What Do People Tweet About & The Surprising Truth About What Drives Them

what-ppl-tweet-aboutEvery single second 6.000 tweets are being sent!

With all honesty, I’m quite surprised that so many people have something to share with the rest of the world.

And the intrigue gets even bigger when you start thinking of the reasons that drive people to tweet.

You may know that one of the fundamental principles of marketing is to “understand your audience”. So with this article I want to take you to the deepest levels of this understanding.

I?ve joined Twitter in 2009, right after the first spike of it?s popularity, so I guess from 5 years of using it I?ve made enough observations for this kind of post.

But not only that – many ideas in this article belong to established scientists, so it’s not just my arguable rambling.

Let’s go!

There Are Only Two Types Of Twitter Users

I think we can easily break down all Twitter users into two very general groups based on what they tweet:

  1. Outcome Dependent – those are the people who have specific goals and a clear vision why they tweet and why they?re on Twitter.
  2. Outcome Independent – these are the people who?re doing it just for fun. They post stuff when they?re bored and they?re not pursuing any specific goal.

The main difference between these two is that the first group is driven by their conscious mind and logic while the second one acts absolutely unconsciously.

Let me give you a few examples of personas in each group, to help illustrate my points.

Outcome Dependent Personas:

  • TV Celebrity – who has to tweet in order to engage with his fans, spread the information about new albums, movies, tour dates, TV shows, etc.
  • Business Owner – communicates with his customers, spreads information about his business, contests & discounts, promotes new products, asks for feedback.
  • Bloggers – duh? I guess these are the ones who actually invented the term ?Twitter Marketing?. Their goals? Get more followers, more tweets, more retweets, more traffic, more sales. Sounds familiar?

Outcome Independent Personas:

  • The Girl Next Door – who has about 100 followers (mostly guys from college) and doesn?t have any specific goals other than throwing a few random thoughts now and then and seeing how her followers will react to that.
  • Random Office Guy – mostly uses Twitter as a source of news. He may retweet things he likes or complain about things he hates (more on this later in the article).

Of course the more interesting group is the second one, which seems unpredictable, while the behaviour of the first group is primary dictated by the so-called Social Media Experts who give tons of tips on how to tweet & why.

But still I’d like to cover both groups to illustrate the contrast between them.

What Do They Tweet & Why They Do That

As you can tell, the two groups tweet differently and have different motivations behind their tweets. The fundamental difference here is where the focus goes.

Let me explain this…

Outcome Dependent Focus On Their Audience

Take a second to recall the “outcome dependent” personas that I’ve described above. These people have to think about their followers in the first place. Every tweet should be relevant to their audience or there will be no result.

In a study from 2010 Rand Fishkin discovered that when he tweets about the topics people expect to hear from him about, a higher percentage of them click those links (which is honestly too predictable to be even called “discovery”).

Thus, if you?re known as a dinosaur expert, tweeting about TV shows and what you had for lunch won?t get any response from your followers (okay, they may actually unfollow you if you do this).

But if you are a movie star (are there any among my readers btw?) you may just tweet about where you go shopping and this would be overwhelmingly interesting to your followers.

Now how do you get the attention of your Twitter followers? Just engage with them more often!

Engagement is not a rocket science and it often starts with a simple question.

Like the one tweeted by Sports Illustrated reporter Richard Deitsch, which resulted in a massive feedback from his followers and hundreds of other people on Twitter:

He somehow inspired his followers to share treasured intimate moments of their life captured on camera:

Later this story was covered in mainstream media and as for Richard, he gained a few thousands new followers out of this:

Another amazing case study is how NY Times were treating their Twitter account in 2013: ?If a tweet worked once, send it again ? and other lessons from The New York Times? social media desk?

To inspire you to go and read this article I’m going to share some of the most important takeaways:

  1. [tweet_dis]Know what?s the primary reason people are following you & support it with your tweets[/tweet_dis]
  2. [tweet_dis]Be on top of things & tweet breaking industry news as they happen[/tweet_dis]
  3. [tweet_dis]Retweet meaningful stuff from industry experts[/tweet_dis]
  4. [tweet_dis]If a tweet worked once, send it again. (a lesson from @nytimes)[/tweet_dis]
  5. [tweet_dis]On Twitter clarity works better than being clever or obscure.[/tweet_dis]

To recap this section I’d like to bash all the ?Social Media Experts? a bit for pushing the idea of ?Twitter for business?, which is kinda a selfish need to do anything just to drum up more clients. That’s not the way it works.

You need to be a leader and the leader doesn’t focus on himself, his focus goes to solving problems of his following.

I love how Seth Godin puts it in his book Tribes:

Leaders lead when they take positions, when they connect with their tribes, and when they help the tribe connect to itself.

Real leaders don’t care [about receiving credit]. If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit…There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is.

Get your focus out, guys.

