Twitter, like Facebook, may have quickly become one of the Internet's best-known brands in recent years, but only 8% of American adults online are using the microblogging service, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. That figure equates to 6% of the total U.S. population.
The study found that Twitter, not surprisingly, was more popular with young people, minorities, and urbanites. It also showed that about a quarter of users check Twitter several times a day for new material and that overall, they post a wide variety of content to the site.
The Pew Internet Project has asked in prior surveys whether participants ever go on the Internet to use Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves or see updates about others. In September 2010, 24% of Internet users answered "yes." But that left open a question as to what portion was specifically using Twitter, leading to a greater focus on the social networking service in Pew's November tracking survey.
In the latest study, people were simply asked, "Do you use Twitter?"
The 8% of the Web population using Twitter is equal to the proportion that use online dating sites and a bit less than the 11% that buy or sell stocks, bonds or mutual funds online, according to Pew data. It's also double the 4% of Internet users who use location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla, based on findings from a separate Pew study released last month.
Twitter said it had 175 million registered users worldwide as of mid-September, but that figure is estimated to be closer to 200 million now. Twitter.com had 105 million monthly unique visitors worldwide in October, and 25 million in the U.S., according to comScore. The Pew study obviously does not include teen Twitter fans, although other research has suggested the service is not wildly popular with that age group.
Among adults, users nevertheless skew young, with 14% of Internet users ages 18 to 29 going on Twitter, compared to 7% of those 30-49, 6% of those 50-64, and 4% of those 65 and older. In terms of race, only 5% of white Web users access Twitter, compared to 13% of black Internet users and 18% of the Hispanic Web population. The study also found that Twitter claims 11% of online users who live in cities, compared to 8% of suburbanites and 5% of those in rural areas.
When it comes to usage patterns, Twitter users are almost equally divided between those who check the site on a daily basis or multiple times per day (36%) and those who check it infrequently or never (41%).
In terms of tweets, almost three-quarters (72%) say they post updates related to their personal life or interests, while 62% do so about work. More than half share links to news stories (55%), post humorous or philosophical observations (54%), or retweet material posted by others (53%). Less than a quarter (24%) use the service to tweet their location.
Pew data on overall Twitter usage and demographics comes from its November 2010 tracking survey, while information on frequency of use and types of material posted by Twitter users comes from two omnibus surveys conducted in October 2010. Tracking surveys consist of roughly 2,250 interviews completed over the course of three to four weeks; omnibus surveys encompass about 1,000 interviews completed over four days.