The Chattering Classes are now the Twittering Classes

A few days ago TechCrunch carried some fascinating new research into seven million Twitter accounts by Web security firm Purewire (which operates TweetGrade). This showed that some 80 percent of Twitter accounts have fewer than 10 followers, 30 percent have zero followers. However, since 32 million people globally visited in April alone, there are plenty of people getting into it in some way. But this evidence suggests that most people on Twitter are not doing a lot of two-way “conversations” (@replies etc), and that this is generally a more advanced activity. Most people are using it to broadcast one-way, which – to be frank – misses a lot of Twitter’s huge potential as a global platform for conversation.

But it looks like Twitter is used just like many other new media that came along, including blogging. A Harvard Business School study recently suggested that the top 10 percent of Twitter users produce more than 90 percent of all Tweets. Of course just because people are not Tweeting does not mean they are not listening to others’ tweets, of course. So Twitter is similar in a sense to other forms of user generated content, with the top users producing the most content and the majority ‘listening in’.

Further evidence of this arose today in the UK. During a heated exchange between UK politician Lord Mandelson and BBC journalist Andrew Marr this morning, “Andrew Marr” became the top trending term on Twitter, with Mandelson not far behind. For those of you who take an interest, the consensus seemed to be that Mandelson had pwned, or rather beaten Marr into submission during the interview (see 40 mins in here).

This trending topic seemed to throw the Twitterverse into confusion. I saw lots of tweets asking “who the hell” Andrew Marr was, along with Mandelson. But at the same time many of the people I follow – it’s fair to say these are all big Twitter users – were Tweeting away about the Mandelson / Marr exchange.

So in other words we can surmise therefore that Twitter is big amongst those who used to be known as the Chattering Classes and it is not perhaps quite as mainstream in day-to-day use as many would like to think. Or at least, even if it is, most people listen but don’t tweet.

Meanwhile, MPs themselves have gradually been claiming their Twitter accounts over the last year, egged on perhaps by projects like Tweetminster. But one disappointment has been Andy Burnham MP. While his colleague Tom Watson used his Twitter account to great effect to engage with the tech community about business policy, Burnham – a minister who was making policy about the future of the Internet in the UK – didn’t seem to notice when we kidnapped his account to try and encourage him to engage with the industry.

In seven months Burnham never contacted us to claim his account back, and according to some, is too busy to type 140 characters or use it as a platform to engage with constituents. In light of the recent scandal about MPs expenses, this is pretty much par for the course from UK MPs these days. This is one member of the chattering classes that is clearly the exception to the rule when it comes to Twitter.

Well Andy, you can have your account back now. You’re no longer a Minister making Internet policy. And the new Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw seems, at least, to be actually using his Twitter account.