ARCHIVES: This is legacy content from before Sustainable Cities Collective was relaunched as Smart Cities Dive in early 2017. Some information, such as publication dates or images, may not have migrated over. For the latest in smart city news, check out the new Smart Cities Dive site or sign up for our daily newsletter.

Twitter Usage in America - The Demographics

More and more studies are starting to reveal the anatomy of twitter usage. So far it was more guess work as to who is actually using the social-network-microblogging-news-share-shout platform. Earlier the Twitter Fact sheet gave some information on the general usage overall. This earlier research was focusing on twitter's performance and service. What it didn't unveil was the internal structure, who is using it and what they are using it for.

A recent study by the Pew Research Centre has now put together data on twitter usage in America. They have now focused on users and the study has some interesting results. Here are three key findings:
Young adults – Internet users ages 18-29 are significantly more likely to use Twitter than older adults.

African-Americans and Latinos – Minority internet users are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white internet users.
Urbanites – Urban residents are roughly twice as likely to use Twitter as rural dwellers.
The age divide and the urban rural divide was expected, more details below, but the ethnicity variations are rather surprising.

The data was collected in October and November 2010 and is therefore very recent. However the twitter landscape changes rapidly and this data soon needs to be reevaluated. For a detailed description on the methodology to collect the data have a read HERE.

In addition to the above three key points a few additional facts stand out. Women (10%) are using the service more actively than men (7%). It is a cliche, but woman are better at multitasking and this is what twitter requires. An active user has to be able to switch between current activity, twitter usage such as catching up with the feed, replay or link and then switch back.

In terms of how often a user checks the feed the categories are drawn very broad. It comes in seven categories of which only two are focusing on the day as a unit, several times a day (24%) and once a day (12%). The other categories are every 1-2 days (12%), every 3-5 days (5%), every few weeks (7%), less often (20%) and never. The never categorie is with 21% about the same as the several times a day with 24% and is of course an important category. However the nature of the twitter service is real time and messages are in the constant flow ephemeral in terms of duration and validity. In this sense categories such as once every 3-5 days don't make any sense. Instead categories should be smaller capturing peoples adictedness during the day. Everything beyond two days could have been less often and therefore having categories several times per hour, every hour, 1-2 hours, every quarter of a day, twice a day.

Another section of the study looks at the content users actually post. Here the personal stuff (72%) dominates closely followed by work stuff (62%). Probably the work related content was not expected to be this high. It shows that twitter has definitely become a valuable business tool for both distributing and receiving information as well as mingin and getting a feel for trends.
55% are posting news, 54% post "humorous or philosophical observations about life in general", jokes basically. So those three two categories are quite close together. This is the same for interaction, as retweets (53%) and messages (52%) are very similar. In terms of additional content: 40% share photos, 28% share videos and only 24% share their location. For photos and videos one can suspect that these categories are just simple to track, but might not be valid.

And lastly, the educational and financial background of the twitter users in this data set. Better educated means you're more likely to tweet, but only by a few percent. In terms of income, it is interesting that low and high incomes tweet more than middle and very high income. However, this observation corresponds directly with some of the observations we have made in the New City Landscape tweetography maps, especially the London map. Having now these numbers could help interpret these result in more detail.

Some comments on how the study is constructed and what aspects were looked at can be made along the above aspects. Similar to the units used to look at the activity in term of time, it almost seems as if whoever set up the framework for this study did not understand how twitter works. The categories are too broad and not specific enough. The temporal aspect was discussed earlier, but also the content of the messages would need to be assessed in more detail. Private and work are broad fields and what's pretty clear with these new medias is that the two start to blur quite easily and quickly. This should require specific attention. Furthermore the fact that all the numbers are simply given a percentage of internet users does not live up to the fact that twitter is something new and no longer 'internet based' in the classical sense. The study is based on the assumption that all the twitter users are aso interne users, eg access twitter through the website. A lot of twitter users access twitter through a third party client, egany platform. There is of course also a large group using mobile or smart phones to send or read tweets. This cannot be classified as internet usage in the conventional sense. It is quite unique and new that these services, including Gowalla, Foursquare, Stickybits and so on, operate through so many different types of channels.

Here is a graph taken from Flowtown, visualising all the results discussed above. However, I am not sure about the gender as well as the education graph, the original data from Pew shows different numbers, as discussed above.

Who’s Using Twitter And How They’re Using It
Image taken from Flowtown - Social Media Marketing Application / A visualisation of the study results collected by the Pew Research Centre and put together by Flowtown.

Image via Flowtown