Social Enterprise

The four stages of a typical Twitter user

Twitter can be an invaluable tool for business networking, but most new users don't get it at first. Learn why in this look at the four stages that the average Twitter user traverses on the path from newbie to devotee.

There's a strange phenomenon that happens almost every time someone joins Twitter. They hate it. At least at first.

But many of the people who once hated Twitter -- or at least, didn't quite get it in the beginning -- are now many of its most active users and raving fans. So what's going on here?

There seems to be four natural stages that the average Twitter user goes through from the point of first trying it until the point of fully embracing it and making it a part of daily life. Obviously, not everyone sticks with it and becomes a Twitter devotee, but there's definitely a growing cadre of people who believe that there's some magic happening in the Twittosphere

You can find me on Twitter at @jasonhiner

Because I think Twitter can be used as a valuable business tool, it's worth talking about the four Twitter stages in order to help recognize users in these stages when you're choosing who to follow and to keep new Twitter users from getting discouraged and missing the opportunities available on Twitter. So here they are:

1. Confusion and indignation

When a person first signs up for Twitter, the first challenge is figuring out who to follow. Twitter now has its "Suggested Users" feature to help people get started. I've put together a list of technology personalities worth following on Twitter to help new techies when they sign up for Twitter.

However, even when they find some people to follow, new Twitterers usually look at their Twitter stream and start wondering, "Why would I care what my colleagues are eating for lunch?" or "What's interesting about a software engineer posting that she's walking her dog?"

That experience usually leads people to shake their heads and not come back to Twitter for a few days, or even weeks or months.

2. The first "Aha!" moment

Eventually, the user comes back periodically to check Twitter out of pure curiosity. During those casual forays, the person often has a first "Aha!" moment, where they find something really interesting or timely on Twitter that wasn't available from news, RSS feeds, or word of mouth from their friends.

This could be a piece of news that someone reported on Twitter before it actually hit the wires, it could be a rumor about something that a company like Apple is doing, or even something like NFL teams announcing their picks for the draft on Twitter before they even went up to the podium to make the official selection.

3. Remembering to tweet

After the first "Aha" moment, the user typically starts checking Twitter more often, but still tends to post very infrequently. The next stage of Twitter initiation comes when the user reads something useful online or makes a mental observation about something and then thinks, "I should post that Twitter!"

At this point, the user is still relying mostly on the twitter.com homepage to access Twitter but is starting to go there at least a couple times a day to check on the latest buzz, and has typically found a good mix of friends, news feeds, industry celebrities, and thought leaders to follow.

4. Thinking in 140 characters

Once the person becomes a daily Twitter user, it's over. The person is almost always hooked, and is now on the path to becoming a power user. This is when most (though not all) users switch from using twitter.com to using a desktop Twitter client like Tweetdeck or Seesmic.

Meanwhile, the user also often has a mobile Twitter client like UberTwitter (for BlackBerry) or Tweetie (for iPhone) in order to stay connected to the Twitter stream on the go. Those that don't have smartphone often use Twitter via SMS text messages.

At this point, the person is a Twitter power user who regularly adds new people and brands to follow and also regularly unfollows people who post too many inane messages about their meals or just doesn't post enough useful stuff.

The power user also tends to regularly think about and look for things to post on Twitter throughout the day, to the point of self-editing thoughts for brevity in order to fit into Twitter's 140 character limit.

Final word

The beauty of Twitter is in its simplicity of use and the direct connection it provides to people whose activities and opinions you care about.

Apple recently wrote a case study about Twitter because Twitter uses a lot of Apple products. In the article, Apple wrote, "Twitter's meteoric rise to ubiquity is proof positive that the world, in all its complexity, is eager to embrace simplicity."

As I've written before, I think Twitter can be an very useful tool for business and technology professionals. For more, see:

And here are a couple external links worth looking at:

If you use Twitter, which of the four stages are you in?

