However, a recent study of all public tweets sent over a 16-month period did reveal one particularly interesting statistic: an astounding surge in Arabic messaging.
Sure, Twitter use in other languages showed growth during the same time-frame, but the number of Arabic tweets skyrocketed an eye-popping 2,146 percent!
Using analytic software that can distinguish among 61 different languages, including Greek, Russian, Hebrew and Chinese, the Semiocast study captured and analyzed 5.6 billion Twitter messages sent between July 1, 2010 and October 31, 2011. To further underscore what makes the upswing in Arabic tweets so impressive, it helps to compare the statistic side-by-side with some of the other findings from the same study. Take a look:
- While global Twitter use grew by 150 percent over the duration of the study, or 2.5 times in volume, the number of Arabic tweets simultaneously increased by a whopping 22 times.
- No other language came close to Arabic’s four-digit percent increase during the period captured by the study. Even though they increased, Twitter volumes grew at much slower rates in English (182 percent), Japanese (85 percent), Portuguese (113 percent) and Spanish (250 percent) – and those represent the top four languages used on the site.
- English language Twitter usage fell from two-thirds of all posts in 2009 to less than 40 percent today, and the share of Japanese posts, the second most prevalent language on Twitter, dropped from 19 percent to just over 14 percent of total tweets sent. In comparison, the growth spurt of Arab users now makes Arabic the eighth most tweeted language.
- Other Middle Eastern languages also saw significant increases over the past year, with Farsi tweets increasing by 350 percent in the past year, and Turkish Twitter use growing by 290 percent. Although these languages make up only a small percentage of total tweets sent, the growth rate is still quite remarkable.
- Thai tweets, while lagging far behind Arabic, also grew an impressive 470 percent during the same time period. (Ironically, the Twitter website, which is currently available in 17 languages, has not been translated into either Arabic or Thai yet.)
While the dramatic increase in Arabic tweets is most certainly related to the current social and political upheaval in the Middle East, I can’t believe these messages were (nor will be) limited to political topics, and this study highlights that relying solely on the content of English language tweets, which now make up well below 50 percent of all messages sent, no longer provides a comprehensive snapshot of what people are talking about worldwide. Clearly, marketers need to stay abreast of language usage trends on Twitter, in particular, and social media, in general, as they design their global branding strategies going forward.