Twitter Differences in Different Countries

If you’ve never used Twitter before, it can be a little intimidating when you’re first starting out. You’re faced with a message on the front page of the site telling you to “Follow your interests,” and promising “instant updates from your friends, industry experts, favorite celebrities, and what’s happening around the world.”

Then you sign up, and you’re faced with an empty text box with a question above it asking you “What’s Happening?” You have no friends added yet, you’re not following any industry experts or favorite celebrities, and there’s no news about what’s happening around the world. But you might see tweets in more languages than just English, according to a whitepaper presented last month.

Languages used in Tweets by people in the most active countries to use Twitter from a Yahoo Study.

The site does have ways to help you search for and find people to follow and interact with, and will recommend people to follow in a few places, but trying to figure out exactly what to say in that box that asks “what’s happening,” isn’t that easy. I remember spending more than a couple of days trying to figure that out myself.

I began by adding some people I knew, and by watching how and what others tweeted. One aspect of Twitter I found and continue to find pretty interesting is when someone tweets something to me in a language other than English, and I have to use Google Translate to interpret what they are saying. Twitter really does enable you to find out what’s happening “around the world.”

I ran across an interesting paper this morning, presented at the 20th ACM Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM) in late October of this year, Do All Birds Tweet the Same? Characterizing Twitter Around the World.

The paper was authored by an cast of researchers working for Universities and Yahoo Research in Spain and Chile: Barbara Poblete, Ruth Garcia, Marcelo Mendoza, and Alejandro Jaimes.

The authors collected a years worth of data from the ten countries they found to be most active on twitter to understand and report upon “differences and similarities in terms of activity, sentiment, use of languages, and network structure.”

The abstract of the paper begins by telling us about some of the potential impacts and usages of international social networks like Twitter:

Social media services have spread throughout the world in just a few years. They have become not only a new source of information, but also new mechanisms for societies world-wide to organize themselves and communicate. Therefore, social media has a very strong impact in many aspects – at personal level, in business, and in politics, among many others.

In spite of its fast adoption, little is known about social media usage in different countries, and whether patterns of behavior remain the same or not.

To provide deep understanding of differences between countries can be useful in many ways, e.g.: to improve the design of social media systems (which features work best for which country?), and influence marketing and political campaigns. Moreover, this type of analysis can provide relevant insight into how societies might differ.

The authors of the paper tell us that their research is the “largest study done to date on microblogging data, and the first one that specifically examines differences across different counties.”

So, what kind of data did they look at? It appears that they were interested in exploring things like:

  • Numbers of tweets per users in different countries
  • Languages used per country
  • Happiness levels of tweets
  • Content of tweets in terms of re-tweets, mentions, URLs, and hashtags

The data examined for this research came from 4,736,629 users and 5,270,609,213 tweets from the top-ten most active countries during all of 2010. 99.05 of those tweets were classified into 69 languages with English being the most popular language, appearing in nearly 53% of those tweets.

Some interesting findings when it comes to the content of tweets.

Indonesia ranked first in tweets, followed by Japan and then Brazil

Indonesia and South Korea had the highest percentage of mentions, and Japan had the lowest, amongst the ten countries compared.

The Netherlands was the country with the most hashtags per user.

The United States had the most mentions of URLs per user.

Conclusions

The paper is interesting on more than one level, such as the study of how social networks function as well as how people use social networks in different ways in different places. I’m hoping that more researchers will spend time with data like this in the future.

One addition I’ve been hoping to see in places like Twitter and Google Plus are easily accessible translation tools to make it easier to understand messages in other languages and improve communications across different international communities.

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42 thoughts on “Twitter Differences in Different Countries”

  1. But what does it all mean, Bill? :)

    I have been on twitter for a number of months, and only now feel I know my strategy and how to use the tool.

    Interesting that the US comes out on top of links shared per user. Do they not also top the world for output of spam..?

  2. It’s good to see there are plenty of opportunities for English speakers in other countries, but it looks like there isn’t a clear cut “2nd place” if you will. If you had to learn a another language for Twitter, what would it be?

  3. Hi Mike,

    I suspect that the conclusions of that study are going to mean different things to different people.

    The way I use twitter has probably evolved quite a bit since I first started using it, and I’m happy to see stories like the following one which I came across a couple of days ago describing in detail how someone else is using twitter:

    How Twitter helps a small bookstore thrive

    I’ve seen some twitter users pump out link after link to pretty self promotional articles and blog posts about the goods and services they offer, and I really don’t want to be marketed like that.

    I’ve seen other twitter users share interesting thoughts and links on topics that people they are sharing with might be interested in.

    Some people use twitter to actively engage in conversations with others, while others seem to use the service more as a broadcast channel.

    I do like the idea that even a “professional” twitter account should include some amount of personal tweets.

