I spotted an interesting data point in the recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, entitled “The Social Side Of The Internet.” The basic findings of the report – that Internet users are more social – may perhaps come as no surprise, but I love to look for little “spicy meatballs” in data like these – the interesting, dramatic disparities that you might not have guessed. Here’s one: Twitter users are far more likely to have discovered groups on the Internet, and spent more time on group activities, than are users of social networking sites in general, as the following table illustrates:

Twitter and social network users are more likely to discover and engage in groups thanks to the internet

There are some enormous disparities here – while 32% of the users of social networking sites have discovered groups to join on the Internet, 47% of Twitter users specifically have done so. Similarly, Twitter users are over 50% more likely to say that they spend more time on group activities because of the Internet than are the “garden variety” social networkers.

Data like these do not reflect causal relationships, of course – merely correlations. In the case of Twitter, which is still a growing and developing organism that has yet to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption, these findings certainly don’t posit that Twitter itself has enabled group membership. Rather, it suggests that Twitter users – a small subset of overall social networking users – are more receptive to joining groups. In other words, Twitter does not encourage or necessarily even facilitate group behavior; instead, it rather neatly aggregates humans who are already predisposed to joining groups in the first place.

If you think this through, it is of course common sense and even axiomatic. After all, what else is Twitter and other asymmetric networks than a group of loosely related (or even unrelated) individuals, seeking connection with other humans outside of their normal social circles of comfort? Most people connect with social networking sites and services to retain or foster connections with people they already know, either currently or from their past. Twitter’s asymmetric nature is such that those who join Twitter and continue to use it past an initial trial (out of curiosity, say) are those who welcome asymmetric connections with heretofore unknown humans.

What does this mean for brands?

Well, it is certainly further evidence that Twitter users are not representative of mainstream Internet users, nor are they even representative of mainstream social networking users. As Twitter usage begins to creep towards a double digit percentage of Americans, it is likely that differences like these between social networking users in general and Twitter users specifically, if they continue to hold true, may indicate that Twitter users are more than simply the “early adopter” subset of social networking users. Rather, it may be that active Twitter users, with their predilections for  group membership and asymmetric relationships, really are different dogs.

In other words, if you don’t have differential strategies for Facebook and Twitter (and are instead merely broadcasting similar messages across both), you are potentially missing significant opportunities for segmentation and tailored communications.

Your thoughts?

These are some ideas that stem from my analysis of the data. What do you read into it? Are my conclusions logical? Does your anecdotal experience with Twitter and other social networks resonate? The comments, as Jason says, are yours.

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About Tom Webster

Tom Webster

Tom Webster is Vice President of Strategy for Edison Research, sole provider of U.S. National Election exit polling data for all major news networks. Webster has 20 years of experience in market and opinion research, with a particular emphasis on consumer behavior and the adoption of new media and technology. He is the principal author of a number of widely-cited research studies, including Twitter Usage In America, The Social Habit, and The Podcast Consumer Revealed, and is co-author of the Edison Research/Arbitron Internet and Multimedia Research Series, now in its 18th iteration. Reach him on Twitter at Webby2001, or on his blog at BrandSavant.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

    “Twitter does not encourage or necessarily even facilitate group behavior; instead, it rather neatly aggregates humans who are already predisposed to joining groups in the first place.”

    Great analysis Tom. I'd take it another step and say that Twitter users are generally more prone to trying new things. They are the early adopters. When I look at my Twitter feed (compared to say, Facebook), I see more invites for “Beta _______” or exclamatory remarks about new products. I even see more hate toward news and developments way quicker on Facebook.

    A simple for instance: When Gap announced their new logo, my Twitter stream was aflame. My Facebook feed? No one seemed to have heard that Gap was trying something new. They had no idea, and probably wouldn't have cared half as much. Why? Because they aren't on the cutting edge, they are in the mainstream.

    Same goes with Quora. Unless you've got a lot of web junkies in your Facebook network, no one there – no “regular” people – are talking about Quora at all.

    I think you're right to suggest that Twitter users are different, but I think it applies to more than just their inclination to join groups. I think they are most interested in what is new, especially as it pertains to marketing and technology.

    • http://twitter.com/webby2001 Tom Webster

      I would even go so far as to say that a greater predilection to join groups AND being on Twitter are probably both “symptoms” of some other, larger constellation of qualities that have yet to be determined. Certainly, our own research shows that Twitter users are clearly early adopters, and the user base has yet to really cross the chasm.

  • http://mytwittertoolbox.com David Perdew

    I've always felt that Twitter was a unique social tool, that other clients just don't feel the same way. Well, here's the “social proof.” Twitter presents an easy-to-use interface that makes engagement as simple as posting a tweet. Other sites (including the big F), can't say that.

