Finally! Research Shows Just How Popular Twitter Is Beyond The “Cool Kids”

Being here in Silicon Valley has made me remember from time to time that what happens here in this sheltered ecosystem is not always the same elsewhere around the country, let alone the world. The fact that we’ve probably adopted more usage of location-based services like Foursquare or Gowalla doesn’t mean that businesses in places like Lancaster, PA, Toledo, OH or Albuquerque, NM are jumping at the chance to roll out their own implementation or are fascinated with the technology. In talking with some colleagues, they remind me that outside of this ecosystem which is San Francisco down to San Jose, people probably don’t know Michael Arrington or have even heard of TechCrunch or Mashable in the mid-west. They very well might, but it could be assumed that by going to any technology or social media enthusiast in the mid-west or non-tech hub city and they won’t care about sites like ReadWriteWeb or Techmeme.

So when we’re shocked that people aren’t on Twitter, this is what we should remember…until now.

Twitter Usage in America 2010

Just released by Edison Research and Arbitron, a new study entitled Twitter Usage in America 2010 looks at three years of tracking data from Twitter users in the country to determine whether this platform is gaining momentum. Their findings are startling…

  • Awareness of Twitter has exploded over the past twelve months.
  • While being aware about Twitter, only seven percent of Americans (17 million) currently use it.
  • Twitter is missing out by not articulating the value and benefit of using the service.
  • Twitter is disproportionately popular with African-Americans.
  • Majority of Twitter users are “lurkers”, passively following and reading the updates of others sans contributing their own.
  • Marketing & business case studies for Twitter far exceed similar usage for social network sites in general.
  • Twitter operates as a natural “companion medium” to other channels – specifically television.
  • A “significantly higher proportion” of Twitter users update their social networking profiles & use Twitter through mobile devices than the average user of other social networking sites & services.

As you can see, there are some fascinating statements that emerge from this study. And while it’s evident that Twitter has really grown over the past several years, the adoption of it really hasn’t been that widespread. I think if you talk to anyone outside a major technology city, you’re going to find that quite a few will be dumbfounded by people’s fascination with Twitter. Some common responses may include “I’ve used it before, but stopped because I don’t see the value in it.” and that’s probably what leads Edison Research to conclude that Twitter is missing the boat by not sharing with the public and the community the value and benefit of using the service. Sure, we see that companies are now using Twitter on television and radio to ask people to follow them and major brands are really paying attention and offering deals, customer support and service through their accounts, but how will this motivate more adoption of the service?

One point that I agree with is the last finding where the report states that a “significantly higher proportion” of Twitter users are prone to updating their social profiles more often via mobile devices than non-Twitter users. After all, the one feature behind Twitter prior to the development of desktop programs like Tweetdeck, Seesmic, etc was that you could (and still can) use your phone to post updates. Besides, we’re mostly on the go all the time so why not share what’s going on in your life through a readily accessible (and easily portable) device like your phone. It can be done through numerous phone applications on the iPhone, Blackberry and Android device, but if you don’t have one, then it’s perfectly fine to use SMS to post updates to your Twitter account.

Twitter Usage in America - Awareness of Twitter

Twitter was born in 2006 and has grown tremendously over the past four years. And as typical with most startups, people may not have heard of the company. But when Twitter started rolling out guerrilla marketing tactics at the 2007 edition of South by Southwest, the news got out and then it started to take off. Over the past three years, the percentage of people who have become aware of Twitter (or even know what it is) has grown tremendously. Out of a sample size of 1,753 Americans over the age of 12, 87% said in 2010 that they were aware of Twitter – a considerable improvement from 2009 where 26% said they were aware.

Twitter Usage in America 2010 - Twitter Actual Usage

Now that we know that 87% of a nationally representative sample said that they were aware of Twitter, what is the percentage of Americans actually use the service? Well as stated earlier in the findings, only 7% said that they currently use Twitter, a 5% point increase from last year where 2% (~4 million). So if my math is correct, there are 214 million Americans being represented by this research. In using that figure, then I would have to conclude that in 2010, 17 million Americans use Twitter while 187 million Americans are aware of its existence. There’s a big gap in-between these two statistics. Now why is that?

