Do We Really Know Who Uses Twitter?

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 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.

3 thoughts on “Do We Really Know Who Uses Twitter?

  1. The one trend that jumps out at me from these studies is that Twitter seems to have a huge turnover rate. As you mentioned in an earlier post they don’t spend a lot of time on the customer experience aspect of the service. With rumours of twitter becoming a service you pay for, the usage will drop no matter who endorses it, sorry Oprah.

  2. Comparing Facebook to Twitter is like comparing apples to oranges. Twitter is, at present and quite possibly forever, a one-trick pony: quick, instant updates with some very basic social functionality. Facebook, on the other hand, is a large ecosystem of different, but inter-connected features that can appeal to a wide variety of users. Facebook gives you many incentives to stick around (even though I closed my account months ago) because there’s always something more to do or explore. Twitter’s simple focus could also be its’ demise.

    • I agree Facebook and Twitter are different beasts, but notice I didn’t compare them, just their user retention rates, which is for basic reference only of initial user interest in each service.

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