‘Twitter quitters’, i.e. people who do not return the following month and the percentage of which, according to Nielsen, amounts to 60%. This single month is probably not enough to conclude that users “wind up abandoning the service” – or at least that is what my (very limited sample of 17 users) suggests.
Here is the context: Tomorrow I am heading to Gießen, where I will be giving a talk about my Twitter research at the Web as Culture conference. The original title was “‘Betwittered and Between‘: The Rite of Passage of Becoming a Micro-blogger” – I have meanwhile adjusted it to “„Betwittered and Between“: Social Media Use as a Liminoid Phenomenon.”*
In the context of this research, I also had a look at Twitter activity over time. Please consider the bias of my sample: I only selected users who were still active in May 2009 – I identified them by searching for tweets that were posted in the past two weeks via whendidyoujointwitter.com/, as I was looking for users who has signed up in 2006 and early 2007. As limited as the relevance of this is with regard to the entire Twitter community: Almost all of the users in a my sample went into a Twitter hiatus at one point – some of them even stopped twittering for several months. And this didn’t stop them from returning much much later.
What does this suggest: If you want to talk about retention rate, one month is probably not a long enough period to consider. Not even with a platform that only went public in July 2006. (But of course if, as an agency, you want to draw attention to your work, go ahead and tweak your data to show that the hype is overrated).
EDIT: If you look at the bart chart you’ll notice that some only start at October 2008 – everyone in this sampled was signed up by March 2007, some of them just never wrote their first tweet until a year later! Tweetstats.com doesn’t consider sign-up date, it starts with the first tweet.
*) To explain the title: Liminality is the middle stage in a rite of passage, characterized by ambiguity and anti-structure, a period of effacement, in which the ritual subject is both detached from it previous social status and undefined, above the law: “dead to the social world, but alive to the asocial world” as Victor Turner put it in 1982. The Liminoid, then, is an update of the concept of Liminality for societies after the Industrial Revolution, which are marked by the distinction of work and leisure. In early agrarian and tribal societies, by contrast, everything is ‘work’, also the observation of a ritual or a holiday: work for the gods.
So one of my hypotheses is that using social media is a Liminoid phenomenon, something that first requires detachment – think of your friends, followers and updates stats first displaying a threatening zero – and later, after a period of crisis, elevates the subject (this is putting a complex matter very, very briefly, by the way). One of the more interesting aspects of my hypothesis (which I haven’t elaborated yet, but will do so for an October conference) is that social media allow for a certain prolongation of the Liminoid which normally has to come to an end sooner or later. According to Turner, the Liminoid is marked by communitas, a form of egalitarian community spirit, and the Liminoid as such can be considered an “institutional capsule or pocket which contains the future of social developments of societal change” (Turner). Of course those who were silly enough to demand the Nobel Peace Prize for Twitter would love that (read Nicole Kolisch’s rant about it – in German), meaning that I need to be very careful to not jump to conclusions that would support the arguments of cultural populism.
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