Pointless babble…


I was amused to read on the BBC yesterday that a staggering percentage of messages (40%) sent over the micro-blogging service, Twitter were actually nothing more than ‘pointless babble’ according to newly published research from US based, Pear Analytics.

A devoted Twitter user myself, I couldn’t let the story pass without adding my own comment and before I could make a cup of coffee was embroiled in an ongoing debate as to the worth, especially to businesses, of social networks and platforms such as Twitter.

I should have anticipated a response was just around the corner. Whenever a new study or piece of research lays into the so called world of ‘social media’ and its mirky complicated language, lack of purpose and general banality there are those quick to jump on board and exclaim that “it’s all just a waste of time”.

It’s unfortunate that the BBC failed to  report the full details of the study. Amongst all the hype and bold headlines was an interesting study that uncovered some interesting insights into Twitter as a stream of information. Those who took the time to read through the full report, the categorisation used, depth of the study and methodology, coupled with comments from the wider audience and the researchers themselves, will know there was more than the headline suggested.

For those of you who have no knowledge of Twitter, let me explain the basics.

Users sign up to Twitter with an email address. They enter a brief bit of info about themselves (limited to 160 characters) and a website address for further information. They can follow other users by finding them through directories or while browsing the web. The user can post messages (limited to 140 characters) to Twitter for their followers to read.

The idea is that each user follows those that interest them. The interest may be based on their geographic proximity, shared hobbies, knowledge on a particular subject or any number of different reasons. Should someone you follow become ‘un-interesting’ then you have the power to ‘switch them off’ and stop receieving their updates.

This is where we find the first issue with the report from Pear Analytics. Their study ‘dipped’ into the network and grabbed just 200 messages per day from the public timeline. This would be the equivalent of tapping into the phone network and listening in on random calls, using your findings as a benchmark of how the phone network is used. It does not reveal a lot about usage it just shows what those users were doing at the time. You may get business people closing a deal or you may geta mother and son discussing the next door’s neighbors knee operation.

Studying 200 messages, when in the US alone (according to Pear Analytics CEO, Ryan Kelly) there are over 3,000,000 messages sent every day, seems a little too small a sample to make such sweeping statements.

Any Twitter user will tell you that Twitter becomes useful when you know how to filter or select the information you want to receive. No one that I know watches the ‘public timeline’, an amalgamation of every message sent over Twitter. Instead we select those we want to follow and filter for mentions of information of value to us.

Ryan Kelly knows this, that’s why after dinner with Twitter pro and social media enthusiast, Robert Scoble, he decided that they would cross reference their findings with messages sent by those ‘followed’ by leaders in the field such as himself and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams.

‘Only 8.7% of messages could be said to have “value” as they passed along news of interest.’

The BBC incorporated within their report another bold statistic. Just 8.7% of Twitter messages could be said to have ‘value’. A staggering indictment on the supposed ‘news value’ of Twitter. So how did they measure that? Well it would appear that they used the simple ‘ReTweet’ as a gauge.

Again, for those new to Twitter. When one user feels a piece of information is relevant or interesting to their audience (or followers) they can re-send a message that they have received by adding the letters ‘RT’ to the message. This indicates that they found the information ‘valuable’ and think that you may too.

So in just 8.7% of messages taken from the public stream where there found to be the letters ‘RT’ at the forefront of the message. simple. But what about all the information rehashed and sent out without the ‘RT’, or all the messages with an ‘@’ symbol at the front (directed at another user) listed as ‘conversational’ – what about times where the news originates from multiple sources and therefore does not require an ‘RT’?

In reality, this is probably the weakest statistic of them all. After all what one may find valuable is quite different to another. It is far too subjective to measure ‘value’ on the basis of this one factor alone.

40% of the Twitter messages are “pointless babble.”

The most headline grabbing statistic was of course that 40% of those messages interecpted were ‘Pointless Babble’ categorised as ‘“I am eatng a sandwich now” tweets.’.

Interestingly from a marketing perspective these probably contribute one of the most important types of Tweet for business. Why? Well let’s look at some examples of messages that might be included in this group (taken from Twitter’s public timeline):

  • I am looking for an accountant who can help me with the legal aspects of my business.
  • Just signed the papers to buy a rental property. Can’t believe I’m starting a business on top of everything else that’s going on.
  • Off to Falmouth Week to watch the Red Arrows
  • I’m buying a new phone tomorrow… Any suggestions?
  • Listen to Pirate FM. They play for Cornwall. Great music and awesome friends.

OK, if they’re not your markets they may be pretty ‘pointless’ to you. However, think there are thousands of conversations going on out there that ARE relevant to your business. Knowing how to find the messages relevant to you can help you identify new customers, understand your market better and much more. They provide businesses with the opportunity to engage with potential customers at a time when they are thinking about your product or service.

The important thing to remember with Twitter is that the messages themselves may not have intrinsic value. It is what you do with them that can make a difference.

Consider Twitter like the mobile phone network. You can choose to have a basic mobile phone to make calls or you can add internet, cameras, the whole works to your package. Likewise, you can dip into the main Twitter stream or select an application that filters out the ‘noise’ and gives you the information or capabilities relevant to you.

You can choose to give everyone your phone number and invite conversations with everyone out there or you can remain ex-directory and call the people you want to talk to speak to. Likewise, you can watch the public timeline and add to the conversation or select those you want to talk to and connect with them.

If you would like to learn more about Twitter for your business please get in touch. Call Aren on 01209 718688 / 07501 259000 or email aren@tonickmedia.com


  1. Many of Twitter messages are automated and useless for me. I have many followers there, but rarely I can read something nice and interesting. Promotions, links, automated messages, RSS feeds…
    That is the reason to search less popular service similar to Twitter, but with quality content. For example I am testing the new start-up service, that is already popular Gloggy (http://gloggy.com) and I am satisfied for now.

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