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

129 comments
mpcservice
mpcservice

Just now noticed all answers to "the discussion" started in 2009... is this "up to date" ? or just adhering to the list ?

mpcservice
mpcservice

As I see it, Twitter , Facebook, and more social sites are an excellent tool for profiling people in depth. And the beauty of it is, all information is given freely and can be used. Annalists drool on the info they get from all of this. Care to write an article on that ?

baileysc
baileysc

If users weren't so busy Twitering they could update their blog or RSS feed with the information. Twitter is like an artichoke, you have to peal through layer upon layer of useless crap before you get to something worth having. I don't eat artichoke hearts either.

FortBragg_Surfgoddess
FortBragg_Surfgoddess

While in my second year of college, I had an anthropology professor walk into the classroom and say, ?You know I just walked through the quad and it was full of people talking, but they were all talking to people on cell phones, not to each other.? My Third year of College, a doctor in anthropology had to tell second and third year college students to use grammar, punctuation and paragraphs when answering essay questions. I think this 140 character thing called ?Twitter? is just the continuing downfall of western grammar and articulation. I truly hope it goes the way of my bell bottoms and pet rocks?

j_croydon
j_croydon

twittering is like being in an empty room with no none for miles and you are talking to yourself and no one is there to respond. It would be nice if your followers were to respond to your comments so you don't feel alone.

Steve Romero
Steve Romero

I started at Stage IV - loading Tweetie on my iPhone and Outwit in Outlook. I decided right out of the gate I would tweet infrequently. Now if only I could get those I am following to do the same. I have been on Twitter only a few weeks and I am getting tweeted to death. I can only imagine what it will be like after I have been using the app for a few more months. Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