    Furthermore, as you hinted at, the type of associations possible on the site match the quality of those associations. It's a level playing field where people know just enough about you to want to know more, and I think that's a core component of their competitive advantage.

    As long as the site never loses this perspective, I think they will not only continue to grow in interest, but in marketability.

  • mediasres

    Tom, It seems like your emphasis is on how Twitter users are a different “kind” of person, a different breed so to speak, especially in how you portray Twitter itself as absolutely neutral in promoting group behaviors. I'm not sure that I would agree on this notion of neutrality, since you suggest that Twitter itself is just one big “group”. It seems to me that there is not much to gain from eliminating the notion that Twitter not only attracts a certain disposition and perhaps need, but that the medium itself would ALSO nurture that need/disposition, and promote it, evolving ways of interacting and greater likelihoods of kinds of relationships. The asymmetry in one mode of communication should breed asymmetry in others.

    • http://twitter.com/webby2001 Tom Webster

      I don't know that it's neutral, really – I don't disagree with your central point. I just have this pathological fear of turning correlations into causalities when no causal data yet exists. Someday, it might.

      • mediasres

        I completely understand your restraint on causation, but it is also unwise to exclude causation because when considering it you start hunting for it, and sometimes discover important things – yes, the risk is that you'll make up some things as well. I very much enjoyed your post as it got me thinking (some of my thoughts from yesterday: http://bit.ly/emz2Ci ). As my thinking went it's not just a theoretical question. If indeed Twitter DOES nurture group behavior, then as to your point about Brands it would be beneficial to target those specific group behavior mechanisms. For instance if the Twitter feature “lists” promote group behavior, as indeed I think they do, it would be a strategy to get on lists, or to develop your own lists that could be promoted to others. If indeed keyword search columns in Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, or hash tags are a way of defining and growing groups, targeted hash tag watching may be important to Brands. I completely appreciate your breed of dog metaphor,and do think it really is true. Twitter users are after very different things than FB users (and FB users when on Twitter are after very different things). But the nature of the medium also has something to do with that too. We perhaps come at this question from different directions, and probably agree with each other's points of emphasis. I enjoyed the opportunity to flesh it out a bit. Great post.

  • http://twitter.com/colorwarfare Color Warfare

    Very interesting data you found! Great (and logical) point about the key differences between Twitter and other social networks, and the implications that can have for communication across both platforms. I would say that it might not indicate a difference in the user, but the purpose for that user's participation. My point being that Twitter could be fulfilling some mutually exclusive demand from social networks.

    One really interesting thought is to use this data to infer how these different platforms could interact (with respect to a user) through APIs and what kinds of synergies can arise from those interactions.

    This synergy is what http://www.colorwarfare.com is aiming to harness in its endeavor to serve a currently ignored demand that social Internet users have.

  • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

    Great analysis Tom,
    Two thoughts
    1. I do think the data show that Twitter remains largely a domain for early adopters.

    2. The site has always been my favorite among social networking platforms, because it doesn't have the walled garden affect of Facebook or a blog. It's the cocktail party, the noisy convention hall where you might bump into a new contact or friend. Facebook is the backyard BBQ with locals and coworkers you already met in real life. I didn't plan it this way, but my social circles on the two sites involve almost zero overlap. I think your data just illustrates these points.

    • http://twitter.com/webby2001 Tom Webster

      I think that's an interesting observation, Patrick – as I think about it, there is very little overlap between my two social circles, as well.

      • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

        I've also noticed Twitter has broken into the mainstream in some niche industries, because it's simply a good fit. Hotel companies use Twitter far more often than most other industries (at least that's been what I've seen anecdotally). The site caters well to people on the move who need to connect with others via the web first, in person second.

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    Honestly it never crossed my mind until when I red your post. What you said in my opinion has a really good basis to look at. Also you made a good point when you stated that for marketing purposes, your should have different strategy for both network. Because you are talking to a different niche of internet users. Thumbs up to this post, it actually made me feel interested. I enjoyed reading it!

  • http://www.florida-themepark-tickets.com Stephanie Johnson

    I think that's quite interesting report. Well.. I was known with the fact that most of the internet users are social networking users…. but it would be twitter that will win the race… its really interesting to know!!!

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  • http://online-remi.com Remi Online

    in our days twitter and facebook have a verry important use, not only for socializing but also for publicity and of course making money..

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  • http://www.microsourcing.com/disciplines/seo.asp MicroSourcing

    It also means that nailing down your niche market is possible through Twitter, and that it's worth looking into.

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