Posts Tagged ‘pew internet’

Overvaluing Twitter

Posted on: February 22nd, 2011 by Geoff Livingston 30 Comments

Scale-A-Week:  25 November 2010
Image by puuikibeach

Given the increased focus on “Twinfluence” thanks to measures like Klout, there are many organizations eager for success with so-called influencers (at least by Twitter metrics). Though some of these measures integrate more than just Twitter, they tend to be extremely 140 character centric. That may be a huge mistake for companies and nonprofits who overvalue the importance of Twitter in the larger social web context.

Let’s start with the fact that Twitter doesn’t even represent a strong minority of the U.S. population. According to Twitter’s last update in September, the network has 145 million members worldwide. Yet regardless of the number of accounts worldwide, active users are estimated to be significantly less. One study released a year ago pegged the active rate at 21%. Can you imagine literally reducing Twitter follower counts by 79% to get the accurate number?

How does this translate to the United States? According to Edison Research, while 87% of Americans are aware of Twitter, only 7% are active users, or approximately 21 million Americans. Compare that to the 41% who are active Facebook users (approximately 123 million Americans).

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Want more statistics? Pew Internet pegged Twitter usage at 8% of the American population. The numbers get worse, according to Pew. Only 6% of American households grossing more than $75,000 use Twitter. Additional analysis reveals that 48% of all active account users check other users’ updates every few weeks at best. Half of your followers are not listening!

This should tell a communicator that only 3.5% to 4% of Americans are actually using Twitter AND are actively reading their update streams. It sure seems like marketers are spending a lot of investment on influencer programs for a relatively small percentage of the population.

So why all the hype still? Unlike Facebook, Twitter is public and searchable (see Google Social Search story). And that makes Twitter imminently more friendly to two key stakeholder communities; marketers and content publishers, such as the media. Given what marketers and media companies do professionally, everyone hears a lot of noise about Twitter, but that awareness has not converted to actual usage (thus Edison’s very revealing statistics).

In 2009, the New York Times has attributed 10% of its web site traffic to Twitter. But according to Pew that gives the New York Times access to three audiences; young adults, minority internet users, and of course, urbanites. At that, consider that these are still small percentage of these demographics. What about the other 96% of the country?

One can have a lot of success with Twitter. But it is not the primary social network, and one with a lot of inactive accounts and relatively limited portion of the population. Proceed with caution if your market needs to reach more than this limited group of communities.

More importantly, make sure you know who your communities are, and where they like to talk. Don’t over value Twinfluence. Given that 92-93% of Internet using Americans don’t actively use Twitter, consider looking elsewhere an essential part of your research.

What do you think? Is Twitter overvalued as a medium?

3 New Knowledge Layers About Twitter

Posted on: December 20th, 2010 by Geoff Livingston 21 Comments


They say that life is like peeling an onion. Every time you think you understand it, a new layer is peeled, revealing more about the onion. Recently two separate documents — the Pew/Internet study on Twitter and an Ad Age article on Twitter trends — shed new light on the social network and its use. While the Pew report was well discussed, there were a couple of critical points which were overlooked. Here are three takeaways from the two studies:

1) Approximately 1/2 of Twitter isn’t listening. Consider the above chart from Pew. A whopping 48% of Twitter users don’t check other users’ updates frequently (at best every few weeks).

That means a lot of accounts broadcast without two way dialog. Twitter dubs itself as an information service, but if no one checks then information is not getting spread as far as one would be led to believe. This amazing stat blows a hole into a lot of metrics purported by marketers claiming reach on Twitter. It’s likely these are the same marketers who create corporate accounts that broadcast tweets on accounts with little engagement…

2) People care less about celebrities on Twitter than one would think. So much has been made about Twitter and the mega-accounts created by Hollywood types with millions of followers (in spite of their zero influence). But as the following AdAge chart of top ten topics from last week shows, people don’t talk about them. In fact, they talk about jokes and games of wit more than anything else.

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3) The digital divide is falling on Twitter, according to Pew’s research. The U.S. demographics on Twitter have the social network leaning towards Latin and black users. 18% of hispanic adults use Twitter, 13% of black adults use Twitter, and only 5% of white adults are on the information network. The Ad Age article notes that hashtags featuring games of wit (who’s snark is best) often start in the African American community.


This news (particularly points 2 and 3) is great! It’s refreshing to see tools used in the manner that reflects the preferences of communities that adapt it. While mass media celebrities and marketers broadcast on Twitter (point 1), they aren’t necessarily listened to… Instead, an entirely different social network is developing, one that doesn’t match the criteria of pop social media. Let the witty hashtag games continue!

It’s also encouraging to see that Twitter has become a leading information exchange for minorities. Ironically, the primary news about the Pew report dubbed the overall U.S. adult adoption rate at 8%, but didn’t focus on the leading communities. Perhaps there’s more to discuss about the digital divide, and how news is reported about it online. In either case, the news is encouraging with a primary social network leading the way towards equal access of information.