This article was written by Newsflock founder, Chris Were.
Twitter is not the future of newspapers, despite what many people claim. Statistics show only a fraction of the public use twitter on a regular basis and its growth has stalled.
An article appeared on Yahoo! during the week, titled “Why Twitter will live and Facebook will die”. The central claim was:
…I expect Facebook to die. Eventually, it will go the way of MySpace. It will come back incarnated as something else. That’s exactly what happened to the newspaper. Sans a few exceptions, the newspaper died and came back as Twitter.
You might not know it yet or use it as such, but Twitter is the modern day version of the newspaper. And it will sustain.
There are two arguments in play here. First, that Twitter will destroy Facebook and secondly, that Twitter will replace the traditional newspaper. In order for Twitter to replace the newspaper, it will need to become the primary source of news for most Australians.
Let’s look at some relevant usage statistics (for Australia), something that was missed in the original article.
According to Digital Marketing Lab, “Many experts believe Twitter has hit its peak and will plateau”:
Twitter – September 2009: Twitter had 1.6m unique users
Twitter – January 2010: Twitter had 1.2m users with each spending an average time of 19 minutes / month
Facebook – January 2010: Facebook had 8.6m unique visitors with each spending an average time of 8hrs 19 minutes!
According to Social Media News (scroll to the bottom of the page):
Twitter 2011: Twitter had anywhere from 1m to 2m users across the year, with huge variations month-by-month.
Facebook 2011: Facebook grew from 9.8m to 11.2m users across the year with strong steady growth and little variation.
Further statistics on Australian media properties is provided by Comscore who look at the top online properties and ad networks in Australia during 2011:
Facebook: 10.2m unique visitors / month
News Ltd: 4.2m unique visitors / month
Fairfax: 3.5m unique visitors / month
Twitter: Not in the top 20 sites in Australia
It’s important to note that the above statistics are referring to visits to facebook.com and twitter.com, so won’t include some users who access those sites from dedicated applications. However, most people who access a service from a mobile device probably accessed it from the official website at some point during the month so the margin of error is likely to be insignificant.
The statistics highlighted above show that Twitter had limited user growth from 2009 – 2011 with growth appearing to stall. Depending on the month in question, the number of users of Twitter appears to fluctuate in the 1m – 2m user range. Compare this to Facebook who has had steady, consistent growth from 8.6m users in January 2010 to 11m in late 2011.
There seems to be something “wrong” with Twitter that will need fixing if it can seriously compete with Facebook or replace the role of a traditional newspaper.
An infographic produced in late 2011 demonstrates the different growth profile between Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has an exponential growth curve, whereas Twitter is much more linear and has a few worrying trends such as:
49% of Twitter users either never or rarely check Twitter
The growth profile doesn’t indicate that Twitter will become the primary source of news for most Australians. Twitter is a long way behind Ninemsn, News Ltd and Fairfax in the monthly unique visitor stakes.
As has been widely discussed, Twitter is currently cracking down on the freedom for it’s API users in a bid to start earning significant revenue. There is a risk this will turn users away from Twitter, especially those who prefer to access Twitter from third party applications using the API. This has the potential to widen the gap between Facebook and Twitter further.
While developing Newsflock, I have spoken to many people in an attempt to understand their news consumption habits. Whenever the subject of Twitter comes up, often people say “I tried it once, but just didn’t get it”. Have you ever heard someone pick up a newspaper and say “I just don’t get it, what’s the point of this?”
Twitter is a fantastic resource, if you have the time and patience to curate the right list of followers and build your own community. You have access to many politicians and celebrities who may even retweet or respond to you which makes you feel heard. In reality however, the majority of people don’t have the time or inclination to build this network so it will struggle to ever become a mainstream source of news.
An important goal of Newsflock, is to build a social network combined with the structure and purpose of the traditional newspaper. We are building a platform that helps people aggregate and create content in a format similar to a traditional newspaper, while providing a highly engaging social network environment.