Why 2017 was a tipping point for Twitter

Twitter analytics

After years of predictable behavior, Twitter analytics reveal that something strange is going on with how Twitter is used.

Something is happening to Twitter, but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?

I started tweeting 14 years ago. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Twitter would turn out to be the most important way for people to discover my work and for me to connect with thousands of kindred souls all over the world who share my specialized interests. Over time, Conferences That Work grew into a website with ten million page views per year.

But as 2016 drew to a close I noticed that something was changing in the Twitter world. Here’s a graph of my follower count over time:

Twitter analytics

What I’ve noticed about my Twitter analytics over the last nine months
Since I began posting in June 2009, the graph shows that I consistently added between two to three followers per day — until around September 2017. At that point, highlighted by the red circle, there was an unusual increase to ~six followers/day for the remainder of 2016, followed by a sudden flattening that has persisted through the first half of 2017 to less than one follower/day.

In 2017 I’ve also noticed a dramatic reduction in the number of retweets I’ve been receiving. Though I haven’t had time to develop quantitative statistics, it looks to me as though in 2017 retweets have been replaced to a large extent with likes, (though the frequency of mentions seems more or less unchanged).

Why are these changes happening?

I’ll begin with a caution that everything that follows is ultimately speculative. I can’t say definitively what is going on, and can think of multiple plausible reasons for these significant changes. For example:

  1. My experience may not be representative of other Twitter users. A sudden surge of engagement with my posts during Q4 2016, was followed by a rapid loss of interest.
  2. The US election results caused more people to visit Twitter for a few months, but attention eventually shifted to the continuous torrent of breaking news at the expense of general engagement.
  3. Twitter user growth has been flattening for some time as per the graph below; my 2016 EOY bump is reflected in the graph’s Q1 2017 bump, but future official statistics will show little continued active growth.

    Taken from statista.com on July 14, 2017; click on graphic to see current stats
  4. In retrospect, 2016-2107 will be seen as a period when late adopters continued to join Twitter, but a critical mass of active users concluded that engagement on the platform was not for them and moved to other social media platforms (I’m thinking Instagram for one). Although Twitter seems to be doing well in percentage market share of social networking site visits, as per the statistics below, it’s becoming more a site that users visit for breaking news — engagement is moving to other platforms.

    Taken from dreamgrow.com on July 14, 2017; click on graphic to see current stats

What do I think is actually going on?

I’d put my money mainly on #4 above. Perhaps this Twitter analytics trend has been accelerated by #2’s associated flood of U.S. breaking news (61% of my followers are in the United States). It will be interesting to see if the trend continues, which may help to shine more light on what, to me, are changes that are interesting and important for anyone who uses Twitter for connection, content marketing, and engagement.

What do you think is going on? Add your ideas in the comments below!

P.S. My friend Heidi Thorne has just posted her thoughts on the changing Twitter landscape. Well worth a read from a different perspective!

11 thoughts on “Why 2017 was a tipping point for Twitter

  1. First, thanks, Adrian, for including a link to my post about changes I’m seeing in the Twitter landscape!

    I think you’re right about the movement to other platforms. I’d also put money on that social media overall is less of a novelty and more of a utility these days. Sure, there will be the next shiny object to chase (Instagram?). But those, too, will see their day or their demise.

    Good subject to bring up! Cheers!

  2. On a smaller scale to the one above; same experience. I keep tweeting and tweeting and tweeting and its a lot like SETI or METI sending messages to alien worlds-no responses. Zilch. Nada. DEAD. LIKE Seti I just KNOW theres other Twitters out there. Right??

    1. Took a quick look at your content, which is pretty focused on images, so it makes sense to me that Instagram (where you have a lot of followers) might be a better fit for your social media efforts than Twitter.

  3. Like Heidi, I now use it more as a news feed than an engagement platform, and have adjusted my expectations accordingly. Also, there’s been a big rise in trolling and nastiness overall on Twitter that makes me not want to dive too deeply into the snark-fest. I’m on Twitter much less often than I used to be, not sure if it’s because it’s just gotten old hat, has changed in a way that makes it less interesting for me, the rise in meanness, or just the general information overload. I still like to share links and retweet others, but share much less of myself than I once did. I haven’t done an analysis, but my general impression is that new followers and retweets are down for me too this year so far. Maybe we’re all getting a bit of Twitter fatigue?

    1. You add some good observations Sue. Yes, the rise in trolling and nastiness is certainly not a positive development. What interests me: what is replacing the time and attention formerly spent connecting on Twitter? Are we spending more time using it as a news feed (as you and I are now doing), are there other platforms to which engagement is moving…or what?

      1. I keep hearing Instagram and Pinterest, but I just don’t love either of those as engagement tools—more for idea-gathering and inspiration for me anyway. I also hear more professional interaction is happening now on Facebook, but I like to keep that mostly on the personal level personally, and haven’t noticed much traction on most of the business pages that we host or that I frequent. So maybe LinkedIn? Some LI groups are pretty active, others not so much. Is Snap still a thing? I may be old school, but I still like blogs as a primary place to spend my social media time (especially yours, obviously!).

        1. Your experience pretty much matches mine. I’ll add that I see LinkedIn groups as dying, but posting links to interesting stuff on the LI home page feed sometimes leads to quite a few views…

  4. Here’s another yearly update of the original graph. Continued slow growth (~1 follower/day) in Twitter count has been reduced by Twitter’s two purges of fake followers, adding up to an annual average growth of 0.6 followers/day. So the original trend has persisted, even strengthened, for over two years now. I think it’s permanent (until something else jolts the social media world.) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8c8227cc6c505d9480ea1f8e05dcaf11a32695e8600412258277f24a8533f05d.png

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