A few months ago I received an e-mail from Matthew Cornell, author and productivity expert whom I’ve interviewed on several occasions, telling me he decided to quit Twitter. “Quit Twitter?!” I thought. I rely on Twitter for connecting with new sources, promoting my stories and keeping tabs on the goings-on in the social media industry. I can’t imagine leaving the site now.
But the fact is, while the site is poised to surpass a record 10 billion tweets today, 90 percent of them are written by only 10 percent of users. That leaves us with millions of unengaged twitterers.
So why haven’t these users caught on to Twitter like the 10 percent of us that have?
My former colleague, C.G. Lynch, blogged back in May that perhaps “hardcore fans have ironically driven newbies away” through their use of hashtags, “inside jokes that aren’t funny” and “spammy direct messages,” among other things. And while that may be true for some adopters, Cornell suggested another possibility: Many users have left Twitter because they joined without a clear idea of what they wanted to get out of it.
“Twitter is totally unstructured, aside from the 140-character limit. You can use it for almost anything: gathering information, connecting with others, sharing your thoughts,” Cornell told me. “But that flexibility comes at a price—you have to decide how you want to use it, otherwise it’s useless.” When Cornell joined Twitter, he didn’t have a clear objective for using the site. He thought maybe he’d broadcast funny tidbits and perhaps form some relationships that might evolve into business opportunities. But it wasn’t until two years later that he realized it was a time sink—he had been sucked in and ultimately concluded that his ROI from Twitter was insufficient.
Knowing what he knows now, Cornell says he’d do everything differently and recommends three steps to take to decide whether Twitter—or any other social networking site—is useful and worth your time:
Determine specifically what you want to get out of the site.
Set a period of time during which you’re willing to experiment with the site and develop a clear method to measure your progress. For example, Cornell says he would try tracking how many people engage with him via @replies in one month.
Evaluate your success and determine whether the time you put into it is worth the return.
Is Twitter worth your time? Have you quit a social network? How do you evaluate your ROI?