I've only been there once, for just one day, so I could be way off base here. But bear with me for a few moments.
I was traveling with Jaffe and we flew into a quirky, sleepy, little airport early in the morning. As we hit the road by car, headed to our meeting, Arkansas seemed to comprise little more than open fields dotted with a handful of cows hanging around doing a whole lot of nothing, and the occasional seemingly-deserted house. Now, anyone with even a passing knowledge of business and geography knows that Arkansas is also home to at least one vibrant and vital hub of activity, a place that is chock-a-block with conversation and commerce, a place that is a can't-survive-without destination for thousands of business people and millions upon millions of consumers. But neither hustle nor bustle were among my first impressions of the state.
Jaffe and I spent most of the day sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for something to happen. When our meeting finally happened, it was a bit of a let-down, fraught with mixed messages and crossed signals, and then aircraft technical issues grounded us in Arkansas overnight.
On the flipside, Jaffe did manage to convert a stranger into a fan, or more precisely a follower who hung around with us both at the airport and later that evening in the hotel bar, where rather than engage in any kind of meaningful conversation we half-watched American Idol while blurting out a real-time stream of running commentary.
In one random moment of surprise and delight (and social media serendipity), we bumped into blogger, Twitteratum and IBMer Doug Meacham, who just so happened to be in the same place at the same time. It was a nice few moments of interaction with a social media friend that I only rarely see in person.
If you happen to live in Arkansas, you might protest that -- on the basis of a one day visit -- I've gotten it all wrong. I missed the point, have no idea what I'm talking about, and that only a true resident can know the state the way the state was meant to be known. You'd probably be right but it doesn't change the fact that my experience of Arkansas was my experience of Arkansas.
Back in New York when anyone asked, "So what was Arkansas like?" I might recount a rendition of the story above. Or I might just say something like, "Well, are you on Twitter yet? It was kinda like that."For new or infrequent readers who don't know that my tongue is generally planted at least somewhat firmly in-cheek, I should also point out that the mockingbird is Arkansas's state bird. Which, by way of the clunkiest segue possible, brings me from the great state of Arkansas to the great state of the Twittersphere...
Today, HubSpot released its second State of the Twittersphere report. Some of the key findings are (un)surprisingly similar to other recent data from ratings giant Nielsen -- that while the service's top-line rate of growth has been through the roof, more than half of all Twitter accounts show little to no sign of activity. No Tweets. No followers. No friends.
Joe's profile shows no bio, no location, the generic o_O avatar and a single exploratory tweet from more than a month ago. He has fewer than 10 followers and is following just 23 other accounts. Look at the accounts he follows and you'll find mostly celebrities and mainstream media outlets, with a few social media micro-celebs and a spammer thrown in for good measure.
At best, you might argue that Joe sees Twitter as a passive experience -- he "tunes in" a handful of brand name channels and watches the content they post. You might call this the Oprah Effect and this patttern seems to back-up a recent POV from Brian Solis that, for the majority of users, Twitter is a broadcast platform rather than the conversation we social media insiders make it out to be. And let's face facts people -- with more than a million followers but only a handful of celeb follows and no @ replies since April (none to regular people), Oprah hasn't exactly "joined the conversation." To the contrary, she has launched yet another broadcast program - although with just 50 or so tweets since joining the service almost two months ago, it isn't a broadcast worth tuning into. (Love him, hate him or write him off as having hit his peak with That 70's Show, at least Ashton Kutcher seems to get it closer to right - but I digress...)
There's a more likely scenario though, isn't there?
You can see it in my cousin's profile, but you might infer it from the HubSpot and Nielsen data as well. That Joe simply visited once, just for one day, and hasn't been back since. (Holy crap, did Verdino just tie together the loose ends of this rambling post?)
This is more an observation than a judgment, since after all, I'm not a big proponent of the bigger-is-better thinking that gets so many marketers hot and bothered. Maybe my cousin Joe is a living embodiment of the state of Twitter (an argument that would please the naysayers and skeptics) or maybe the true state of Twitter is best understood by taking a long, hard look at the most active users that live in its epicenter -- and we don't care how it looks to outsiders who don't get it (an argument that plays right into the hands of the social media "experts" but is perhaps closer to right.)
In other words - maybe microblogging is meant to be, erm, micro after all.
And in the end, the value doesn't come from the millions and millions of strangers who may or may not actually be there, but from the dozens or hundreds or thousands of friends that we choose to interact with every day.
NOTICE (6/16: 9pm EST) For some reason, comments aren't displaying for this post anymore. It seems like Typepad is still logging them and hopefully they can help me figure out how to fix the problem. Don't let that keep you from adding your own thoughts though, and try checking back soon to read the thread.