The Pew research centre's latest report is on the use of Twitter and reveals some interesting trends, not least how mainstream the social messaging site (let's forget that 'microblogging' nonsense) has become. Twitter is now used by 6% of the entire adult US population and particularly young adults, minorities and city dwellers.
• Of the online population, 10% of women and 7% of men use Twitter.
• 14% of 18-29 year olds use Twitter compared to 7% of those aged 30-49.
• 18% of Hispanics use Twitter compared to 5% of white people and 13% of black web users.
• 11% of those in urban areas use Twitter compared to 5% in rural areas.
• 36% of Twitterers check the site at least once a day, but 41% also say they only check it every few weeks.
Photo by Rosaura Ochoa on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Content posted to Twitter
• 72% said their updates are about their personal lives and interests
• 62% write about work life
• 55% post links to news
• 54% post humour
• 53% retweet posts they like
• 52% use direct messages
• 40% share photos
• 28% share video
• 24% tweet their location
Aaron Smith, who co-wrote the report for Pew, told the San Jose Mercury News that the findings about use among minorities reinforce previous research, and reflect a young and social media-addicted demographic. "The findings... match really well with a lot of the other work we have done recently about how African-Americans and Latinos are very engaged in social media, and how they are very active in the mobile space," he said, going on to explain why use in rural areas is so much lower.
"What people are doing is using technology to maintain contact with their friends and family members. People are using technology not to withdraw from the world, but to maintain some contact with the people around them and the things they are interested in - even when they are pressed for time, and economically stressed."
The results show the contrast between the number of heavy users and very occasional users isn't surprising; Twitter is a deceptively layered service that take a while to learn and it's not immediately obvious quite how it works. Given how much of a time sink it is (particularly for those who lack personal discipline with their time), it's not not for everyone.
That only half the users retweet posts suggests that that piece of functionality isn't obvious; I get the impression users are often embarrassed to ask what 'RT' means when they start using Twitter. But in the context of the common web law of participation - that 90% lurk, 9% contribute a little and 1% are hyperactive - the level of engagement on Twitter is actually pretty impressive. Retweeting is a second level of engagement one step up from your own posts.
Sharing your own videos isn't quite as easy as photo sharing on Twitter. Immediately posting your own photos through services like Twitpic is easy, but video equivalents like TwitVid have a slightly lower profile.
Tweeting your location is interesting; does that 24% realise they are tweeting their location? "I'm in Air Street, Brighton" is different to having the automatic location tagging unwittingly added to every tweet.
UK research on the same level would come up with very different results, I think.