Thursday, September 13, 2012

Do you tweet or are you tweeted at?

With a 50 million + user base, which is growing rapidly alongside mobile, Facebook has become an established social media platform in India, overtaking the persistent Orkut in 2012. And with a user base of 14 million, LinkedIn has entrenched itself firmly in the professional space.

The growth story for Twitter has been slower among Indian users. With 15 million users and 20,000 users with more than 500 followers, it's not as if Indians do not use the site. What is more subtle and interesting is the difference in the quality of usage.

Do a qualitative check on the quality of Twitter usage among your peers in office, or your offline friends. You may hear something like this. 

Many will have Twitter accounts but everyone will surely have a Facebook account. 
Those who have Twitter accounts may use them less frequently than Facebook.
Those who are active on Twitter may be passively following rather than tweeting, or at best clicking on some links.
And those who tweet may be re-tweeting more than sending out original tweets.

Brands generally have more active followers  on Facebook than Twitter. The exception would be customer service oriented twitter accounts of telcos/ online service providers which do see more action.

It would be interesting to understand just what's going on. 

Speaking for myself, I use Twitter more frequently than I use Facebook. I use Twitter to quickly push out links that I want to share, which get cross published on Facebook as well. I don't know if this qualifies as tweeting! I seldom compose original tweets. I think the 140 character limit taxes me and pressures me to be extra creative and concise. Unfortunately I am neither. 

Then again, I enjoy the vibrant community of my friends much more on Facebook. Twitter feeds move at such a dizzying pace that I miss half the tweets and I don't know if anyone gets to see mine. While I push out more tweets, I get more and deeper responses to them on Facebook. And I spend more time on Facebook, though I post less. I frankly feel more connected through Facebook.

Abroad, twitter has been adopted and grown through various creative user-initiated ways. Using hashtags to create movements and trending topics. Using @ to include people in an interactive tweet fest. By nations like Syria and Egypt to spread messages about the situation suppressed by the government and to overthrow the political regime. In drug-war over-run Mexico, people rely on Twitter for real time news of shoot-outs, to know if it's safe to step out, to send kids to school. And even as an informer network to track drug dealers.

In India, it's just not happening and I wonder why.

I see Twitter becoming a very practical and useful tool, with a distinct role compared to Facebook. It could be fantastic to disseminate breaking news, real time traffic updates (Mumbai traffic jams), status on public transport strikes and bandhs, just to name a few. All these can also carry user-created real time updates so that we pool together information to form a picture. It could be addictive. The last time it happened was during the Mumbai terrorist attacks nearly 4 years ago.

What I see instead is a tendency to passively follow film stars, sportstars
  and CEOs. 

Is it the character limit that inhibits loquacious Indians, is it a lack of  understanding of tweet etiquette or do we just like the comfort of chatting with our friends?

I would like to see Twitter carve out its niche in India. Maybe it would take some innovative ideas in terms of sites and mobilisation of users. Certainly, it can be a much more powerful tool than it is today.