The fickle Twitterer

The biggest crowd on the web today is the one streaming through Twitter’s entryway. The second biggest crowd on the web today is the one streaming through Twitter’s exit.

Twitter’s recent growth has been explosive, even by web standards. The number of Twitter users doubled last month, reaching an estimated 14 million. This month, with Ashton’s Million Follower March and Oprah’s First Tweet, the Twitter flock has almost certainly swelled even more quickly. Everybody who’s anybody is giving Twitter a whirl.

But a whirl does not a relationship make. According to a study out today from Nielsen, at least three out of every five people who sign up for a Twitter account bail within a few weeks:

Currently, more than 60 percent of Twitter users fail to return the following month, or in other words, Twitter’s audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month’s users who come back the following month, is currently about 40 percent. For most of the past 12 months, pre-Oprah, Twitter has languished below 30 percent retention.

Even Oprah, it seems, may already be losing interest. Of the 20 tweets she’s issued since joining Twitter 11 days ago, half came on her first day. She’s made nary a tweet in the last four days.

The half-life of a microblog, it turns out, is even briefer than the half-life of a blog.

When MySpace and Facebook were at the stage that Twitter is at today, their retention rates were, according to Nielsen, twice as high – and they’ve now stabilized at nearly 70 percent. Twitter’s high rate of churn will, if it continues, hamstring the service’s growth, says Nielsen’s David Martin: “A retention rate of 40 percent will limit a site’s growth to about a 10 percent reach figure … There simply aren’t enough new users to make up for defecting ones after a certain point. [Twitter] will not be able to sustain its meteoric rise without establishing a higher level of user loyalty.”

The FT’s David Gelles says that Twitter’s weak retention numbers “give good reason to think that Facebook, with its 200m users and robust retention rates, has little to fear from the flurry of interest in Twitter.” That remains to be seen. Even a modest boost in Twitter’s retention rate would improve its long-term prospects significantly. But if Nielsen’s numbers are accurate, and if they don’t improve, Twitter may turn out to be the CB radio of Web 2.0.

6 thoughts on “The fickle Twitterer

  1. Duke Willims

    Do these numbers account for the number of Twitter users who access Twitter through third party services such as TweetDeck and Seesmic?

    If the numbers do account for that, I agree with the concern. The technology Twitter uses is here to stay for a good while, but tech history does not hold out such hope for all first to market ventures.

  2. Kevin Shaum

    For comparison, do you have retention numbers on other social media — Facebook, MySpace, GMail, etc.? I have lost count of how many social media services I’ve tried and not bothered to go back to. A 40% retention actually strikes me as impressively high.

  3. alsomike

    Kevin’s right, the focus on this supposedly low 40% number is ridiculous! Clearly people have no idea that the normal retention rate for most startups is single digits. Unsurprisingly, those numbers don’t get out to the public, except when they are strong. Example: Ning has a retention rate of 20%! They are considered a solid, growing startup with robust numbers, which is why they publish that. The low numbers tend to be an outcome of the signup strategy: get people who hit the homepage to signup as quickly as possible, regardless of whether they know enough to actually use it.

    The truth is that, yes, Twitter’s rate is lower compared to Facebook and MySpace (60-70%), two of the most successful services in history, but it’s still well within 10x the average startup, which is “break out champagne, we’re going to be rich” territory. And the fact that the rate went up instead of down after Oprah is itself a positive sign. I expect big PR events to generate larger numbers of causal signups by people who aren’t necessarily that motivated to use your service.

    It doesn’t look like Twitter is going to eclipse Facebook or MySpace, but this number is not the scandal that it’s made out to be.

  4. jimmygst

    facebook twitter my space hoverspot iwon i dont know there all the same prety much to me, i only use them to keep in touch.I have signed up for a lot of these networking sites, i had five i realy liked 2 were graghix novel sites two cigar sites and one about boating of the sites, but lost my site info. I realy dont see the big attraction twitter is what a site where at any time of the day or night you tell the world what your doing not to smart, and in the end if twitter does not succeed it will only matter to it’s creators and employees every one on the net a new distraction.Off topic i know just interested in your thoughts do we spend to much time in the world wide net and not enough in the world?.

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