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What People Are Tweeting About

Finding the signal in the noise

August 20, 2009

What is the purpose of Twitter? Social media marketers have been trying to answer that question as they use the microblogging service to promote their brands and products.

The general wisdom is that Twitter is great for conversations and self-promotions. But critics of the 140-character medium have some support from an August 2009 Pear Analytics study of the site’s public timeline.

The marketing analytics firm placed each tweet in one of six categories, and the big winner was “pointless babble”—what Pear Analytics referred to as “the ‘I am eating a sandwich now’ tweets.” More than 40% of all tweets monitored fell into this grouping.

Tweets Worldwide, by Content Category, August 2009 (% of total)

Conversational tweets—those part of a dialogue between users or starting with the “@” symbol—made up another 37.55% of tweets. Tweets with pass-along value, also known as “retweets,” were much less prevalent, at 8.7%, and self-promotional messages made up just 5.85% of the total. Spam and news were even rarer.

Tweets with pass-along value, important for marketers hoping to get their messages distributed as far and wide as possible, were highest on Mondays and Wednesdays, when they made up about 10% of the tweets per day.

Marketers should note, however, that qualitative categorizations have a degree of subjectivity. For example, Pear Analytics’ news category excluded news about technology and social media. And whenever a tweet might fall into multiple categories but began with “@,” it was deemed conversational.

“With the new face of Twitter, it will be interesting to see if they take a heavier role in news, or continue to be a source for people to share their current activities that have little to do with everyone else,” wrote Ryan Kelly on the Pear Analytics blog.

Skip the pointless babble—follow eMarketer on Twitter.

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