marcelo.reyes
marcelo.reyes

I don't see Twiter as an "invaluable tool" in business as you have put it.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Have tried Twitter, not particularly impressed with its usefulness, to me. Or, rather, I should say that while I do see some benefits that could be had by using it, one can achieve the same things without it. In the area of social networking. First off, I don't particularly care what my popularity rating might be, or how many followers I can garner. Nothing wrong with those who are interested in such things. But I'm not. And my personal life is just that, personal. I have no interest whatsoever in letting strangers know about it. Nor am I much of a groupie or hero worshiper or follower. I can not, off the top of my mind, think of anyone who is rich or famous or powerful or who is considered a top guru in his field, who has all that much to say that I care to read or know about ... right now. Let's get real. I've no interest in what this or that famous person is eating, or doing right now. Probably don't care what they're thinking either. As concerns those who might be considered top experts in their fields. I MIGHT be interested in what they're saying ... right now ... but probably not. The fact is such folks are often simply speculating, as versus knowing for sure. And they're quite frequently either wrong, close but not exactly on target, or the event or important development they're talking about isn't going to come about, in any significant way, until 10 years from now. Or 20, or 50. Not a criticism of such folks, just a fact. "Experts" are routinely wrong. They're just considered experts because they're wrong fewer times than most of us. I can read about it later, at my leisure. It's not very important that I know what they think the moment they type it. Reading about it later, in expanded form, with a lot more info than they'd put in a Twitter message, will be more informative. And I'll have time to think about it, and also time to do some cross checking of facts, assertions, etc. In short a Twitter that contains any content I'd consider worthwhile in the first place, contains a link to a web page, blog, etc with more info. BTDT, stopped bothering with following that person's Twitter messages at all, and just started to check their blog or other web pages on a routine basis. At least on their blog pages, or other type web site most of the folks whose stuff I want to read will usually index stuff by subject, so I can go straight to what interests me, and skip the stuff I couldn't care less about. In cases where it is someone with info I want or need to know now, right now ... which pretty much means those who are close family and friends, and important (to me) co-workers; a cell phone works just fine for voice calls or text messaging. However, if I'm working, keep em short and sweet and to the point. I haven't time for idle chatter when I'm working, nor the patience. For that matter, I consider text messaging as something too often abused. Had an incident yesterday when a co-worker attempted meaningful communication via text message. Egad ! That guy is just fascinated with his Blackberry. Or is it obsessed? The point being is that his questions for me were involved and technical. And nobody types all that fast on a Blackberry without using abbreviations, leaving stuff out and assuming you'll know what was left untyped and be able to read their minds, etc. That's not to mention misspellings and plain old typos. And in my business, such things lead to folks holding one of those apples and oranges discussions. I quickly halted it and called him on voice. Communications was faster, AND more complete. For countless years humans have not only used the precise words spoken, but also the tone in which they're said to convey info. Via voice comm I could detect certain confusions on his part about precise parts of the info being exchanged. Putting one and one together, not only WHAT was said, but also the WAY it was said, I gathered that one of the problems was that he did not understand the logic behind WHY I'd coded a certain program fragment the way I had. Dim bulb lit in my brain, and I had one of those "Ohhhh ..." moments. So I informed him of not only what ... but why. Filled him in on a number of things he'd not known or even considered. Then HIS dim bulb lit up. And understanding was achieved. Three minute conversation. Which achieved more than one was likely to achieve in 5 times as much time spent in exchanging text messages. FWIW, I do not sign up for RSS feeds either. Did at one time, as a test. Quickly decided it was eating up my time just trying to keep track off what those feeds said. And for why was I doing this? 95% or better of all of it was garbage, as far as I was concerned. Either subjects I had no interest in. Or some banal piece of "Headline News" which, once I did some lookups concerning it turned out to be much ado about nothing important. Or it was little more than a disguised advertisement. Or it was a crap article written by an even crappier reporter that was 1/3 truth and fact, 1/3 speculation about subjects the reporter knew next to nothing about, and 1/3 editorializing to forward that reporter's biased point of view. Oh, let's not forget those little feeds that asserted that So-and-So, an expert in his field, said such-and-such. Gad, how many of those did I research into just to find out that (1) So-and-So had his statements twisted or taken out of context (particularly true whenever the subject was a technical/scientific one), or (2) So-and-So MIGHT be an expert ... but he missed the mark this time around (as we all do on a regular basis). Have you any idea how many times in the past 60 years I've heard or read words to the effect that "Everybody knows...", or "The experts all agree ...", just to find out later that they were wrong? So I've given up on instant and continuous news feeds. And for much the same reason, haven't much interest in following the Twittering of whomever. I have to sort through too much garbage to find the gem, and then verify its authenticity and true value. If I need to do something like that, find that little jewel of useful knowledge, I either call or email a person known to me to be a worthy source of said info, resort to looking at bookmarked web pages/sites made up by those I'm come to know over time to PROBABLY have the correct facts, resort to asking questions on a collaborative discussion site frequented by professionals in the subject matter, or do a Google search and suffer through the endless wading amidst garbage, half truths, mistaken assertions, misunderstandings, and so forth. That last method is not all that bad actually. Heck of a lot of junk on the net that's presented as being factual. But I scan for pages that LOOK like they might have useful and trustworthy info, on one tab. And have another tab open doing more Google searches to verify things asserted on that first tabbed page. One might think me to be a pessimist. But the fact is that with most things and in most cases, I neither believe nor disbelieve whatever someone else asserts. I absorb it, keep it in mind. But don't accept it as a FACT until I actually see proof one way or the other. Just the way I am. So a Twitter from a Twit, even a famous or well respected one, is to me ... just not all that valuable or useful. FWIW, I also do not follow the stock market moment by moment or even day by day and make decisions as concerns my investments based upon the very latest, up to the minute data. That's a nice way to go broke and lose your a**. I've nothing against Twitter. If some people find it interesting and useful ... good. But to me, its more of a modern, digital method of engaging in gossip (which I have no use for). Or yet another method for one to find ways for getting people to visit their web sites/blogs. Yet another marketing scheme. I can see where it has use for those wishing to gather fans and followers, for those who wish their moment of fame and notice. I can even see it as a valuable tool for a reporter, or for a writer wishing to find a worthy subject for a new article to be written. But I'm none of those. Just an engineer and programmer. Not much interested in the personal lives of anyone I don't personally know in real life and love/like. Nor much interested in what the latest news or word is ... until it has time to mature and develop and the real facts surface. With more than enough to keep me busy as it is. I don't need yet another item that'll cause my cell phone or laptop to try to get my attention and cause me to wade through endless, mundane, and mostly useless crap which won't actually tell me enough without my doing more research and lookups to know if its worth reading and knowing about. Just my opinion, which means its not worth the price of a lousy cup of coffee.

