Twitter Not Going Mainstream? Correct, It Already IS Mainstream!

I read Henry Blodget's Business Insider article, "Here's Twitter's Big Problem: It's Not Going Mainstream," and it made me reflect on how we define the word "mainstream," because by any definition I can think of that matters, Twitter is already mainstream.

Henry's article isn't incorrect in its assessment of Twitter's challenges for growth.  The microblog does tend to appeal more to those in tech circles than others, and it has a relatively high barrier to entry because it works best after you've dedicated time to find, follow and list the people you care to track.  But it is the way Henry equates traffic and users to mainstream that makes me think we might need a different yardstick by which to measure mainstream.

According to the article, Twitter has 145 million users worldwide, but Twitter.com only welcomes slightly less than 29 million unique users each month.  On this basis, it might seem to be more niche than mainstream, but if 29 million is not mainstream, then neither is:

My point is that "mainstream" isn't really determined by sheer numbers but by cultural impact, and in this regard is there any question of whether Twitter is mainstream?  Consider...

  • Mainstream news (like FoxNews, with its piddly little 1.7 million prime time viewers), routinely reports on what is being said on Twitter as part of stories such as today's New Zealand earthquake.  Once again, Twitter has proven a more immediate and available source for world happenings than any other channel, with the first images broadcast via Twitter.
     
  • Movie studios are having to revamp marketing practices because Twitter has become an instantaneous movie review system each weekend.
     
  •  While Rolling Stone magazine delivered the story about Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's disparaging comments, the political damage was done before the article even hit newsstands.  Why? Said a Rutgers media professor, "Rolling Stone broke the story, but it was Twitter that got the story rolling."
     
  • After the Haiti earthquake, the American Red Cross received more than $35 million in donations in less than 48 hours. This record-breaking fundraising effort was due to social media, and a spokesperson said, "Twitter has played an extremely significant part."
     
  • Finally, in my upcoming Forrester report on advocacy programs, I note that mass influencers--those responsible for 80 percent of the influence impressions and posts about products and services in social channels--are several times more likely to have a Twitter account than the general population. Those on Twitter are the connected of the connected, and they are having an impact on mainstream culture.

Twitter may never have 500 million users like Facebook, but I hardly believe that means it cannot be "mainstream."  In fact, it is funny to observe that Henry's article mentions Lady Gaga's Twitter following is 5.7 million strong and notes, "To put the number in context, according to Wikipedia, Lady Gaga has sold 15 million albums."  Just 15 million?  That's half of Twitter's monthly uniques!  Apparently Ms. Gaga is still niche, and maybe someday if she's really lucky she'll get big and go mainstream!

Comments

"Mainstream Smainstream?!"

Sorry Augie, and i really really *hate* to agree with the usually hysterical SAI gang, but in this case Blodget's more right than wrong by my measure.

Our experience for global brands embracing social marketing and social media is that Twitter is still VERY niche indeed from a consumer standpoint. The number to look at is monthly uniques and even that is tricky since you really don't "go to" Twitter.com or need to go there, in oder to tap into your stream, whether pushing or pulling.

There are two flaws I suggest in your trying to rationalise your counter argument. First, you are comparing old world media impressions and subscriptions with the most post-digital of all media metrics - Twitter feeds. Sorry - this doesn't even warrant an "apples and oranges" finger wag. It's more along the lines of silent trees falling in empty forests. ; )

Second, your numbers re Twitter are mostly a measurement of the publishing side - the tweeters not the tweeted-to. The real measure of whether or when Twitter ever becomes remarkably mainstream is when the consumption side comes anywhere near close to the production side.

My guys spend a lot of time harvesting, mining, analysing and thinking about billions of bits of social media each month around the world. Altho we see a huge preponderance of Tweets in the signal samples, sadly much of it remains noise. If you're familiar with the noise and mess created by AdSense content in the great aggregation of all web media, the incredible amount of largely un-consumed tweets must outnumber good old fashioned AdSense dross 10:1 (that's anecdotal, note to self - ask the guys to count it up and report...)

While all this geeky stuff is important and the true quantitative test, I suggest you also do something like I do to cross-validate with some degree of controlled qualitative sampling and analysis --- over dinner, about once a month, I poll my three teens and their 20-something older brother (him by txt) with a simple two part question: Are you tweeting or reading tweets? Are any of your friends?

For the past 3 years Twitter's attempts to go mainstream as measured by the Kennon Qual test continue to be met by a blank "huh?" and that shrug of dismissal that dad's get painfully accustomed to, way too fast.

