A couple of recent surveys have attempted to pigeonhole Twitter users. I find, though, that they’ve just revealed a pool of muddy water.
A study by the Participatory Marketing Network (PMN) and the Lubin School of Business’ Interactive and Direct Marketing (IDM) Lab at Pace University focused on 18 to 24 year olds and found that just 22% of them are using Twitter (Participatory Marketing Network Study: Gen Y’s Are Not Yet Taking Flight on Twitter). A full 99% of these people are active in other social media environments such as Facebook and MySpace, however.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project found roughly the same number: 19% of 18 to 24 year olds use Twitter (Twitter and status updating). Interestingly, 20% of 25 to 34 year olds also use Twitter. Older folks, though, tend to steer clear. The numbers take a nose dive after the age of 35.
That said, earlier this year Nielsen Online released a study that identified a 60% monthly abandonment rate at Twitter (Twitter Quitters Post Roadblock to Long-Term Growth). That means just 2 out of 5 new Twitter users actually stick around. Compare that to the 70% retention rate of Facebook. (It’s important to note that a follow-up study that focused on web sites and applications other than twitter.com supported Neilsen’s initial findings.)
Of course, Twitter has been the media darling of late, enjoying Oprah’s public embrace, stuck caps-lock and all. It’s rocketed to #3 on the social media pop chart, hovering in third place even in January of this year with a whopping 54 million page views (Whee! New numbers on social network usage).
But with that churn rate and the artificial attention, how can anyone be sure who actually is using Twitter on a regular basis? At this point in time, we can’t. After all, both the PMN/IDM and Pew studies were conducted over a 30-day period, during which fully 60% of Twitter users were leaving. That’s a huge margin of error.
Twitter, despite being almost 3 years old, is still a fledgling social media site that’s been hyped to the gills. The churn rate makes it clear: Twitter is still sorting out its user base, so any demographic analysis of the site must be considered with caution.
Heck, Neilsen Online projects that Twitter simply can’t survive with a mere 40% retention rate. But only time will tell.