P.F. Bruns
P.F. Bruns

And here I thought the stages of Twitter use comprised: DENIAL: Nothing I do is trivial. ANGER: I'm upset that nobody follows my Twitter account. BARGAINING: I'll follow your Twitter if you follow mine. DEPRESSION: My life is too boring to Twitter. ACCEPTANCE: I'm going to tweet whether people care or not.

tom.gable
tom.gable

There may be a fifth transformational stage for many: sharing new or found information with others. It changes the thought processes to always be on the lookout for something of value for your followers and looking forward to their contributions in kind -- a symbiotic relationship with incredible value for all.

Tink!
Tink!

I totally went through all those stages. Am now using TweetDeck which means I'm checking Twitter about every five minutes. Now if only TR would auto-update to Twitter!! [i] (hint, hint, hint) [/i] :D

chris
chris

But I gotta say, as much as I might think, yes, their opinions are good because they are tech rep faithful, You folk come across as really being a lot of fun.

byadla2001
byadla2001

wonderful article. Infact I used to wonder and was in stage 1 for a long time. Why would people be in stage 1 for a long time - well I found that twittering has a crticial mass issue - the quicker you get to stage 2 the better you get out of twitter

greg.hruby
greg.hruby

tightly worded information truncated to essential rubbish

mike_patburgess
mike_patburgess

Anyone out there heard of a phone...oh wait.. maybe a casual lunch to converse. Trouble is that our society is rapidly loosing our ability to communicate face-to-face. I find if I turn off the cell, blackberry, PC, and sit down with my friends ( who also turn off all of this CR--), that we really enjoy our lives. Sit up, turn off the gadgets and look at nature around you... The only twitter that you will hear is the sound of birds!

hubbadubba
hubbadubba

I'm using a beta of the twitter client that comes with iBrowz RSS cacher/reader for Windows Mobile and it's working very well- www.getibrowz.com

dbecker
dbecker

According to a scientist in "Analog", we will run out of halfnium and a couple of other elements used to make lcds by 2017. "Run out" isn't quite as accurate as the entropy of being "unavailable". There is no other supply on the horizon. Now while the prediction may be a bit early and viewed as nothing but hyperbole, the article went on to show that copper and zinc are also going the way of the dodo, but will take a bit longer. If this is true, I for one will rejoice. No more of those annoying cell phones on public transporation being used by those defiant teens [last week the bus driver had a policeman eject a teen girl from the bus]. No, the entire society would be transformed. We'd have to go back to having to do detailed quality work using non generation whine tools. We might even need to go back to an agrarian based society rather than an industrial one, should we even last that long economically [what with the average American perspective that we can now spend our way out of debt, if we but borrow enough]. History will probably show that Twitter really is for twits, but by the time we return to green screens and vacuum tubes (assuming that we have enough zinc for the green screens), the "have my say and go my way boomer 3 generation will have lapsed into poverty, living in cardboard boxes in a tent city scrabbling for food. At least that's ONE scenario of how Twitter will pan out. Good luck for the long term.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Jason, I marked this one as 'Helpful' before I even read it, based solely on the title. Reading it indicated I was right. However (you knew it was coming), Stage 2 - "Eventually, the user comes back periodically to check Twitter out of pure curiosity." This is the key sentence in the article. I'm at Stage 1 and don't have the curiosity to return. So far I'm deaf to this siren's song, hearing instead a banshee's screeching. There are too many other interesting things on the web for me to spend time figuring out Twitter. For example, there are the web logs of those on TR's "Top Twitter Users" lists, with fully explained ideas uncluttered by the poster's TV viewing or dining choices. "This could be ... news that someone reported on Twitter before it actually hit the wires, ... a rumor about something that a company like Apple is doing, or even something like NFL teams announcing their picks for the draft on Twitter ..." I find I don't care if I don't know these things within 30 seconds. Apple announcements are all over the web. NFL draft picks are in the next day's paper, and they won't suit up until August. I realize these are examples, but even if I'm in an earthquake, I don't need someone else telling me I'm in one; if I'm not I don't care if I know about it immediately. Stage 3 - Stage 3 - "The next stage of Twitter initiation comes when the user reads something useful online or makes a mental observation about something and then thinks, 'I should post that Twitter!' ? I operate on the theory that I'm not the first to find something on the Internet, and that by the time I've found it most of those interested have already found it too. I dislike Googling a subject and finding dozens of web logs all linked to the same original article, so I'm not going to like finding hundreds of Twitter posts with questionable shortened URLs. Stage 4 - See Stages 2 and 3. There's little information that can't wait, and I have nothing to say. This is why I don't own a cell phone or other mobile communications device, so I won't be getting one to use Twitter.

