Even when it was first experiencing the throws of being a new, rapidly growing business, Twitter was already in trouble.
Despite a massive spike in new registerations on the site during the site's infancy, there was a big problem: nobody was sticking around. Nearly a year ago, in April 2009, the retention rate for new Twitter users was just 40% according to this Nielson report. With 60% of new users never returning, the fate of the website was entirely unpredictable, but looked doubtful.
Even today Twitter shows signs of continuing problems with inactive users. Not only are new users abandoning the site at a fairly consisten rate, but veteran users are jumping ship in order to focus their time and attention on other websites like LinkedIn and Facebook.
Additionally: this brief study, done by leading marketing agency Hubspot, shows that a huge number of Twitter users (55% in 2009) aren't ever sending out messages or status updates. That exact same percentage of users don't follow anyone on the site at all. If you are currently one of the few active users on Twitter, you are undoubtedly experiencing the problems of inactivity first hand. Clicks on links Tweeted out, the number of responses to a conversation, and the number of tweets "retweeted" are consistently low. Even with 18,000 followers on one of my own accounts, the number of clicks I get on a tpical link averages around eight to ten.
The numbers to justify using Twitter as a marketing platform or a place for social engagement just aren't there.
So where did Twitter go wrong? If the website is as great as celebrities like Oprah and Ashton Kutcher or business like Mashable or TechCruch once touted, why are so many people staying logged off or inactive?
One reason is us, you and I.
Rather than focusing our efforts on interaction we concentrate on getting a lot of followers, broadcasting our own news and links and insights. The level of communication on the website resembles that of a graveyard: it just isn't happening. We can change that; and it shouldn't take a war or protest on the other side of the world to make Twitter a great place for people to come.
Starting today: make an effort to communicate with more people. Not just online celebrities, but with anyone on Twitter. Use the incredible Twitter search functionality to find people talking about the same things you're interested in. Reach out and join a conversation and follow a stranger (or ten). Use trending topics to talk to other people and share their links or stories, rather than focusing on broadcasting your own.
If Twitter is failing as a social platform we have only ourselves to blame. The same could be said for any social platform, really. How does that old saying go again? Oh yeah, that's right: be the change you want to see on Twitter.
Fail Whale photo by the remarkably talented Ann Martin.