    The study only looked at “active” users of twitter, and I suspect that fake profiles and sockpuppets were probably filtered out of the data being used, as much as possible.

    If you have some data showing that the US leads the world in the output of spam, I’d appreciate seeing it. Seems like there’s a lot of spam coming from many other countries in the world outside of the US.

  4. Hi Ryan,

    I don’t think that I would learn a second language primarily based upon the fact that many people tweet in languages other than English. :)

    I’d learn another language because I know people who speak that language, or because I might consider moving somewhere that language is spoken, or maybe even if there are many people I might want to do business with who speak that language and it might open up some opportunities that I didn’t have before.

  5. LOL! This one cracked me up: “The United States had the most mentions of URLs per user.”

    Basically this means that we are a nation of spammers. That sounds about right.

    On a side note…personally, I wish Twitter would limit the number of people you can follow to 100 or less.

    That would clean it up.

    Thanks Bill.

    Mark :)

  6. Hi Mark,

    The way that’s phrased does seem to imply that. But I do see a lot of people tweeting links in Twitter, and do that myself, and yet I don’t consider most of those to be spam.

    For example, if I find a paper like this one from Yahoo about Twitter, and I’m in the middle of writing a blog post about something else, I’d be pretty tempted to tweet the link out to other people. I wouldn’t consider that spam. :)

  7. Thanks for the link – I and my colleagues from Ataxo Interactive do similar research for Czech and Slovak Twitter and sometimes the way local people use Twitter indeed does not match the usage in USA (we also run a local Twitter search engine/archive at Klaboseni.cz). As the whole Twittersphere for our countries is around 70k users, we simply cannot have accounts with millions hundreds of thousands followers, but also other metrics (like Klout score) are not working the same way.

  8. I think more analysis of languages used would provide some interesting usage insights. Using another alphabet or writing system could allow you to pack in more or less into the character limit depending on which writing system you use, which would in turn affect what you can express in your Tweet.

  9. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences here. Interesting that you’re doing some similar research to the group from Yahoo. It sounds like they had an incredible amount of data to look at, and I hope we see more from them.

  10. Hi Kentaro,

    Very good points. I’m not sure how easy or hard it is to access the kind of data that was used in this study, but I hope we do see more research of this kind.

    As the authors noted, it was a fairly unique bit of research given its size and scope. In their conclusion, it appears that we might see more from these researchers:

    In future work we expect to explore more formally correlations between network structure measurements, hierarchy and happiness levels. Also we would like to compare our findings with similar research in other social networks, such as sociological studies.

    I hope so.

  11. I fully agree with including some personal tweets in the mix. I often say that no-one buys services and products, they buy people. The personal edge keeps it real, yo.

    On another note, I was thinking about (ways to stop) comment spam, that detecting the absence of cookies might be a way to do this. Bots are not running from a browser but from a script, so they won’t have cookies. I do like your checkbox though, does that work?

    re: spam
    http://www.spamhaus.org/statistics/countries.lasso
    http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2011/11/01/half-of-all-spam-is-relayed-via-asian-computers/

  12. yeah Tweets in Twitter and Post on FaceBook being very popular now days and people are considering it as main aspect of social media optimization. Well I do not like twitter. When you have 1000 follower there would be hardly 100 people who might be following your tweets rather than you.

  13. Whomever I follow seem to market something to me! Either a product or their web-page. Am I following the wrong people? Don’t know. But I have come to the conclusion that Twitter is full of marketing messages going from one end of the world to another!

  14. I am facing the same problem because I am new to tweeter. I don’t understand how to follow people with same interest and what to do??

  15. I am not suprised, germany is not listed in the top-10 countrys on twitter. Tough twitter is growing here, but not so popular at all and mostly used by tech guys, not the regular mainstream people.. But I have to say, twitter is very confusing on the first look ;)

  16. Not surprised France is not mentioned in the top 10 either. Business-wise if you want to get tweets to help for your ranking, it gets pretty hard in france.
    And yeah I do confirm it is very confusing to get started on twitter. I did it for business but if it was perso I would have given it up for sure.

  17. Hi Mike,

    I think when you use a social network, you should try to be social. You should show that you are a real human being, and that you are willing to engage in actual conversations with other people. A steady one-sided stream of tweets, whether famous quotes, or links back to your website, or links pointing to your own site don’t show that. It’s important to show some of your personality, some of your interests, and that you’re a real person. Personal tweets help do that.

    Comment spam wastes my time, keeps me from getting work done, and from writing new blog posts. It’s also not a very good way to attract or build links of value.

    It’s worth trying different approaches to fighting spam.

  18. Hi Alex,

    If you don’t like Twitter, you don’t have to use it. :)

    I read a lot of tweets that I often don’t have time to respond to, but find value in. It’s possible that your tweets might have more impact than you may imagine they do.

