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Beware the Twitter Flitterers

Tweet today, gone tomorrow?

Call it the Oprah Effect. Or maybe it was all the publicity generated by the Ashton Kutcher/Ted Turner race to reach a million followers. Whatever the cause, there is a growing fear that the mammoth microblogging site may be overexposed, overhyped and underused.

It is true that Twitter’s growth is skyrocketing. No one argues that.

eMarketer estimates (see Twitter Tally) there will be over 12 million Twitter users in the US in 2009, slightly more than twice last year’s number.

But figures released by Nielsen Online suggest that Twitter’s retention rate is only 40%.

In other words, as David Martin wrote on the Nielsen blog, “Currently, more than 60% of US Twitter users fail to return the following month.”

Not so good.

Anyone on Twitter knows the site is quick to tell you when a follower signs up, but mum on signoffs. No one knows how many of their individual followers get bored and fall away completely.

Most worrisome, however, is that at some point after the initial hoopla dies down, and Oprah and Ashton wander away to play with the next hot thing, there simply won’t be enough new users to make up for defecting dilettantes and Twitter’s growth will begin to decline.

Twitter has another “problem,” too.

Hot new technologies are supposed to be the purview of young, hungry-for-new-gadget, early-adopter geeks. Twitter doesn’t fit the bill.

According to comScore Media Metrix 18-to-24-year-olds, the traditional social media early adopters, are not driving Twitter growth—25-to-54-year-olds are.

Specifically, 45-to-54-year-olds were 36% more likely than average to visit Twitter, making them the highest-indexing age group—old by Internet standards—and 25-to-34-year-olds were 30% more likely to visit.

“The skew towards older visitors, although perhaps initially surprising for a social media site, actually makes more sense than you might think at first,” wrote Sarah Radwanick on a comScore blog. “With so many businesses using Twitter, along with the first generations of Internet users ‘growing up’ and comfortable with technology, this is a sign that the traditional early adopter model might need to be revisited.”

Several assumptions might need to be revisited. There is no question, Twitter is not developing in the same way as its social networking predecessors, such as MySpace and Facebook.

The question is: Will the Twitter fad fade, or is a powerfully simple networking tool only now beginning to find its unique audience? Only time will tell…

Don’t fade away, follow eMarketer on Twitter, click here.

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