Why Twitter Is Bigger Than You Think

In early June I’ll be presenting a track keynote at Blogworld NY that updates our Social Habit research series, a randomly sampled, representative look at how Americans 12+ use social media. I’ve written a lot in this space about Twitter, and the sizable gap between those Americans who use Twitter, and those who are familiar with the service. This year, that gap continues to be significant: 89% of Americans 12+ are familiar with Twitter, while 10% use the service.

This is the third year we have observed a gap of this relative size. Now, a user base of 10% of Americans 12+ is nothing to sneeze at, and as I’ve commented here before, you’ll never catch me saying “only” 10%. In fact, Twitter does appear to have an importance in American society that would seem to extend beyond the 10% who actually tweet. This year, we were determined to get to the bottom of that seeming disparity between the percentage of Americans who “tweet,” and the percentage of Americans who are exposed to tweets.

Here’s the question with which we struck pay dirt:


Here you can see that 11% of Americans 12+ (the gray slice) have not heard of Twitter, which means that 89% have. That is more than the percentage of Americans with online access (~86%), by the way, which gives you a pretty good yardstick for the ubiquity of Twitter. Now, bearing in mind that 10% of Americans 12+ actually use Twitter, look at the big green slice: 44% of ALL 12+ Americans report seeing tweets in other media (radio, TV, newspaper or other websites) “Almost Every Day,” and 80% of Americans overall claim to have ever seen tweets in other media.

We see tweets all the time in the media–often, it’s the TV reporting of a celebrity’s troublesome tweet that makes the news, even when most Americans haven’t seen the tweet itself in situ. This statistic quantifies that assumption and, if I’m being honest, reveals it to be far bigger than I would have suspected. When the number of Americans who report seeing “tweets” in other media nearly every day approaches almost half the country, then Twitter is punching well above its weight, indeed.

There are several implications to this statistic, but I’ll leave you with three to think about:

  1. Regardless of how you use Twitter, most Americans (as in an actual majority of Americans) view Twitter as a purely broadcast network.
  2. As such, Broadcasting is far from dead, and social isn’t killing it. Social is changing it, but in terms of how most Americans consume tweets, Twitter is just another cable network.
  3. If you are measuring anything based upon unstructured data mined from Twitter (particularly influence), you are missing nearly 80% of the potential impact of Twitter by not taking the cross-media and offline impact of Tweets into account.

Those are my quick takes–and I’ll have a more extended look at this and other data when we debut the new Social Habit data at Blogworld. Want to be sure you don’t miss it when it comes out? Why not subscribe to the Edison Research database and be sure you’re the first on your cyberblock?

What do you make of this chart?

2 replies
  1. Chris Gibbs
    Chris Gibbs says:

    Tom – your question and its answer was perfect. I have been studying the impact of social media on professional sports for the past couple of years and have argued that “Twitter is the most disruptive social media in sports” With only 10% of Americans using it and 51% using Facebook, many people fight me on this. I have tried to point to anecdotal evidence; however it is always nice to have hard empirical facts. Twitter is the re-broadcasted social media and as we move to a more mobile world, Twitter will become even more ubiquitous because its format easily fits with the 2″x3″ screen on a PDA.

    Thank you for sharing this information and I look forward to learning more about your presentation at Blogworld.

    Chris Gibbs


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