Alan Gleeson
Alan Gleeson 18 June 2015

Hey @Twitter : Where Are All The Real People Gone?

Lets explore the issues associated with the under representation of ‘real people' on the Twitter platform.

In this article, I explore the issues associated with the under representation of ‘real people’ on the Twitter, and the implications arising from this.

Key User Groups

Like any communications platform, the makeup of the Twitter user-base and their usage of the platform is wide and varied. Depending on what you want from Twitter, these distinct groupings have a significant impact on your experience. However, it is the decline in the presence and activity of real people on Twitter that is the cause for most concern.

So what do I mean by a ‘real person’? Here are some of the more common user groups represented starting with a ‘real person’:

1: The Real Person

Real Person?—?Real Image
This user represents a real identifiable person, who is primarily using Twitter in a professional capacity. Their primary goals may be to publish content related to the industry they are in, to follow thought leaders, or to engage (primarily but not exclusively) with those who share similar professional interests.

2: The Anonymous User

The Twitter Egghead
This user will typically have a profile that does not enable them to be identified. This ‘cloak of anonymity’ is often used by those who want to troll, but this group can also simply represent those who want to explore Twitter in private. Similarly, some anonymous accounts are spam operations with commercial backing.

3: The Personal User

Personal User?—?No real Bio and typified by sporadic usage patterns.
This user has little professional interest in Twitter and may use it primarily to engage with friends, to catch up with the news, and to share content (ranging from fashion, to humour, to content related to their favourite football team).

4: The Commercial User

Twitter Account of a Company

This commercial user is typically a company account, and is often used to push marketing messages or to facilitate support requests. The account can often be maintained by a number of different people. The addition of marketing automation platforms means these accounts can seriously impact the signal/ noise ratio as they are incentivized to engage .

Looking at Twitter through the lens of these distinct segments, it is possible to analyze common behaviours one would expect to see, and to understand the various motivations of the users sitting in the various buckets. But out of all the groups, the professional user cohort is by far and away the most valuable.

Why Is The Professional User So Important?

Engaging with real people you can identify is a crucial element for most professional users. For those looking to use Twitter’s advertising platform or to use Twitter as a means to source prospects, you ultimately want access to decision makers. If you want to trust sources of news or content the presence of a real profile helps you decide.

Real people seem to be increasingly in the minority in terms of both numbers and activity on Twitter.

Herein lies a key problem: adoption levels and activity amongst professionals significantly lag those of other user groups.

So what are some of the barriers to professional users signing up and using the platform?

1. The Initial Sign Up

For new Twitter users it can be very difficult to simply get going, and to derive some early value. Like the owner of the first fax machine, it’s value is linked to the power of the network, and when you start you essentially have none. Building one takes a significant investment of time so initial use of Twitter is distinctly underwhelming.

Aware of this problem, Twitter have been working hard at overcoming this ‘blank slate’ issue (The blank slate is a screen you see when a data-rich app has no data). 


Up to now, Twitter have looked to overcome this issue by primarily looking to push relevant (often celebrity) accounts for you to follow (based on a range of factors including your location). They select these accounts as part of the onboarding process when they ask you ‘What are you interested in?’ offering a selection of ‘light entertainment’ topics to chose from.

But while this approach may work well for certain younger demographics it is not designed for time pressed professionals looking to get started with a more ‘professional’ Twitter experience.

Of course for corporate accounts it is someones job to invest time in the platform and to publish content which explains why corporate accounts have a greater incentive to be active.

2. The Time Constraint

Twitter is a significant investment of your time if you want to derive benefit from it. Do time pressed professionals really have the desire or appetite to invest their precious time in the platform? Is it any wonder there are so many professional accounts that are dormant and why monthly active user (MAU) rates are falling? The very act of building followers is a significant investment, but without any meaningful followers the key issue of engagement raises its ugly head. Why bother?

Again when it comes to corporate accounts, the time component is not as pressing particularly when they have access to a team (in many cases) and automation tools.

3. The Return on Investment

Finally, the return on investment can be hard to quantify. For some, it can be strongly positive as Twitter can represent a platform that simply acts as a modern RSS feed where you follow interesting accounts and chose not to Tweet or to engage. You essentially just consume.

For others though who want to engage and to produce, the time commitment in the face of uncertain return will often not justify the investment – particularly in the short term.

Corporate accounts on the other hand, lack these same constraints and those embracing social media and inbound marketing tend to dial up their activity levels (increasingly using marketing automation tools) on Twitter as they look to engage with ‘real people’.

Some Possible Solutions 

In terms of fixing these issues, Twitter need to take a long hard look at onboarding, perhaps looking to facilitate professional users by allowing them to follow accounts based on company name, hashtags, industry and keywords (with a heavy local bias).

Similarly, the ability to easily create anonymous profiles is undoubtedly a major factor in the amount of bullying and trolling taking place on Twitter. While Twitter has increasingly turned its attention to this issue it still falls some way short. As anonymous accounts dial up their activities it comes at a cost as a negative externality for the wider community. Of course free speech advocates will highlight the importance of anonymity particularly in corrupt regimes, so it is hard to satisfy everyone.

Finally, US VC Jason Calacanis proposed a neat potential solution to some of these issues advocating the promotion of verified accounts where users could pay a nominal fee to get verified. Users could then set their accounts to limit followers to verified accounts only so as to ensure you could bias towards real people.


While Twitter continues to create a lot of value, it’s neglect of it’s most valuable group (professional users) cannot remain unchecked. Addressing the various needs of the distinct segments will take time, but is badly needed if it is to get back on track in terms of offering broader commercial value. @Jack will have his hands full. After-all, without real people @Twitter will slowly but surely stagnate.

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