Twitter, the talk of ’09

A Christmas visit with family reminded me that although the cool kids online are abuzz about Twitter, much of the regular (non PR or communications) world has little knowledge of or use for it. The nephews and nieces were all about video games or Facebook, while some of the aunts and uncles dabbled in Facebook but spent more time on e-mail.

Perhaps reflecting the lack of mainstream embrace of Twitter, and instead taking into account what people actually search for online, Merriam-Webster‘s called “admonish” their word of the year. Webster’s New World noted the frequent use of “digital devices on the go” that resulted in “distracted driving” heading their list of notable words in 2009. (I also like “wallet biopsy,” which is an examination of a patient’s ability to pay before medical services are provided). Meanwhile, the Oxford University Press named “unfriend” its word of the year. (A close runner-up that I enjoy: “zombie bank,” a financial institution whose liabilities are greater than its assets, but which continues to operate because of government support.)

Still, those working in PR and communications spent time — a LOT of time — talking about Twitter and sending tweets. So much, that the Global Language Monitor made “Twitter” its word of the year.

There’s debate about whether Canadians are on Twitter or not. Anecdotal evidence says we are, and a poll of more than 10,000 Canadians agrees that 47 per cent use Twitter. The poll also reported that 70 per cent use social media and have a Facebook account, while 58 per cent blog.

Sean Moffitt (Buzz Canuck) reported on a Forrester survey that showed 80 per cent of online Canadians had participated in social networks, 57 per cent doing so at least once a month (the U.S. was 51 per cent and the UK, 38 per cent).  Canada is #1 when it comes to social networking, he says, and gives 10 mostly solid reasons why, such as our online connections and high education. (I *think* citing our long winters and searches for Pamela Anderson is a joke, right?)

So I don’t quite believe the online survey that claimed only 26 per cent of Canadians (actually, ahem, of “more than” 824 respondents) are aware of Twitter, and of those, only 6 per cent use it. Still, I agree with one line from that survey report: Twitter’s still at a very early stage and “it really hasn’t been embraced by the mainstream yet.”

If you use Twitter, you probably won’t be surprised that a Harvard Business School study reported in June that more than 90 per cent of Twitter content is generated by just 10 per cent of the people using it. That’s far higher than a typical online social network, the study noted, where the top 10 per cent of users account for 30 per cent of content.

So maybe those of us already on Twitter and not holding up our share of the content generation should resolve that in 2010, we will try to push that 10 per cent number higher. And those not yet using Twitter might as well jump in and at least see for yourself what all the fuss is about.

Happy New Year!

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