Sunday, November 14, 2010

Twitter matches Facebook in awareness but not in numbers

I'm what's known as a "lurker" on Twitter, although this depiction of what I do seems a bit harsh:
The majority of Twitter users are “lurkers,” passively following and reading the updates of others without contributing updates of their own.
Sounds like I'm a hanger-on, eh? A follower rather than a doer. (Won't that look good on a résumé as a description of my social media skills!) But then note that lurkers form "the majority" of Twitter users in the above characterization, one of the findings in a report (pdf) released earlier this year by Edison Research/Arbitron.

The study, which drew on three years (2008-10) of tracking data on Twitter usage in the United States, provides an interesting peek into the microblogging service. Among the highlights, as noted by ReadWriteWeb:
  • Twitter users are more likely to live in higher income households.
  • Twitter users are well-educated: 63 percent have a college degree.
  • Twitter is disproportionately popular with African-Americans (25 percent).
  • 79 percent of Twitter users would rather give up their TVs than their Internet connections.
But while as many people know about Twitter (87 percent) as Facebook (88 percent), fewer use Twitter than Facebook, according to the study. Twitter has captured just 7 percent of the U.S. population aged 12 and older, vs. the 41 percent of the population who have a profile on Facebook.

The study goes on to note that most regular Twitter users also post status updates to a social networking site ("likely Facebook"), and so speculates that the difference in usage may have "less to do with any reluctance to create content per se" and more to do with Twitter's mass-broadcast quality. Or as one non-tweeting teenager told the New York Times last year, "... I don’t feel like everyone needs to know what I’m doing every second of my life.”

I'll cop to the lurker label, though, but in my defense I'll note that I do tweet too.

However, I signed on to Twitter with the express purpose of finding smart people saying smart things about journalism. I wanted them to help me make sure I wasn't missing out on any of the discussion. And they haven't disappointed, providing links to articles, studies, events and webcasts I might not have found on my own.

Along the way, I added more smart people by seeing who the original Smart Ones thought important enough to follow, and added them to my list of people to follow. So as I collected more and more names, my universe of links grew and grew.

It's hard to believe, though, that as this trickle of tweets becomes a torrent, it represents just a fraction of the population, as the Edison Research/Arbitron study suggests.

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