GSG
GSG

I think Twitter is ridiculous and lends itself to giving to much info. I feel the same way about MySpace. People are giving way too many details of their lives. It's great for the hiring manager to find out that they might not want to hire this person to represent the company after viewing the topless drunken photos on myspace and reading a twitter about their last sexual encounter.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Looking at it from the poster's point of view, I can see it being useful for those who need to stay in the public eye (PR firms, customer / shareholder relations departments, performing artists) as a supplement to traditional web logs and other social tools. I can't see any value to it as a 'stand alone' application, and I still don't see what it does that can't be done with a web log and RSS.

RipVan
RipVan

...but either way, I have little interest and no time. As far as social networking type sites, kids are into them VERY large. But I attribute that more to the fact that they are bored and into themselves to a possibly unhealthy degree. Still, when they are all doing it, regardless of how mentally unhealthy it may be, it becomes the norm. I don't think older people can identify with this "new way to socialize" and only time will tell whether it is the way of the future. I know I can do without it, but maybe I will be the odd man out.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"In short a Twitter that contains any content I'd consider worthwhile in the first place, contains a link to a web page, blog, etc with more info. BTDT, stopped bothering with following that person's Twitter messages at all, and just started to check their blog or other web pages on a routine basis." You said you dislike RSS, but combining it with the sites you rely on may be worth a second try. But what do I know; I only use RSS to check for web comic updates. Otherwise you've clearly expressed what I've been trying to say for months.

phineas
phineas

now now...going round describing the reality of Twitter like that isn't going to get us anywhere. Shame on you for not following blindly like you're expected to do.

dhearne
dhearne

How would you feel if your underlings checked twitter every 5 minutes? Is that a valid use of their time?

mist27
mist27

I think when you see the Light go on is when its time to get out?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"I want to tell you about a new communications tool. The tool is inadequate to use to describe itself, so I'm going to use a different, older tool to tell you about it. I'll use the new tool just to point you to the complete description on the old one."

santeewelding
santeewelding

And Palmetto, and others of us, seem aware and anchored in another reality, the one that sees these people moving about in public as though they have left their bodies. For the aware to make use of as food.

dhearne
dhearne

Myths are generally a representation of a body of knowledge that is created and possessed by 'them' or 'they.' As such, it has some merit based simply on the numbers behind the collective 'they.' If Twitter was useful, she could have told that story on Twitter. Too bad no one on Twitter has the attention-span to read that much. Also, I might point out that if, as an obvious twitter fan says, 90% of it is crap, why should I bother. I already have the web for that!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you're going to post it here, why Twitter it? (And vice versa.)

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

"As far as social networking type sites, kids are into them VERY large. But I attribute that more to the fact that they are bored and into themselves to a possibly unhealthy degree." Of course they are. Nothing new there except the precise way they're doing it. Part of growing up is the process of trying to learn to socialize and the attempt to find out where you "fit in" in the group pecking order. And, of course, the attempt to learn to move up in said pecking order. A youth wants to discover how to be "accepted" by his or her peers. How to fit in. Yet, at the same time he or she wants to learn how to stand out and be noticed. In said effort, they'll resort to almost anything and almost any effort. And that's not to mention the normal tendency of youth to engage in any "new" activity almost to the point of obsession. Long before the computer age, they were doing this. They'd form groups, cliques, special clubs, etc. Go to any junior high, high school, or college. They're full of such, always have been.

