In Israel, Twitter struggles to take off

Industry sources estimate that there are only 150,000 Israeli Twitter users, 4% of the country's Facebook users.

Nearly half of Israelis have a Facebook page, including parents, young adults, teenagers, and children. Facebook has 3.8 million real users in Israel a month, a sterling success for the social network. But Facebook took a long time to enter Israelis' consciousness. Only in late 2007, three and a half years after it was founded and became available to the general public, was Facebook able to gain a toehold in Israel, and it took off only two years later.

In the wake of Facebook's dizzying success in Israel, it is hard to ignore the fact that the world's second-most popular social network Twitter Inc., currently planning its IPO, has not really taken off here. Industry sources estimate that there are 150,000 Israeli Twitter users, 4% of the country's Facebook users. Even though there are differences between the two social networks in other countries, it still seems as though the Israeli Twitterati are unable to draw enough followers.

Active Israeli Twitter users include journalists and media people, which means that the service is mainly considered as a media tool by people tweeting each other, rather than as a real social network where people follow each other.

This may be the first reason for Twitter's slow adoption in Israel. The desire to share personal experiences, children's pictures, the challah baked for the Sabbath, or the view from the hotel balcony in Eilat are things that touch Israelis, but are better suited for Facebook. In contrast, on Twitter, the world seems a little more alienated. For example, pictures are not always exposed automatically, but only after clicking on the tweet. Another reason why the service seems less magical to Israelis is that each tweet is limited to 140 characters. So while it is possible to send a long sentence over several tweets, the service may be affected because Israelis like to talk so much.

"I wouldnt say that Twitter isn't a success in Israel, I just think that it will simply take time for the service to be adopted," says high-tech entrepreneur and an owner of the Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club, Ori Allon, who worked as an engineering manager for Twitter for a year. "Facebook needed time to gain a foothold in Israel, and the same holds for Twitter, which was founded two years later. You need a critical mass for it to grab hold. In the US, this critical mass was only achieved in the last couple of years. There is a critical point at which use takes off. Twitter hasnt reached that point outside the US, but it is needed, and it's an amazing network."

Who to follow?

According to twtrland Ltd., which monitors people's Twitter use, the leading users are politicians, musicians, marketers, bloggers, and developers. "More influential people are needed on Twitter. It's not enough that Bar Refaeli and a few politicians and athletes are on it. You need people from a broader spectrum of interest," says Allon. "On Twitter, you follow interesting people, not kitsch, wedding photos, and pictures of the kids."

twterland's service is not exactly what a new Israeli Twitterati needs, says its co-founder and CEO, Eitan Avigdor. "On Twitter, you dont necessarily follow the family or friends, the most common use of Facebook, but people in similar fields. This is why we founded twterland, which presents a profile of every Twitter user," he says in explaining the basic difference between Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter was not initially taken into account among Israeli government leaders. President Shimon Peres only opened a Twitter account in June 2011, and it only became active in February 2012. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in no hurry to jump on the bandwagon either, and opened his account in May 2010. That same year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided that the time had come to streamline Israel's media message, and bought the Twitter account @israel from a Spanish pornographer, Israel Melendez. He sold the account in part because it was flooded with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tweets.

Today, Netanyahu and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Twitter accounts are the second most popular accounts in Israel, alongside the accounts of the IDF Spokesman, singer Aviv Gefen, and actor Guri Alfi. Gefen's Twitter success is not just because of his popularity as a singer, or the success of his TV show, "The Voice", where he is a mentor, but because the agreement to air the musical reality format by Channel 2, franchisee Reshet Television, was required to operate a Twitter account.

"The idea was to create a dialogue with the mentors and the audience to boost viewing and involvement in the show," says Reshet digital commercial manager Liat Sterntal. "The fact that views can follow the mentors made the show."

Sterntal says that the buzz about "The Voice" in its first season was its prominent use of Twitter. "There is no doubt that Twitter was given very strong push in Israel when a Channel 2 primetime show used it as a platform. In the first season, this was noteworthy because of its innovation, and there was greater activity in the second season."

The battle of the tweets between the mentors and the fact that "The Voice" was a TV show, rather than a brand, boosted popularity.

99% of Israeli Twitterati are geeks

Facebook's phenomenal success in Israel has actually caused Twitter users to be much quieter. "Everything is smaller and more intimate," says media personality Judy Shalom Nir Mozes, an active Twitter user. "Although I have 19,000 followers, and I dont control who follows me, there is an impression of much greater intimacy, and I write to a more sophisticated and different audience."

Nir Mozes says that she writes 6-8 tweets a day, compared with one Facebook post every 2-3 days. "I feel it is taking hold in Israel. Although there are a lot of people in the scene, they are the people who are supposed to draw in other users."

Blonde 2.0 founder and co-CEO Ayelet Noff has 23,000 followers, but is pessimistic about Twitter's future in Israel. "99% of Israeli Twitter users are geeks and media people. It ends there."

Noff attributes Twitter's lack of success in Israel to the service's simplicity. "People feel that it's very technical and are deterred by all the #s and @s. It looks like Chinese, and they dont understand how to use it," she says, and she sees no change in the offing. "I am not sure that it will be possible to change the picture. I am not sure that Twitter is a tool that will ever succeed in Israel. Even when Israelis eventually tire of Facebook, which I think will happen at some point, they won't switch to Twitter, but to other networks."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on September 15, 2013

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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