  19. Hi Raj,

    There are a lot of people at twitter who use the service for different purposes. I’m sure if you look around, you can find people who are less interested in marketing and more interested in having discussions and engaging others.

  20. Hi Rena,

    You don’t necessarily want to limit yourself to following people who have the exact same interests as you. But, there is a search box at the top of twitter, and you can search for things that you are interested through that. Find people who are writing about those things and check their past tweets to see if they are someone you want to follow. If they provide a link to a website they are associated with, you can check that to, and see if they do share some common interests with you.

    If you find someone like that, who does have something in common with you, also check out the people who they are following, and you might find more people who share your interests.

  21. Hi Holger,

    I’d love it if they expanded their research to tell us more about some of the other users of twitter in other places as well.

    I do know a few people from Germany who use twitter frequently, but they do have technical backgrounds.

    I spent about an hour or so a couple of weeks ago showing my mom Twitter, and how to use it. She seemed interested, but I’m not sure that she will start using it. When you’re faced with that empty text box, and you have no idea who your tweets might go out to, it is hard deciding what to say. It is a lot easier if you already have some friends on Twitter who you can have conversations with through the service.

  22. Hi Sylvain,

    I’m not sure that anyone should start using twitter solely because they want to get tweets to improve the rankings of their pages. Use it to find people who might share some common interests with you, use it to gain access to information that you might not otherwise get, use it to build relationships with others that might lead to something bigger, and don’t worry so much about how it might improve rankings. Those other things are really as important, if not more so.

  23. I think the twitter was indeed intimidating at the start but yes, after a month or two it is more addictive than Facebook, this is my personal opinion! But honestly this is shocking that it is different in different countries..

  24. Probably the most annoying thing about Twitter is the fact of language barriors. I hate it when I had someone who may be relevant but they don’t speak the same language.

  25. I think the feeling of using twitter when I started out was daunting, just like joiing a chat room – it wasnt something I was comfortable with. these days though i have found my place and enjoy the medium. Still dont get it why I felt obliged to follow a Japanese tweeter – haven’t a clue what he is on about !

  26. I too found Twitter to be overwhelming! I have an account, but can’t remember the last time I went on there. It’s interesting to read about all the language barriers, but at least you’ve put me a little bit at ease that there’s hope for people like me and all I have to do is sit down one evening and just get on with it. Thanks for the info.

  27. Hi Paul,

    I’ve tweeted back and forth with people using other languages with the help of Google Translate. I heard that there was a mobile app that included a translate button for twitter that I need to investigate.

  28. Hi Linus,

    I’m enjoying it as well, but it took me some warming up, too. I do have a number of people who have followed me who never post in English, and I’ve followed a few of them back. Makes things interesting.

  29. Hi Lu,

    Sometimes the best thing to do when you’re getting involved in a new social network, like Twitter or a forum or similar places is to spend a little time everyday just reading and seeing how others use the service. If you do that, then at some point you may find yourself using it yourself.

  30. Interesting figures. I had no idea Indonesians loved to tweet so much. One thing I could never get my head around were the logistics of tweeting in Japanese or Mandarin Chinese. Isn’t the writing system comprised of tens of thousands of ideograms? Even if you pare it down to a few hundred possible characters, how do you cram all that into a cellphone keyboard and fit it into Twitter’s 140 character limit? This is assuming they didn’t just go “screw it, we’ll use the Latin alphabet.”

  31. It’s funny I just created a twitter account last week for various reasons. Thought I’d get my friends in on it but they can’t be bothered LOL. Looks like I’ll have to follow a few celebs, don’t think they will follow me though…

  32. I wish Twitter would add circles or something like it so that I could have a lot of followers but just filter the streams I prefer to look at during the day…eg; friends or business, etc.

  33. Hi Joe,

    you can use lists to do things like this, public or privately created and including the feeds most relevant to you. If that is not powerful enough I recommend hootsuite which can do so much cool stuff it is unreal, and can manage multiple accounts from different platforms.

  34. Hi Alex,

    This was one of the first serious inquiries I’ve read about the international use of twitter. Not necessarily because others may have written about it or not, but rather because I really haven’t delved too deeply into how the actual mechanics of Twitter works in other countries and in non-latin alphabets. But is it definitely a topic that does deserve to be explored more. I’ll have to search around to see if I can find some more papers on Twitter.

  35. Hi Ron,

    I do suspect that if you use Twitter’s search function, you might find some people interested in some of the same things that you are. I don’t think you need to be stuck just following celebrities.

  36. Hi Joe and Mike,

    Lists could be used a little like circles are in Google Plus.

    It would be great if you could just send tweets out to people in specific lists, but I’m not sure if Twitter enable that if Google might claim that it was a little too close to the Circle concept that they developed.

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