Tink!
Tink!

I don't USE RSS!! But that's just me. For those of you who do RSS...don't know what to say to that. Using TweetDeck means Twitter is AUTO-checked every five minutes. I simply Alt-Tab over when I have a moment between work actions to read the new tweets and clear them. It takes me less time to do that than it does to check TR forums. Lol.

mist27
mist27

yes its better than sitting there with a silly grin on the face, doing nothing?

cupcake
cupcake

As I read this thread, I can't help but see that it almost appears to be 'twitter-like' although I would venture to guess that most of the people posting here can't limit themselves to 140 characters. BTW, I am still at Stage 1 trying hard for that 'aha' moment. Been then a while too... [Edited for spelling]

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

How is it different to facebook? There are just too many people tracking sites .. I'll stick with just the one. "History will probably show that Twitter really is for twits" When I was growing up as a kid, a 'Twit' meant an intelligent person. Since when did the definition change? Les.

dbecker
dbecker

And thanks. They have left their bodies, and like Dr. Strange, are quite vulnerable as they travel the astral plane. It could be a very short trip. Almost as short as a twitter post. And certainly not as long as the current fashion will last. Everything dies and, in this case, none of us will have to take any action to kill it. Seriously, as I was trying to find out more about the latest in CMS from concrete5.org, all I could find were these annoying Twitter postings which made me feel that I had about 10 frames out of the middle of the last Star Trek Movie [some Romulan with some tatooes, looks like in the frames]. We're supposed to divine the meaning from the postings? Whatever.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Although the lack of exercise makes them tender. "Why don't zombies eat bloggers?" "No BRRAAAAIINNSSS!"

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

I'm going to get to you eventually with Twitter.

Tink!
Tink!

Now if I had known EXACTLY what RSS did, I might have been an avid user of that pre-Twitter. However, I avoided RSS for a long while. I think the only reason that Twitter drew me, was because I could post self-promoting Tweets and links. From my limited udnerstanding on the subject, RSS is an incoming feed? not necessarily a 2-way like Twitter? Please correct me if I'm wrong. :)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

the functionality you apparently want (automatic notification of TR updates) already exists. It just doesn't exist for the platform you've selected. This leaves you with the choice of doing without that functionality or adding another app. Your choice depends on how badly you want to know when there are updates. Most RSS clients also check automatically, at a frequency you can specify. For me, I click on the toolbar button for the Feed Sidebar plug-in to Firefox. It shows me links to the updates.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't have any problem following discussions here. Responses are nested under the comment they refer to. All comments in a discussion are visible at the same time, and will not get 'pushed off the bottom'. I can read all comments on the same page without having to open different pages for each poster, or switch between multiple browser tabs. There may be a way to do this in Twitter, but it wasn't obvious to me when I tried it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I went to school with them - Dim, Nit, and Half.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

But when I was a nipper at school, I was under the (mis)understanding that twit meant someone of 'wit' whereas the opposite to a twit was a nit-twit. We are still learning. Les.

mike_patburgess
mike_patburgess

Yes to most of us it meant foolish.. Yep the description fits....

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

News to me. When I was growing up 'twit' was a bird-brain. [i]twit (v.) 1530, aphetic form of atwite, from O.E. ?twitan "to blame, reproach," from ?t "at" + witan "to blame," from P.Gmc. *witanan (cf. O.E. wite, O.S. witi, O.N. viti "punishment, torture;" O.H.G. wizzi "punishment," wizan "to punish;" Du. verwijten, O.H.G. firwizan, Ger. verweisen "to reproach, reprove," Goth. fraweitan "to avenge"), from PIE base *weid- "to see." For sense evolution, cf. L. animadvertere, lit. "to give heed to, observe," later "to chastise, censure, punish." The noun meaning "foolish, stupid and ineffectual person" is first attested 1934 in British slang, popular 1950s-60s, crossed over to U.S. with British sitcoms. It probably developed from the verb sense of "reproach" but may be influenced by nitwit.[/i] http://dictionary.reference.com/dic?q=twit&search=search oops. add link.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Twittering about the 10th Anniv. fun and games for those unable to attend.