Outcome Independent Focus On Themselves

In the early days of Twitter they had ?what are you doing now?? slogan on their homepage. Which motivated people to post tweets that we?re making fun of till this day:

what do people tweet about

go check the full comic here: The Oatmeal

At first that was cool to follow all your friends and see who?s doing what at any point of time.

But unfortunately most of the people are quite predictable and live similar boring lives. So you should bear with the fact that no one is interested to know if you?re in a gym or on your way to the office.


seriously guys, go check it: The Oatmeal

And still all these people (who don?t have a clear goal on Twitter) find stuff to post there and some reasoning behind it.

So what makes them do so?

How about ?I Tweet, therefore I Am? concept?

[tweet_box]I Tweet, therefore I Am[/tweet_box]

In her amazing article at NY Times, Peggy Orenstein suggests that social media makes us pull ourselves out of the moment that we?re enjoying and invent an alternative reality where we present ourselves to other people in the way we want them to perceive us.

Sounds too perplexed? Let me post a relevant piece from that article:

For her coming book, ?Alone Together,? Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T., interviewed more than 400 children and parents about their use of social media and cellphones.

Among young people especially she found that the self was increasingly becoming externally manufactured rather than internally developed: a series of profiles to be sculptured and refined in response to public opinion.

?On Twitter or Facebook you?re trying to express something real about who you are,? she explained. ?But because you?re also creating something for others? consumption, you find yourself imagining and playing to your audience more and more.

So those moments in which you?re supposed to be showing your true self become a performance.

Your psychology becomes a performance.?

The Times of London did their own research, asking experts about why do people tweet, which resulted in a few very curious takeaways:

The clinical psychologist Oliver James has his reservations. “Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It’s a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.”
“We are the most narcissistic age ever,” agrees Dr David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist and director of research based at the University of Sussex. “Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist. It may stave off insecurity in the short term, but it won’t cure it.”
For Alain de Botton, author of Status Anxiety and the forthcoming The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Twitter represents “a way of making sure you are permanently connected to somebody and somebody is permanently connected to you, proving that you are alive. It’s like when a parent goes into a child’s room to check the child is still breathing. It is a giant baby monitor.”
Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wonders whether texting and similar technologies might affect the ability to be alone and whether feelings are no longer feelings unless they are shared. “It’s so seductive,” she said. “It meets some very deep need to always be connected, but then it turns out that always being trivially connected has a lot of problems that come with it.”

This all sounds perfectly reasonable to me, especially when supported by real-life stories like the one about a 15-year-old girl who sent and received 6,473 texts in a single month.

I think everything above can be merged into a single concept:

[tweet_box]People on Social Media are seeking for validation from others[/tweet_box]

They need a proof that they?re smart and attractive, they need a proof that what they do is meaningful, they need a proof that they?re not alone and they need a proof that they are living their life to the fullest.

And others may or may not confirm that in a response to the tweet.

What Do People Generally Tweet About?

Like I said, we’re quite predictable and we usually act in patterns. And as you may know, these patterns are often studied.

So in a recent study of 1000 British twitter accounts the guys from Brandwatch discovered quite a few interesting facts:

  • Women on Twitter talk more about personal matters, television programmes and work. While men are most likely to tweet about sport, gaming and news.
  • When it comes to tweets related to brands, women are far more likely than men to be entering competitions, while men are much more likely than women to be complaining.
  • The food and drink tweets were dominated by women (73%), as were the clothing and accessories tweets (89%). Eighty percent of technology related tweets came from men.

The most popular topics for tweets are:

  1. Television;
  2. Sport;
  3. Music;
  4. Celebrities.

This last statement can be pretty much supported by Twitter?s own data:

What Can You Do With This Knowlegde?

This was probably the most perplexed article I have ever written. Tons of thoughts and ideas to think about.

You may or may not agree with the certain statements from this article, but I think that the following idea makes a lot of sense:

[tweet_box]People love tweeting things that will make them look good[/tweet_box]

So if you want people to tweet your articles, you must ensure that your content will make them look super good in the eyes of their followers.

I took this very concept and turned it into a complete Twitter Marketing Strategy that you can check here: “Twitter Marketing For Dummies That Don?t Even Know They Are Dummies

And there’s another cool way to motivate your readers to tweet your stuff, explained here: “How To Get 200% More Tweets On Your Articles

So what do you guys thing about it?

Do you agree that we tweet in order to change the way others perceive us?

Tim Soulo is the Chief Marketing Officer and Product Advisor at Ahrefs, a leading tool trusted by hundreds of thousands of SEOs and marketers worldwide. His SEO-related data research studies have been cited by media giants, including Inc, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat. He's also a regular speaker at some of the largest industry conferences around the globe, such as PubCon (US), BrightonSEO (UK), and the Digital Marketers Australia Conference (AU).