Twitter Users And Receptivity

by Tom Webster |

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 the Author

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.