If a Tweet Falls in Cyberspace and Nobody Reads It, Does It Still Make an Impact?by Ed Keller, October 19, 2010
As brands rush to develop a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, and as these sites now begin to develop advertiser-related offerings, the fundamental question needs to be asked: Just how sizable is their reach? Yes, we know that Facebook has over 500 million members worldwide, and Twitter 160 million users. But how many people post actively, how often are brands a part of the conversation, and when something is posted, how many of our friends or followers actually see it? Several pieces of research have been released recently that begin to fill in the missing pieces.
The recently-published book, Empowered, by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler of Forrester, reports that there are 256 billion impressions about products and services per year created by “peer influencers.” This is based on what people write in social networks (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and so on) about products, services, and brands. (You can read more about their calculation here.) 256 billion is an impressive number, indeed.
But it also raises the question posed by Dr. Starch: How many of these posts actually get noticed, and read?
Shedding light on this is a recently released study by the social media analytics firm Sysomos that reports 29% of tweets spark some type of reaction, either a reply (23%) or a retweet (6%). The vast majority (71%) get no response. Now of course, people can read a tweet and not reply or retweet, but the importance of these metrics, says Sysomos, is that “When a tweet generates a reply (aka @) or a retweet (aka RT), it suggests the tweet has resonated enough with someone that it sparks a conversation or encourages someone to share it with their followers.” Further, many marketers engage in Twitter for the power that it provides for communications to be passed along virally, via retweets. As with viral videos, some tweets have legs (6%); most don’t.
Forrester’s analysis of peer influence impressions finds that the majority (62%) come from Facebook. So that led us at Keller Fay to wonder, how many status updates on Facebook actually get noticed?
Forrester’s figures are calculated based on an assumption that if someone posts something on Facebook, it is seen (or “noted”) by everyone on their friends list. This is similar to assuming that a press mention is seen by every single person who reads a newspaper. The fact, however, is that only a portion of the potential audience actually reads any individual post, just as only a portion of newspaper readers see any given article or ad. The Forrester figure, therefore, should be adjusted to reflect the actual number who actually takes notice of a status update.
So the staff at Keller Fay, together with some our clients, did a small-scale test. Each of us posted the following comment (or slight variation thereof) on Facebook, on different days and different times of the day.
“Hi friends. Please help me with a research project. If you see this, please click ‘like’ on my status. It’s that simple. Thanks!”
We waited 48 hours to see what the percent of “noting” was, as indicated by “liking.” While the results varied widely, the overall average was approximately 10%.
Our “noting” estimate is based on a small convenience sample. We plan to conduct the study with a nationally representative sample shortly and will report the results when they are available. But this does suggest that when brands are planning social media outreach campaigns, they should definitely factor in a “discount factor” for calculating the potential impact.
And in the meanwhile, maybe you want to do the same test we have done, to estimate the percent of Facebook friends who actually notice your status update. If so, just post the message (above) on your own Facebook page. Then, please make a note of the total number of “likes” you get after approximately 48 hours. Drop me an email (email@example.com) letting me know how many total friends you have, and how many “likes” you received. We’ll add them to what we already have and report back.