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Falling Twitter Engagement Spells Trouble For Business Users

When Twitter launched no one quite knew what it was for. That included the company’s founders who created it as a side-product when their podcasting project ran into trouble. They put it up, promoted it at SxSW and waited to see what the community did with it. The rest is history.

The community used to show what they were eating for lunch.

Only later did businesses pile in, using Twitter first for customer service and then as a way to track sentiment. They experimented with hyperlinked special offers, connected their Facebook accounts and finally found that if they put a face on the business and a personality behind the brand they could help to build connections and loyalty among their customer base. It took time, and the results weren’t measurable but their marketing firms were telling them that it was all good.

At the same time, however, businesses were also experimenting with Facebook where the metrics are easier to track. They can see immediately how many shares, views and likes their posts receive and if EdgeRank pushes them out of news feeds, a good post can always push them back in.

If that news wasn’t dangerous enough for Twitter and its fans, the company’s third quarter report in 2013 had even more worrying figures. Total timeline views amounted to 159 billion over the period, a rise of 5 percent over the previous quarter. That growth was Twitter’s lowest ever. In the third quarter of 2012, timeline views had grown by 19 percent since the second quarter of that year. Twitter defines “timeline views” as “the total number of timelines requested when registered users visit Twitter, refresh a timeline or view search results while logged in on our website, mobile website or desktop or mobile applications (excluding TweetDeck and Mac clients).”

The number of monthly active users grew in the third quarter of 2013 too… but only by 6 percent. So not only is Twitter now struggling to attract new members, it’s also failing to keep them—and that should be a huge worry for Twitter and its shareholders.

More Business Users

There are some caveats here. The statistics for timeline views excludes usage of Twitter’s own TweetDeck (for which it apparently doesn’t collect that data) and it also excludes Mac clients. Business users in particular are more likely to use a platform like TweetDeck that allows them to collect some statistics and schedule their tweets than to access their timelines from their desktops. There’s also a good chance that they’ll be using a Mac. It’s likely that the timeline views underestimate the actual figure. It’s possible, though unlikely, that a decline in the timeline figures hides a rise in the number of business accounts on the site.

More importantly, the apparent fall in engagement is outshone by some good news. In the third quarter of 2013, ad revenue grew by 21 percent.

It’s possible then that even as engagement on Twitter falls, the company is doing a better job at extracting income from those that remain. Despite the apparent bad news, shareholders have reasons to feel cheerful.

For business users of Twitter though, the figures are worrying. A drop in engagement will mean that more of our tweets are being seen by fewer people. We might have built a timeline with thousands of followers but not only can we never tell how many of those followers get to see our tweets, we can’t even know how many of them still want to see our tweets.

It’s hard enough coming up with good content to share without having to admit that we might well be tweeting to an empty hall.

There are a few things you can do to make sure that Twitter’s falling engagement isn’t reducing the effectiveness of your company’s Twitter use.

Know The Real Size Of Your Following

The first is to keep testing. You should be regularly checking to see exactly how full your audience is and when it’s at its fullest. You can do that by stating explicitly what you’re doing. Some personal brand users on Twitter will occasionally ask followers to send a reply so that they can see how many respond. It’s a poor proxy for the number listening but it does show how many are active. By sending out those requests at different times of day, they can see when their tweets are most likely to be effective.

They can also be a little more subtle and place a link to a special offer in one of their tweets. Again, that won’t provide a measure of reach in the way that Facebook can do, but it will give you an idea of the depth of your followers’ engagement.

Even if you find that your real audience is only a very small fraction of your followers, that audience is also the most loyal. If they’re still there reading your tweets after so many people have left, they’re likely to be your best customers. They’re worth paying attention to. Keep handing out those special offers to reward them. Ask them their opinion of your new releases and about the work your business does. Remind them that you’re open to referrals and respond whenever they reply, retweet or ask you a question. Communities don’t have to be large to be effective. It’s more important that they’re engaged and feel connected to the brand. Even if the numbers are small, their influence and their willingness to keep buying and referring can be huge and well worth the effort.

Unless, of course, it’s not worth the effort. If you find that your tweets never win responses, that nobody ever replies to your requests for replies and no one clicks through on your special offers, then you’ve really got just a couple of choices: you can rejig your profile, re-engage with other users and start rebuilding your community. Or you can join so many other users of Twitter, stop looking at your timeline and head over to Facebook instead.

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