One of the biggest questions about social networking and the services that enable it is whether the whole concept has durability and what kind of durability that might be; in other words, is social networking a really long term transformative trend, a bridge to some other pattern of user interaction, or simply a passing fad?
I think it is safe to conclude from the data so far that the last option, a passing fad, is definitely not the case. That leaves us with the other choices and, for now, the trends aren't clear for social networking as a whole.
For their survey RJMetrics downloaded 2 million tweets from about 50,000 users over the last few months of 2009 -- they note that "we were only able to download the most recent 3,200 tweets for each user. This means we may be missing part of the data for "power users" who have sent over 3,200 tweets (they represent less than a tenth of a percent of the Twitter population)."
The study found that by year-end Twitter had just over 75 million user accounts. What was particularly interesting was that the monthly rate of new user accounts peaked in July 2009 and is currently running at around 6.2 million new accounts per month (or 2 to 3 per second). What's important is that this rate is about 20% below July's peak rate.
RJMetrics also determined that about 25% of accounts have no followers and about 40% of accounts have never sent a single Tweet. Also, "About 80% of all Twitter users have tweeted fewer than 10 times" and "Only about 17% of registered Twitter accounts sent a Tweet in December 2009, an all-time-low."
What this really means about the future of Twitter remains to be seen. The next few months will give us a better insight into the evolution of Twitter but, for now and from a practical viewpoint, the service still matters as a powerful channel for communications.
If you're working on your company's social networking strategy remember that even if Twitter use and growth slows, an potential audience of 75 million people still matters.
Another issue to keep in mind: Social networking is an evolving medium so your engagement plans need to be kept flexible and subject to revision. Like all leading edge marketing, what works today may not work tomorrow but if it doesn't, something else is guaranteed to take its place.