As Twitter Grows, How Will Its User Base Change?

By Kaitlyn Smeland Dhanaliwala | Mar 20, 2009
More Articles by Kaitlyn

This morning, Marketing Pilgrim pointed out that in the most recent Nielsen NetView data on “community sites,” Twitter shows a 1382% increase in its user base (year-over-year, February).  That’s no typo- that’s actually over one thousand percent!

From among the internet industries, it certainly has felt that way in recent months.  I started using Twitter along with my co-workers over a year ago (although it took me a while to see its full value).  But since the beginning of the year, there have been more blog posts and conference seminars on Twitter than I can keep up with.  I’ve also noticed a sudden spike in the number of friends outside the industry asking me, “So what do you know about this Twitter thing?”  Media Caffeine has now generated a list of 14 Twitter personality profiles.  And Google Trend’s search data seems to support Nielsen’s assessment of Twitter’s explosion in popularity:

Twitter search traffic increases

Clearly, the stage of Twitter’s growth marked by early adopters is giving way to a new stage of mainstream adoption.  Interestingly, two of my past Marketing professors have recently conducted some research on the backlash mainstream mass marketing can have on early adopters.

Professors Reibstein and Zhang give the example of Porsche, which had a great share of the sports car market until it entered the SUV market.  As SUV sales grew, sports car sales fell sharply.  With all those SUV people degrading the brand, Porsche didn’t seem so attractive to sports car enthusiasts anymore.

The principle could also be applied to social media sites. Many of us remember that fateful day when all of a sudden our parents (or even grandparents!) friended us on Facebook, right?  Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital says this is normal for social sites; most online communities eventually dissipate as they are invaded by new, larger communities using the same technology.  He predicts that Twitter is no different and its original community will dissipate, in part because:

Twitter is losing its geek creds as celebs flock to the service. Historically, as the geeks go, so goes social media. I believe that the Founding Fathers and Mothers of Twitter – people who gave the service it’s wings, will soon tire of it and seek the next shiny object.

But will the “geeks” leave altogether? I don’t think so.

One important takeaway from Riebstein and Zhang’s research is that even taking the potential backlash against early adopters into account, it may be worthwhile for a company (or in this case, a social media site) to go ahead and open itself up to the mainstream market.  With all these new demographics getting in on the Twitter action, will the “geeks” lose all interest in how Twitter evolves and tries to monetize itself?

Yes, the social media insiders will of course move on to explore new and exciting media.  Will they leave Twitter completely in the meantime? Judging by the fast proliferation of Twitter-related applications (like TweetDeck) which offer users more filtering and organization options- as well as the fact that even us geeks sometimes want to read what Shaq is having for lunch– I would guess that people from all industries will stay active on Twitter for quite a while.

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