Edison Research has just released a new study entitled "Twitter Usage in America: 2010" that reveals some key insights on the Twitter user base and how the site is affecting businesses.
Social networking growth has been explosive – just 24% of Americans maintained social networking accounts in 2008 compared to 48% in 2010.
Approximately 33% of monthly Twitter users are between the ages of 25 and 34. People ages 35-44 make up 19%, ages 12-17 make up 18%, ages 45 to 54 make up 12%, ages 18-24 make up 11%, and 55+ make up 7%.
Twitter users are well-educated (30 percent attended a four-year college, compared to 19 percent of the general population) and relatively well-off (nearly half have a yearly household income above $50,000.)
Awareness Far Exceeds Usage
87% of Americans are aware of Twitter, but only 7% (approximately 17 million Americans) actually use it. This means that more than six times as many people maintain a Facebook profile than use Twitter.
Brands do Benefit from Twitter
Twitter users are three times more likely to follow brands on Twitter than on other services (about half of Twitter users follow at least one brand or company compared to just 16% on other social networks). Twitter users follow companies to receive updates and promotions, but also to provide opinions and feedback. 42% of Twitter users use the service to learn more about products and services, and 41% use it to broadcast reviews. It's important for brands and companies to monitor the sentiment of customer opinion on Twitter to gauge successes and potential issues that may be emerging.
The Majority of Twitter Users Don't Participate
The majority (53%) of Twitter users are considered to be "lurkers" who passively follow the updates of others while not actually contributing their own. However, more than 70% of Twitter users do post status updates to other social networking services (like Facebook and LinkedIn). This means that those users are not reluctant to post content, they're just not interested in doing it on Twitter.
Twitter is Fueled by Mobile Devices
One in five regular Twitter users updates the service via mobile phone several times per day, while one in three do so at least daily.
My takeaways from the study:
Twitter Has Not Established a Clear Value or Usage Benefit for Most Americans
Almost 50% of Americans age 12 and over maintain a profile on at least one social networking website (with the majority of people using Facebook), meaning social networking is now mainstream behavior in American society. While sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have well-defined use cases and benefits, Twitter has yet to establish a clear value proposition for users.
As Facebook encroaches more on Twitter's 'real-time feed' territory, it's going to be increasingly difficult for the service to compete. I believe that ultimately Twitter is a bit too one-dimensional to continue thriving with its current features and functionality. Either the service will need to adapt a series of valuable features, or it will ultimately lose out to Facebook.
Still, if used effectively, Twitter is not without its advantages in the short-term. It's a good platform for brands and companies to broadcast news, interesting articles, promotions, and events. There are a few success stories (such as Best Buy's @twhelpforce and Dell's @dellOutlet), but ultimately ROI is tough to justify if too much time is spent on the service.
Finally, Twitter is a good way for brands and companies to measure sentiment and awareness. There are a variety of tracking tools available on the web, and quality consulting firms can help companies identify highly effective ways to use the service. Ultimately, though, Twitter should be used as a small component of a larger marketing campaign, and not a lone source of advertising.
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