3 New Knowledge Layers About Twitter


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.

Top Ten.jpg

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.

21 thoughts on “3 New Knowledge Layers About Twitter

  1. I think most people are too self-involved to follow status updates of hundreds or thousands of people. Personally I have made a few lists of the people whose tweets I want to see, and I follow those lists. Beyond that I only really look at my replies.

    • I do try to take the time to breeze through the stream a few times every day just to get a pulse on my community, and respond to a few other folks tweets and ideas. I know a lot of people love lists, too. For me, it’s important to listen to and participate with my community, even at this cursory level.

  2. Geoff

    Great article – thanks for sharing insights from the data. I think that the first chart is the most interesting for me.

    The first chart is really intersting, but I think that it is missing one key piece of information – how often those people are Tweeting. I’d love to know the gap between how often people post and how often they stop in and listen…..

  3. Point #3 I have been following and participating in on occasion and I find it fascinating the way this community really pushes the limits of snark, but they are really pushing forward on connectedness. The hashtag snowball is really quite intriguing how connected this community is.

  4. It is curious that what Pew calls “checking for material posted by others” you call “listening.”

    I equate the latter with reading your replies and running keyword searches for your name and your products etc (for those who don’t know you exist so don’t @ you).

    I equate the former to only what other people write, following the messages of people you follow.

      • Argumentative for the sake of argument? Why substitute Pew’s language for your singular word, “listening,” then? Is that not argumentative in itself?

        • Well, I check for material posted by others on the radio a lot. I check for material posted by others to my son when he needs someone to talk to. In fact, I think I’ll shut up and and check for material posted by others now.

          Actually, never mind. What are words for, when no one checks for materials posted by others anymore?

          In other words, Ari, you keep using that word, but I think it means what you do not think it means.

          • Helen, “listening” is not my word. I merely echo what others say. By your logic, Mashable and Dell use it wrong too.

            Let’s make an analogy. Suppose you’re in a room of strangers, a cocktail party. You’re talking to someone, drinking a wine, whatever. Someone mentions your name but you don’t know who said it, so you cock your ears and turn around to gauge the direction of that voice. That’s listening.

            But when people talk and don’t mention your name, you’re not listening. You’re merely hearing.

            I’d rather call something by the word that describes it than make up other words, which is the basis of my argument with Geoff’s use of listening when Pew didn’t use it.

        • I don’t know that I would cite Mashable as a style-guide.

          Additionally, I would posit that *much* of the language we use with regard to Social Media is misleading, and creates unintentional misunderstandings.

          I’m still not comfortable with the word “Conversation” as it is commonly used in Social Media. I think you’ll find that these Pew results bear that out, as we have a LOT of bi-directional publishing, but not a great deal of Conversation.

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  6. Geoff–Thank you for highlighting these points about Twitter. Depending on whose data, you assess, take-aways may vary.

    According to Twitter’s Year in Tweets, top topics were hot news, soccer & entertainment. Further, most retweeted tweets were all around entertainment. Interestingly, Stephen Colbert’s humorous twist on the BP Oil Spill was most retweeted tweet by almost 50%.

    Sysomos data shows increase in number of followers,etc. Also, most of Twitter growth outside of US. (This is consistent with Top Twitter Trends, 3 are about soccer.

    Happy marketing,
    Heidi Cohen

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