Tweeters flying away in droves

Ask any high school kid – soaring popularity loses some of its luster if more than half of your new friends ditch you after the first month.

And that’s the problem that Twitter Inc. executives are facing.

It seems that while people are joining the micro-blogging site in droves, a whole lot of them don’t sticking around for long. A Nielsen Co. report released Tuesday shows that 60 per cent of Twitter users do not return to the microblogging site the next month. And for the 12 months prior to Oprah Winfrey joining Twitter this month with great media fanfare, the site had a retention rate of less than 30 per cent.

“Let there be no doubt: Twitter has grown exponentially in the past few months with no small thanks to celebrity exposure,” wrote David Martin, vice president of Primary Research at Nielsen Online, in a blog post.

“People are signing up in droves, and Twitter’s unique audience is up over 100 per cent in March. But despite the hockey-stick growth chart, Twitter faces an uphill battle in making sure these flocks of new users are enticed to return to the nest.”

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And Twitter has been having staggering growth in the last several months. (Contestants in ITWorldCanada’s Blogging Idol Contest are posting to Twitter ) A few weeks ago, online traffic tracker comScore Inc. reported that Twitter had a 131 per cent increase in U.S. visitors just from February to March of this year. And that news came on the heels of another comScore report released earlier this month showing that Twitter traffic jumped 700 per cent in February compared to the same month last year.

While part of Twitter’s meteoric growth has been linked to an influx of middle-aged users, it’s also been gaining a lot of mainstream media attention. Everyone from Oprah to a NASA astronaut to the women of The View television program have not only been Twittering but talking about it – a lot. Is this just because Twitter is a fledgling site that maybe hasn’t found its footing yet?

Not really, according to Neilsen. Compared to the early years of social networking giants Facebook and Myspace, Twitter’s retention is still bad. Both Facebook and Myspace had twice the rention rate that Twitter does now, Nielsen reported. When their audiences ballooned, so did their retention rates. Both companies now have about a 70 per cent retention rate.

“Twitter just doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of stickiness to it,” said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. “People join Twitter … and then it has to be an on-going commitment. Twitter’s charm is that it’s immediate and instant. The minute you get busy, it’s usefulness fades.”

Gottheil also doesn’t see any obvious solutions for turning Twitter’s retention problem around.

“It’s a major head scratcher because it’s intrinsically a slice of time,” he said, noting that when the influx of new users ebbs, the people quitting Twitter will really take a toll on the site. “I hope they reach a phase of general stability. It has to level off at some point and it won’t level off at everyone in the whole world using Twitter.”