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07 Jul 2014

Why you can't afford to ignore Twitter

By now you’ve probably heard about Twitter's slowing user growth, a statistic that many social media naysayers were keen to jump on (though not as loudly as they’ve done in the past with stats that may or may not indicate the demise of social media). Twitter announced the slow down in their most recent company report, noting they’re implementing strategies to get user growth back on track. The interesting thing is, when you actually look at the numbers, that user growth slowdown may not be as bad as many have perceived, based on the headlines and stock decline.

A recent Forbes piece detailed Twitter’s growth problem, showing that user growth had dropped almost 20% from 2012 to 2013. The figures indicate that Twitter had 140.3 million users in 2012, which increased to 182.9 million the following year. While the growth rate itself has slowed, those growth numbers are still pretty solid. In more broken down terms, it means Twitter added almost 117,000 new users, every day, in 2013. That’s nothing to sneeze at – even if you were to take the worst case approach and assume that 50% of new accounts created were actually fake accounts being created by click farms, that’s still almost 60,000 new, real users, signing up every single day.

While the declining growth rate has spooked some investors, a more important aspect to consider is the rising use of Twitter as a business tool. Everyday, more businesses are accepting the fact that they need to utilise social media - the next generation of consumers are already there, and they expect brands to be listening. To not be active on social will eventually be akin to not existing at all for many in the marketplace. That may seem far-fetched, unfeasible that social media will become such an integral part of business life, but when you consider the reliance people place on social media for their day-to-day interactions, the trend of consumers moving towards online processes for all their media consumption and purchasing behaviours. When you think of the state of social media now, and what it will be in ten years time – it’s hard to imagine any brand is going to get much attention without having an active social media presence. If that’s where your customers are at, that’s where you need to be. Next time you’re out in a public space, look at how many people are staring down at their smartphone screens. Think about how much our interactions have changed in the last decade. The adaptation of technology is happening at an increasingly rapid rate, to ignore it is simply not an option.

Twitter’s user growth may ease, but that doesn’t mean it's not being utilised. The company's revenue is increasing, and they have detailed plans to focus on user growth in areas outside of the US – one the company’s growth issues is that most people in the US have already given it a shot, which, inevitably, means growth will slow. If Twitter can expand in India and the Asia Pacific region – or China, where it’s still blocked - that user growth figure will change dramatically. More importantly, Twitter remains the second most popular social network for people aged 35 and below. As younger generations grow up with Twitter, more of them are conducting more of their daily interactions on the platform. Those conversations, that data they’re sharing, is of massive value for brands – if you’re not tuning in by now, you should be, at the least, to be aware of what’s being said.

There are huge opportunities for brands on Twitter. With Facebook changing the game via algorithm shifts and Google+ failing to catch on, it remains one of the most important and powerful information sources for business. Twitter’s data is also out in the open – no other platform has opened it’s API as much, making it a great source for tracking sentiment and connecting with potential customers. Some people still don’t get ‘the tweets’, ‘what can you say in 140 characters?’ But those that spend time with it will find it an invaluable resource, one that no brand can afford to ignore.

If you’re not active on Twitter yet, it’s time you gave it a chance. If you’re a brand, set up keyword monitoring and see what’s being said. If you’re an individual, start checking in on it in the morning and see what’s coming through. Because really, if you’re ignoring Twitter now, the question is no longer ‘if’ you’ll change your mind. Realistically, it’s only a matter of ‘when’.

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Andrew Hutchinson is a social media consultant and freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is an award winning author and blogger and a regular contributor to  Social Media Today.