Will New Twits Quit or Stay? Oprah, Influence & Value

by Marianne Richmond on April 29, 2009

twitter-bird-2“HI TWITTERS . THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY .” On April 17, 2009 Oprah Winfrey typed these words Twitter history. She now has 695,000 followers, follows 11 and has not Tweeted since April 24th. Oh my! 5 days? Whoops I just checked again before hitting publish and phew! she just Tweeted!

Earlier in the week, Ashton Kutcher and CNN (well not really CNN but Jamie Cox @CNNBRK until CNN “acquired”) participated in a captivating (?) race to reach a million followers. Ashton and CNN are still Twittering away, the former in a traditional individual Twitter style,  one @ here, one link there; and the latter in a traditional online news push out the news style.

Twitter, which was already experiencing exponential growth as if someone turned on a switch at a New Year’s Eve party and said to the world “start Twittering” (and shall we thank the Obama campaign for this?), is now experiencing even more profound and immediate growth through what has been commonly accepted as the Oprah Effect or in Twitter parlance #opraheffect.

Oh yes, as Comscore notes, pre-Oprah/post-New Year’s Eve party, it was beginning to seem like every mainstream media newcast mentioned Twitter in the context of “follow us on Twitter”, reporting who was Twittering from the State of the Union or reporting about citizen journalists Twittering major new events. So what will the future of  Twitter look like for “us” with Oprah and the growing list of celebrity Twitterers?

Nielson reported yesterday that Twitter has a retention problem: According to a recent study, Neilson says that 60% of Twitter users fail to return the following month which translates into a 40% retention rate; pre-Oprah they noted that Twitter retention was 30%.  This was widely noted on Twitter.

But before we simply re-tweet the Nielson data, let’s look a little closer at two important social media factors: influence and value (Not that value and influence are limited to social media). In other words, perhaps Nielson is correct in predicting that Twitter, despite Oprah, has a loyalty problem compared to Facebook and MySpace at comparable points in time. They state, “Twitter has enjoyed a nice ride over the last few months, but it will not be able to sustain its meteoric rise without establishing a higher level of user loyalty. Frankly, if Oprah can’t accomplish that, I’m not sure who can.”

However, let’s put this “retention” issue in a different Oprah context, diets. She has influenced millions of her loyal followers to try her various diets and although I don’t have any Nielson data to support this, I would strongly suggest that if the particular diet dejour did not “work” for those that tried it, they abandoned it. Addtionally, Oprah herself, beginning in 1988 with the famous size 10 jeans has tried and abandoned various diets herself when they did not have value, in this case, weight loss. In fact, while some advertise that they are the “official Oprah diet” Oprah reports in the January 2009 issue of O Magazine that she is back up to 200 lbs.


To put the impact of influence in social media terms we need to look no further than David Armano’s Influence Ripples; in fact David recently wrote specifically about Twitter, Oprah and Influence. David’s Influence Ripples visual delineates that the influence ecosystem is made of influencers “rated” 1-4, with a 1 representing an Oprah level of influence and a 4 representing someone with much more modest influence (or in his original diagram a blogger with less than 100 inbound links).


David asks, “Will Twitter see an Oprah Effect? Or is Influence Overrated?”. His answer is that yes, there has been an initial Oprah effect but unless Oprah continues to use Twitter,  the Oprah effect will diminish. In other words, if she continues to use Twitter and its use is of some value to her and those that she influenced find some value for themselves, only then will her influence matter and lead from trial to retention.

So, before we join the chorus of those writing that Twitter cannot sustain a user base after the initial sign up I would like to point out that finding value within many new social media platforms takes time and can be very different for different users. Last week I saw a site that would “tell you” when you first joined Twitter when you entered your Twitter user name. It would then “Tweet” the date for you. I found out that I had first signed up for Twitter October 28, 2006. However, although I can’t say exactly when the Twitter lightbulb when on for me personally, I am pretty sure that it was not for several years past October 28, 2006. Rex Hammock Tweeted shortly after my Tweet that he started “not getting” Twitter on 12/22/2006. So, would I have counted as a Twitter Quitter or a Twitter Flitter over the course of say 2006-2008?

As Brian Solis asks in his post, “While the “Oprah Effect” is profound, is Twitter and its experiential value easily discernible by mainstream consumers?” and “What happens after new users create accounts and explore the service without direction or guidance?”

Facebook is another example of a social network that is used very differently by various people and various demographics and finds its own individual value to an ever widening audience.  Finding individual value in Twitter is even more complicated by virtue of its very simplicity.

So overall, “influence” is alive and well in leading us to new social toys but like the latest new diet, it will be abandoned without directly providing value to users and participants. Personally, I believe there is a gold mine of value for Twitter users. (Twitter Icon from Productive Dreams)

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