Facebook is one of the most popular social networking sites out there today. It rivals that of Myspace and both services are widely well-known around the country and most likely the world. But it might surprise you to know that Twitter has rapidly approached Facebook as being a rival in terms of awareness. Twitter has pretty much emerged from obscurity to become almost as well known as Facebook – in 2010, 88% of Americans were aware of Facebook. But again, while you’re aware of something doesn’t equate to actual conversion of usage. In fact, 41% said that they had a Facebook account while 7% said they had a Twitter account.  I’m not sure whether this means that there’s a direct correlation between the two, but it would probably not be far-fetched to believe that those that have a Facebook account don’t necessarily have a Twitter account. But could the same be said in the reverse? Probably not.

SO NOW TIME FOR THE DEMOGRAPHICS!

Twitter Usage in America 2010 - Age demographics

Just who are the users of Twitter? As you can see in the above chart, nearly 1/3 of all users are young adults between the ages of 25-34. Could this be a statement that this demographic is more in tune with the social media technology than others? In fact, over 50% of Americans using Twitter are between the ages of 25-44, essentially a great deal of the working force in the country. But before you begin to count out other demographics from Twitter, you better look again. Those 55 years and older make up 7% of the Twitter population and teenagers, high school and college students are a force to be reckoned with as they compose nearly 30% of the demographic.

Women are an overwhelming majority of users on Twitter as well – 53% to men’s 47%.

In the Edison Research findings, they said that there was a disproportionate amount of users who were African American. Out of the monthly Twitter users, Edison found out that the second highest ethnic group on the platform besides Caucasians/Whites (51%) were African Americans (24%). Other statistics that were looked at included the types of education people had when interacting with others on Twitter – out of the monthly Twitter user 18+, 30% were college graduates from a four-year institution with the second group having some college education.

Twitter Usage in America - Marketing Trends

So from a business perspective, what does this research mean to you? Do you go after people on Twitter or focus your effort on other social networks? Well if you consider Twitter users as early adopters, then you might want to know that 29% of monthly Twitter users would probably tend to buy new products at the same time as others. While you might think that the socially saavy individuals on Twitter would be prone to snatching up the latest gadgets and products before anyone else, you might be mistaken. Edison Research shows that Twitter users aren’t prone to being at the front of the pack when it comes to getting new things. They’re actually more content to being the second one in line and letting others test it out or wait until other people are going to get their product.

Twitter Usage in America 2010 - Sharing Information

But don’t let the fact that Twitter users are probably not the first to try out a product dissuade you from looking at Twitter. Edison Research’s study goes on to show that Twitter users are definitely more prone to sharing information about your product and services. So the fact that a company gave really bad service to a customer, who happens to be on Twitter, is something to pay real close attention to. That news will certainly spread via Twitter like a wildfire. In fact, 42% of Twitter users are leveraging the service to learn more about products and services. This could just be a fact-finding mission to learn more before the potential buy, but 41% also are using it to share their reviews. So whether you’re doing bad or excellent service, your business could be on Twitter within seconds condemning or praising you. Twitter has definitely proven itself to allow customers to be mystery shoppers.

Twitter Usage in America 2010 - Brands & Twitter

If you’re wondering whether you should have a Twitter presence for your brand/company, then this new study proves that you should. Nearly 51% of Twitter users said that they would follow brands on the site compared to all the other social networks. In fact, you can see above that there’s a huge difference between what Twitter is doing for brands than other sites. What this is telling me is that more people would be willing to follow a brand on Twitter than they would be on Facebook, YouTube, etc – 51% to 16%? That’s really shocking.

Twitter Usage in America 2010 - Advertising Sentiment

In light of Twitter’s new roll out of promoted tweets, Edison Research’s finding about Twitter users’ tolerance towards advertising is somewhat significant. When polled, users responded by saying that for the most part, it wouldn’t effect their usage of the site. But slightly more than 1/3 said that it would disrupt their activities and would probably scale back their Twitter usage. This is probably a really good sign for Twitter as they roll out a new monetization strategy to help raise money and give more opportunities to businesses who want to reach out to their users on the platform.

There are more findings and results in Edison Research’s report released today. You can find the data, summary and the charts I’ve included in this post on the report by clicking here.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently Flipboard's Assistant Managing Editor, overseeing news curation in technology, science, gaming and health. In addition to his day job, Ken's the co-host of "The Created Economy" podcast, examining the Creator Economy. In a past life, he was a former reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding.