Twitter Demographics Study: Why Your Business Should Use Twitter

Twitter could very well be a fad.

But that doesn't mean that your business can't benefit from it if you're able to use it correctly.

A fad? Let me explain. Recent studies have been producing statistics that severely undercut the media hype around Twitter. I'll first present the data and then dissect it in a way that's meaningful to your business. Some of the data will vary depending on the date, the methodology, and the sample size of each study, but it should provide a clear picture in aggregate.

Twitter is growing, with an estimated 44.5 million unique visitors in June 2009, up 19% from the previous month. 45% of those visitors are from the United States. According to Alexa, a web stats company, Twitter is the 20th most popular site on the internet and Compete ranks it as the third most popular social network. It also ranks third behind Facebook and email as a way to share links.

Twitter Has User Engagement Issues

Despite the popularity indicated by the numbers above, Twitter has serious trouble keeping the attention generated by the onslaught of publicity. According to a study done by The Nielsen Company, Twitter's audience retention rate is 40%, meaning that a full 60% of users do not return from one month to the next.

Beyond audience retention issues, Twitter also has a problem of user engagement. A Purewire study of seven million accounts found that 29.4% of all accounts had 0 followers, 50.9% had 1-9 followers, and only 19.7% had 10 or more followers. People also follow others less than expected with 24.4% of the accounts following 0 people, 43.4% following 1-9 people, and 32.2% following 10 or more people.

Hubspot released a similar report in June 2009 with even higher numbers than the Purewire study, stating that "79% of accounts did not have a homepage URL, 75% of users did not fill out the 160-character biography, 68% have not specified a location, 55% are not following anyone, 54% have never tweeted, and 52% have no followers."

Tweet Frequency And Value

Other reports offer even more alarming indications that Twitter might not be all it's cracked up to be. Harvard Business conducted a study with a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users and found that "the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one" and that "the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets", whereas in "a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production." The Purewire study offers further insight, stating that 37.1% of accounts have 0 tweets, 41% have 1-9 tweets, and 21.9% have more than 10 tweets.

Another study done by Sysomos examined the top 5% of Twitter users and found that 32% of their tweets were generated automatically by bots and that 24% of all tweets across Twitter are bot-generated. Sysomos goes on to say that though some of these bots post more than 150 updates per day, many of them are used legitimately by news organizations and other companies to provide automatic updates for their content.

Are the tweets valuable, whether they are generated or not? Maybe not as much as one might hope.

Pear Analytics' study found that 40% of all tweets were pointless babble or had little value because of a lack of context, 37% of tweets were conversational, and only 8.7% of tweets were considered of pass-along value, meaning a shared link or a retweet.

Twitter User Demographics

In a June 2009 report, the Participatory Marketing Network released the results from a study stating that only 22% of 18-26 year olds use Twitter. Of that 22%, 85% use Twitter to follow friends, 54% follow celebrities, and only 29% follow companies. Other studies corroborate the fact that younger people don't use Twitter. Nielsen's July 2009 survey found that only 16% of Twitter users are under the age of 25 and Reuters reporter Alexei Oreskovic found that "18-24 year olds, the traditional social media early adopters, are actually 12 percent less likely than average to visit Twitter."

Though Twitter is not officially verified through Quantcast and so any such statistics need to be taken with an appropriate degree of skepticism, Quantcast estimates that roughly 55% of Twitter users are female. It also suggests that 78% of users are Caucasian, 58% have no children under the age of 18, and 42% have not attended college. Household income estimates for Twitter users is 21% under $30k, 29% between $30-60k, 25% between $60-100k, and 26% making over $100k.

Despite there being more women then men, the Harvard Business study found that "men have 15% more followers than women" and that the "average man is almost twice as likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman. These results cannot be explained by different tweeting activity - both men and women tweet at the same rate."

Biographical data may be in short supply because so few users fill out their profiles, but the Sysomos report found that some of the most common phrases used in a Twitter biography were 'internet marketing', 'web designer', 'music lover', 'husband father', 'wife mother', 'graphic designer', 'public relations', 'business owner', and many other variations of those same themes.

Business are becoming increasingly interested in Twitter and social media in general. A recent study by Association of National Advertisers shows that 66% of marketers have used social media in some capacity in 2009. Of that 66%, 63% are on Twitter and 74% are on Facebook.

