Will Twitter Cross The Chasm?

by Tom Webster |

The tubes were buzzing yesterday about Twitter’s new round of funding from Kleiner Perkins, whose $200 million dollar investment brings Twitter’s total valuation to around $3.7 billion. As someone who has been involved with VC investment before, I can tell you that while the valuation is very exciting, the hard part is this – finding the best way to spend that $200 million wisely. Longtime Twitter users will no doubt point to investments in infrastructure, data mining or development tools, but after looking at a year’s worth of statistics on Twitter, they have a more pressing need – acquiring users.

Note that I did not say acquiring user accounts, which appear to to be growing at a steady clip, but much of that growth is either from simply entering new markets around the globe or from existing users establishing multiple accounts for businesses, brands or even events. Here is what I do know: in the first quarter of 2010, Edison (my company) produced a nationally representative study of Twitter usage in America that pegged the percentage of Americans 12+ using Twitter at 7%. Now, the Pew Internet and American Life Project has released its December 2010 figures, showing Twitter usage at 8% of online Americans 18+. To make this comparison slightly more apples to apples, however, the Pew figures, which are amongst online Americans only, can be adjusted to all Americans, which drops their percentage down to 6% of Americans 18+.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

So many of the findings of the new Pew report are in complete lockstep with the earlier Edison data (the higher percentages of young adults and minorities that use Twitter, for example) that the two studies genuinely reinforce each other. No matter how you slice these numbers, the conclusion is inescapable. Here we have two, highly credible and properly sampled consumer research polls that show, accounting for margin of error, that Twitter’s growth in actual human American users is statistically flat. In other words, in the 10 months between the sampling frames for the Edison data and the Pew data, the percentage of Americans using the service does not appear to have budged to any statistically significant degree.

So, whether you are a Twitter enthusiast or a Twitter investor, you have to reconcile what are, on the surface, two contradictory pieces of information – one, that “user accounts” are growing at a healthy clip; the other, that users are not. Are there new users joining the service every day? Surely. What counting user accounts does not tell you, however, is how many users are leaving the service every day, abandoning those user accounts. I’m not suggesting that there is, in fact, a high churn rate amongst Twitter users – I am merely offering that we don’t know.

Facebook in this country has crossed the chasm from early adopter channel to becoming a mainstream communication platform. These data suggest that Twitter has come right up to the edge of that chasm, but has yet to make the leap. Do you agree? Do you sense that this is true for your business, or have you seen evidence to the contrary? What do you think it will take to propel Twitter across that consumer adoption chasm, and into the lives of mainstream consumers?

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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.