Most readers don’t care what you tweet, researchers say. Should you care what “most readers” think?

Twitter confused
Twitter stock photo from original research post

New research making the rounds in media says that most readers don’t care what you tweet.

The research and commentary suggests that because a certain per cent of Twitter users (which, as you’ll see below is admittedly bias) don’t like what you might be tweeting about so you should probably tweet about other stuff.

Media love sensationalized research (like this piece) to sensationalize research like this because it causes people to pause and take notice. The unfortunate byproduct of this sensationalism is soon you’ll see “experts” quoting this “research” while they tell you exactly how you should behave on Twitter and what type of content you should produce. The problem is a big piece of the puzzle is missing from this research and is probably the most important content consideration… Context.

If content is king… 

Context still matters. I went to the site which collected the data and discovered that it is simply asking people to anonymously rank tweet contents. It doesn’t tell you who is posting it. It does suggest that you can rank your friends’ content but I think even that is done anonymously (I’m not sure because I only got an error message when I tried to test it out). From the language in the article it seems that the data presented is based on the anonymous ranking system.

Also painfully lacking is the consideration that Twitter is more than a content distribution system (as even using the word ‘readers’ insinuates). In fact it’s a lot more. To many, it’s about building relationship–you know the “networking” part of social networking? Yes, the type of content you put out on Twitter can help or hinder your relationship building, but it’s certainly all relative and completely subjective. Who are you looking to reach and what type of content are they looking for in Twitter pals?

This isn’t the first time a research piece on Twitter use caused mainstream ripples–a couple years ago some one else put out research saying “40% of tweets were pointless babble” the media again was on fire sharing this revolutionary news. And what was often quoted as pointless babble was people tweeting about what they eat. Is that really pointless? It says right in my profile that I like local food, and if someone is tweeting about a new local food spot that has great food, that’s absolutely not pointless to me. Furthermore, if that person is someone I’ve come to trust to speak about food than there’s even more meaning in that tweet. Unfortunately that value can’t be measured in this type of research.

This further leads to the unfortunate outcome that will surely follow once everyone reads and reacts to this “news.” For example, following the “40% is pointless babble” news was a trend of Twitter accounts that simply tweeted links to “newsworthy content” and skipped all that pointless babble. Yes the New York Times Twitter account (and pretty much any mainstream media on Twitter) does this and is successful, but do you find random accounts that do that interesting? Neither do I, and now services like let you easily identify these boring link spewers and unfollow them all in bulk. As for the media taking this approach–the *reason* they do it successfully is they’ve already built up the trust and relationships with readers through the use of newsworthy content and credibility. That is context.

Bias participation

What’s even more damning about the so-called advice in this “research” is the bias participation:

“The researchers acknowledge, however, that the study participants were not fully representative of Twitter users. Most were referred to the study by technology-focused friends and websites and could be categorized as “informers,” who value sharing links and content.”

So unless you are trying to reach and impact “informers” in the technology-focused industry, does this really mean anything to you? The key takeaway from this research should be:

LISTEN. Understand your audience and what their needs are and shape your content accordingly. When you listen you also are showing that you actually care about the people reading your tweets, and in turn they will probably care about you too, whether the content you’re putting out is worthy according to this scale or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *