of American adults are using Twitter overall, and about half that many use it to get news.
The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation,
suggests that Twitter is still more a communication tool of the chattering classes than the masses.
The 16% adoption rate is little better than the 15% Pew found going back to
February 2012, which seems to underscore concerns about its slowing growth in North America leading up to its $13.6 billion IPO. But the report focuses mainly on Twitter as a news source and as a
real-time barometer of public opinion.
Because of the public and up-to-the-second nature of its updates, Twitter early on earned a reputation as a place to go for breaking news. Among
Twitter users, more than half (52%) use it for news (beyond just friends and family). But that amounts to only 8% of the total U.S. adult population, since Twitter has a relatively small number of
Consider: Twitter had 49 million monthly active U.S. users in the second quarter compared to 198 million for Facebook. That’s why even though Facebook isn’t
viewed as a source of breaking news like Twitter, its sheer size means almost a third (30%) of U.S. adults get news from the social network.
News consumers on Twitter tend especially
to skew more mobile and younger. The vast majority (85%) get news at least sometimes on mobile devices, which outpaces Facebook by 20 percentage points, and compares to about 40% of news consumers
overall turning to mobile. Some 45% of Twitter news users are 18-29 years old.
“That is more than twice that of the population overall (21%) and also outpaces young
adults’ representation among Facebook news consumers, where 34% are 18-29 years old,” stated the Pew study, based on a survey of more than 5,000 adults (including 736 Twitter users and
3,268 Facebook users). Furthermore, only 2% of Twitter news viewers are 65 or older.
Given its young and more affluent-than-average user base, the report also indicated Twitter is
less of a reliable indicator of public opinion. During the 2012 presidential race, for example, Republican candidate Ron Paul easily won the Twitter primary -- 55% of the conversation about him was
positive, and only 15% negative. “Voters rendered a very different verdict,” the Pew study noted.
While 64% of Twitter conversation supported stricter gun controls after
the Newtown tragedy, a Pew survey in the same period showed a more mixed response, with 49% saying it’s more important to control gun ownership and 42% saying it’s more important to
protect gun rights. So Twitter might be better at gauging youth sentiment.
The study also suggested that Twitter reaction can shift as major events unfold, both in terms of sentiment
and topic. In the two weeks after the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage this year, Twitter sentiment was far more opposed to the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage (55%) than in favor
(32%). But in the month following, support for the measure (43%) easily trumped opposition (26%).
Twitter's IPO is expected next week