Please don't get me wrong - we continue to develop robust social, search and mobile program strategies and activations for our client partners - all include an on-brand, active and highly optimised Twitter presence. So I'm with you in hoping to prove Blodget and his ilk wrong. I just don't think we're there yet.

Will give you a shout when the data and my kids tell us we are.

Measure results, not activity

Thom,

Thank you so much for the thoughtful dialog. May I agree with your arguments while disagreeing with your conclusion (much as I did with Henry's original article)?

My point in using the admittedly irrelevant apples-to-oranges (or silent-trees-falling-in-empty-forests) comparisons is that the numbers don't tell the whole story. In fact, I see too many marketers making the same mistake--they count tweets, fans, and blog comments, but fail to evaluate whether consumer behavior or attitude has been altered. In other words, they measure activity and not results.

And that's the point of my blog post. Who cares how many millions visit Twitter.com or how many tweets are read or how many fans a brand has? As I stated in the article in reference to the mainstream, the final measure "isn't really determined by sheer numbers but by... impact."

Maybe Twitter can be mainstream without your teens or my wife. (I use a similar qualitative yardstick to your household within my own.) The way to determine if Twitter is mainstream isn't by evaluating if those family members are ON Twitter but whether they're IMPACTED by Twitter. For example, do your young male family members know about the Old Spice viral video campaign, which was launched on YouTube but primarily spread through Twitter?

And to my original point about the impact of Twitter to the mainstream, does it matter how many folks are on Twitter if it routinely delivers news the mainstream media covers, causes generals to fall from grace, affects the way mainstream entertainment is marketed and saves lives in devastated parts of the world? Twitter may not have mainstream activity, but those are mainstream results by any measure!

Thanks for the dialog, and I hope you'll continue the discussion. Have a great holiday weekend!

Eye of the beholder

the NYT, America Idol and how to train your dragon aren't hits in Europe (or to be more specifically in the Netherlands where I live :)). So being popular in one country, doesn't mean you are all over the place and may put you in the mainstream of one group of people, but not in the mainstream of the general population.

Plus, maybe we should accept that news papers and TV shows aren't something that is mainstream, sure it was 40 years ago, however nowadays these media are declining.

Twitter isn't the common thought of the general population. Fox isn't about the general population (as you said, it is small), movie studios adapt, however that adaption was more a marketing itself than something well thought of, the story in rolling stone would have broke without Twitter, $35 million for Haiti is just a small part of the enormous amount that was donated in total and influencers aren't the general population, they are part of a smaller group. And if you compare the total sales of Lady Gaga to the total sales of Michael Jackson, you might notice she did not sold that many albums.

No Twitter isn't mainstream, but why care about that. Facebook might be the last service which was mainstream for such big group of people and we might end up with only niches. Is that a bad thing? No, things changes, mainstream adoption is not important anymore, you can be a hit (and earn enough money) with a smaller audience. Mainstream isn't important anymore and we shouldn't stop caring about mainstream adoption and have a look at how these niches perform

Twitter is mainstream and beats the other

Itotally agree that Twitter is mainstream and it is an accurate source of information because it self-regulate and timely as well.
I found it an excellent business tool.
Mor on my thoughts on my blog http://bit.ly/aUFGUs

Thanks Stephane and Rick

I appreciate the additional insights and thoughts.

Rick, I especailly liked your ending comment: "Mainstream isn't important anymore and we shouldn't stop caring about mainstream adoption and have a look at how these niches perform." In the end, maybe it doesn't matter if Twitter is mainstream!

blodget is as blodget does

was it just the other day that henry welcomed tweetdeck back from the dead? seems the analyst savant had been having a devil of a time with the service not working the way he thought it should. he wrote a post about its imminent passing from the earth.

then he unblushingly continued, "some of my readers suggested I might be able to fix the app by updating it....now my tweetdecks work again and I am back to using them 18 hours a day" let's hope he doesn't waste too much of that time on non-mainstream apps like twitter.

Blodget can afford to be whatever Blodget is!

Todd,

Your comment made me LOL. Thanks.

Henry has earned the right to do and be whatever he wishes--and he makes it informative and insightful most of the time!

IDK Why so Much use Twitter?

Sites like twitter are just helping to dumb down the world even more. I still don't understand why people would sit in front of a computer and type each & everything they do in their regular day? It's as if they are only looking for attention because their life is meaningless.

Why not?

Kris,

That's a pretty harsh assessment of Twitter. It's absolutely not for everyone, and no one would argue that it can be full of "noise". But after reading the blog post (with it's examples of Twitter helping raise millions for Haiti aid or creating a movement for political change in Washington), surely you must see some value in Twitter?

Besides, Twitter isn't going anywhere--better to find value in it than to rage against the machine! :)