The US seems to be fueling most of Twitter's growth, accounting for 62% of new Twitter users, with the UK (7%), Canada (5%), and Australia (2%) far behind.

Unsurprisingly, Twitter users with more daily tweets have more followers, with users having over 1800 followers tweeting an average of 10.21 times per day. Tuesday and Wednesday seem to have a higher percentage of tweets than other days with 30% of all tweets occurring on those two days, while Saturday (13%) and Sunday (12%) have noticeably lower tweet volumes. The highest tweet activity also seems to occur between the hours of 10am and 3pm EST.

Data Analysis - What It All Means

Now that we've covered an enormous amount of demographic data about Twitter, let's examine what it means in a business context.

Though the medium is simple, it is difficult to explain the value of Twitter to someone in a succinct way. The high abandonment rate and the low level of user engagement speak volumes about the fact that many people simply "don't get Twitter."

Classifying Twitter as a traditional social media site seems to be a mistake, if the emerging usage patterns hold true. Twitter's format is not well-suited to hosting extended conversations and the 160-character limit for biographies severely inhibits the sharing of rich social data the likes of which is seen on sites like Facebook, MySpace, or even LinkedIn. These limitations drastically change the way Twitter is used and could prevent it from ever reaching mainstream adoption.

The majority of Twitter usage seems to come from power users who use Twitter as a broadcasting tool for their content. A significant portion of their activity is automated, including tweets, following users, and sending direct messages. These users are most generally in public relations, media, business, marketing, or a technology-related field. While many are busy trying to figure out business uses for Twitter, it would appear that business is Twitter's chief raison d’être and comprises most of Twitter's activity.

In many ways, Twitter could be labeled as a slightly more interactive RSS feed crossed with a real-time link sharing service (without the ability to easily bookmark links for later use). Though some of the power users try to interact with their thousands or millions of followers, it becomes impractical for one or even several people to respond as the follower list scales. At that point, Twitter ceases to be a social medium and it becomes largely a broadcast medium.

Users who don't fall into the power user category but still use the service nominally tend to consume more than they produce. They will follow friends, celebrities, and a few people they perceive as successful whom they would like to emulate or whom they trust to give good information related to their interests.

As a business, using Twitter will reach a tech-savvy, and educated demographic. They will generally live in the United States, be older than 25, and have an income level commensurate to their age. Twitter users like useful content, whether it is news or information related to improving their standing or performance in business.

The Final Word - Should Your Business Be On Twitter?

Based on the demographics and information above, Twitter isn't a match made in heaven for every business. However, it can clearly deliver benefits for businesses that are able to leverage it properly.

As a business, most (though not all) successful Twitter strategies will involve having a large list of followers. Smart businesses will find ways to funnel their list from Twitter to their websites or emailing lists to allow for deeper brand engagement and better visitor segmentation.

If you don't have time to tweet interesting content manually, the desire to engage other Twitter users, the ability to set up automatic tweets from an RSS feed or to schedule tweets, then Twitter probably isn't for your business. If you are able to do any of those things, however, a Twitter account for your business can show your clients, actual and potential, that you are an engaged and savvy company on the cutting edge.

As with all things business, we recommend testing and tracking your results and your Return On Investment (ROI). A careful analysis over 6 months to a year should reveal if Twitter is a beneficial asset to your company in terms of website traffic, publicity, brand engagement, and sales. There are many ways to track statistics for Twitter and Twitter itself is said to be offering a paid analytics package for businesses later this year.

Is Twitter a fad?

It very well could be, but for now, it can be a useful one if Twitter users fall within your company's target demographics and your business is able to use Twitter in such a way that it benefits both you and your followers. Twitter's own future will depend largely on its ability to improve its product in a way that is more easily explainable, provides clearer value, and has a higher user retention and engagement rate. Time will tell if that is possible.

If you're on Twitter, we'd love to know what you thought about this article. You can follow and message us at @virtuosimedia. Depending on feedback, we may release a book later this year on how to use Twitter for your business. As always, you also have our permission to retweet, link to, and share this link around the web.

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  • Benjamin Kuker

    Benjamin Kuker

    Benjamin Kuker is the co-founder of Virtuosi Media and is married to his beautiful wife, Johanna. He is responsible for the design and maintenance of this website. He enjoys reading, writing, programming, business, sports, and traveling.

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