Hmmm. The people I hang with on Twitter are so out there. And here I thought I was part of the Twitter mainstream.
Last night, I did my own rough survey of what my Twitter-verse (or at least those I follow), looks like -- and it in no way resembles what the well-regarded Pew Internet and American Life Project found when it looked at who in America is using Twitter.
My survey -- which consisted of looking at those I follow and counting the most recent, unduplicated tweeters, and then breaking them down by gender, race and approximations of their age and income, looked like this (I excluded accounts from entities, like corporations):
But the Pew survey -- which it admitted, like my survey, was from a small sample size -- looked like this. Of the entire U.S. Internet population, here are the percentages that use Twitter:
In other words, if you think, based on your own experience, that Twitter is about mostly white, up-and-coming males, you just might be wrong. The point is not to debate whether the Pew research is right or wrong, but to remember that, as people deeply involved in social media, we should continually question whether the way we experience social networking, and Twitter, is the reality for most people.
Partly, this little exercise amplifies that social media is inherently self-selecting; the fact is that most of the people I follow are in the marketing and media businesses, and have built enough of a resume that they probably aren't young, and therefore fall into higher income brackets. The people I follow also reflect the general demographics of the tech community in other ways; for better, but probably worse, they are male, and overwhelmingly white.
But the Pew findings make me not only remember to look at Twitter occasionally through a broader lens, but also make me wonder where it really sits in the social networking universe. One of the most quoted stats about Twitter from a year or so ago was one that showed it was used by a more adult audience. This research shows that maybe it used by younger demos than we thought.
In addition, the finding that only eight percent of U.S. adults use Twitter underscores either the immense growth it has in front of it -- or its limitations. It's long been apparent to me that virtually no one I know outside of the social media intelligentsia uses Twitter. A handful of times in the last few years, I've had a friend from college, or the town where I live, follow me, but I can't remember any of them actually tweeting.
A spot check of a few of their accounts last night bore out my belief that they are among the millions who've registered, but then don't know quite what to do with it. Facebook, of course, is a different story -- it has morphed for me into a social platform almost solely made up of professional contacts into one where there's at least a 50-50 balance between my professional life and my not-all-that-private life. I don't think -- for us older demos anyway -- Twitter has cracked that nut.
Interestingly, I write this as Twitter celebrates 100 million sign-ups in 2010. But if the Pew research is any guide, those 100 million people might not be who you think they are.
(Editor's note: The agenda is posted for our upcoming Social Media Insider Summit, scheduled for nice, warmer climes from Jan. 30th to Feb. 2nd. We are currently recruiting great speakers. Check it out here.)