Twitter’s reputation as a social advertising stalwart appears to have taken another knock as the service – celebrating its 10th birthday this week – is failing to shake off questions over how many of its account holders are active, or indeed real.

New research into a core sample of companies listed on the FTSE 100 show that 51% of their audiences are considered ‘inactive’ or posters of spam. 

Fashion brand Burberry comes off as one of the worst in the study – the product of analysis on 4.5 million accounts led by marketing agency Greenlight – with an active user base of just 35%. 

With advertisers pumping $2.03 billion into advertising on the social network last year, not accounting for the amounts spent on having an active presence on the platform, such findings may cause them to reconsider just how valuable their tweeting really is at a time when engagement is imperative. 

Friend or foe?

The report also shared insight on ‘fake’ accounts, with more than 12% of the companies appearing to host 20% or more spam accounts in their follower lists. 

ITV has things bad in this area; its proportion of fake followers coming up to nearly a third (31%). Security and aerospace solution provider BAE systems followed closely behind on 24% and was matched by automotive group Rolls-Royce on the same proportion. 

But before accusations could arise over non consumer-friendly brands failing to take to Twitter, construction firm Berkeley Group was happy to buck the trend with an active following of 64% – two-thirds of its audience tweeting regularly and without a hint of suspicion about their true identity.

Nevertheless, the salient point from the research is the average proportion of users deemed inactive or fake, which should be a cause for concern for any advertiser still seeing Twitter as a good way to reach new audiences.

Wasted spend

The safety blanket is that a large chunk of Twitter campaigns charge on a cost-per-click basis, meaning an interaction is required for those running on engagement, leads, installs or other metrics. 

However, those running on the basis of new followers (albeit one of the service’s cheapest options) may be giving a false impression regarding their success. 

Andreas Pouros, COO and co-founder of study author Greenlight, stresses that money may have already been lost in creating the campaigns that fail to deliver.

“Our research suggests that many users may no longer be making regular use of their accounts, while users that do tweet may be speaking to a much smaller audience than they might think. For brands and businesses, that are investing a great deal of time and money in creating content to share on Twitter or advertising to users, these findings will be eye-opening.”

The commentary from today (March 21) has been of praise for Twitter, which has racked up 300 million users over a decade on the web. Hashtags such as #LoveTwitter are trending, fuelled in part by an email campaign sent out to users this morning .

Into its next 10 years, the advice from Pouros and indeed the study is to take an in-depth look into where active users are being housed – whether that’s away from Twitter altogether – and target away.

“By choosing channels that have a relevant and engaged audience, brands and businesses will be able to attract and grow their customer base, as well as influence and enable consumer purchases.”