Don't really get Twitter? You're not alone.
Recently, my curiosity was piqued by this admission by the Twitter CFO that the social network has failed to gain a mass base. With 300 million active users, Twitter still reaches only early adopters and tech enthusiasts, according to Anthony Noto, and non-users are still left with the question, "why should I use Twitter?" No one asks why they should use Facebook - rather people feel compelled to give reasons why they do not use it.
When I posted this news item on my own Facebook page, I accompanied it with an admission of my own - that I do not use Twitter as extensively, or as well, as I use Facebook. I was surprised by the number of people who popped up and agreed that they never 'got' Twitter - including a couple of friends with hugely popular blogs. All of us are social media users, and a new medium should not be hard to master. Some of my own friends are expert twitterati, and are more than happy to explain to me how Twitter works and what I should be doing on it.
But it's not that I don't know what to do, it's just that I don't enjoy it. It seems to me, as a qualitative researcher, that there must be a segment of people who are Twitter users, versus those who are not. And I don't mean in terms of demographics, but rather, the user mindset and attitude.
First of all, I do not agree entirely with Noto's statement that Twitter only reaches early adopters. Two shining examples in my own household contradict his statement - my parents are both retired and they have taken to Twitter like a duck takes to water. My mom routes all her customer service complaints through Twitter. Dad pitches into political arguments, and his comments get retweeted more than a dozen times a day. Both of them read the news every morning through their Twitter Feed, since we stopped the newspaper at home 6 months ago. And I am the so-called tech enthusiast who does not get Twitter. By admitting this, I am being uncool :)
Here is my take on people who gravitate towards Twitter:
1) My guess is that people on Twitter prefer to have a control over the kind of online persona they build, rather than being 'out there' as real people, which Facebook forces them to do. My parents for example, are violently anti-Facebook. The last thing they want, is to advertise their opinions and activities to people that they know. They both started using Twitter because they could stay anonymous and browse to their heart's content. Once they were comfortable, they began to tweet.
2) They are interested in both participating in, and following, opinions and debates on current topics. On Facebook, I rarely get into debates or arguments with my friends. We agree on most major issues (that's probably why we are friends!). I would avoid getting into controversies with ex or current colleagues or clients. But Twitter is a place where one can express controversial opinions and disagree strongly with strangers opinions. What trends on Twitter? The current topics of discussion which invariably offer a chance to take either side. People take sides, and often dispose of opposition with very crude/rude remarks. This also ties in with the earlier point I made. When you preserve your anonymity, it makes it easier to participate in arguments with strangers, and express strong views.
3) They actually want to make new, like-minded friends. Some years ago, when I had more free time than I do now, I was an active member of several tech forums and discussion groups. There I made an entirely new set of friends - people in different countries whom I would never meet - but who shared a common passion or interest with me. As I became busier, I could barely manage to stay connected even to my first circle of friends. Along with Whatsapp, Facebook became a way to manage these connections, and that became a priority over engaging with new people. But there are people for whom the priority is to engage with newer people, for both personal and professional reasons. Paradoxically, the Twitter user may be more extroverted than the Facebook user, though both need to be sociable people.
Do note, that none of these may apply if you are using Twitter purely for professional reasons. Rather, this is about the personality type of people who naturally gravitate to Twitter.
One of my friends rightly pointed out to me that it's not fair to compare Facebook and Twitter as they serve different purposes entirely. I guess what it boils down to, is that we have limited time and need to make a choice of where we spend more time. For the sake of my business, I might make an effort to maintain a strong presence on every key social media platform. But when it comes to my personal life, I will make a trade off, and chances are, I will end up spending time where I am more comfortable.
If you have experience or data to share, I would love to hear it!