Who Tweets? A Twitter Census

American Twitter users are predominately young, poor, blog-centric, social-network-happy urbanites who like to read the news on their mobile devices, according to the The Pew Internet and American Life Project. The PIAP released a report Thursday called "Twitter and Status Updating" that discusses who uses Twitter or similar services, and how that choice impacts their daily life.

According to the paper, only 11 percent of online American adults are Tweeting, but their average age is much higher than other social network users and they have a preference for mobile technology. The Pew Center researchers arrived at their numbers by conducting phone interviews with 2,253 adult Americans (502 of which were on a cell phone) between November 19, 2008 and December 20, 2008.

An important note: Pew's (and my) references to "Twitter users" really means anyone who regularly updates her or his status through any number of services such as Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, MySpace, or even LinkedIn. Perhaps we should give them a more generic name like status updaters, but Twitter users or Tweeters sounds so much better, don't you think?

Portrait of a Tweeter
Surprisingly, and unlike many other social networks, the average Tweeter is 31. By comparison, MySpace has an average age of 27; Facebook is a little younger at 26; while LinkedIn is the social network of choice for those in their 40s. In the tweetosphere, 25- to 34-year-olds hold a slight majority over 19- to 24-year-olds by about 1 percent. With age comes money in our society, and that little tidbit of truthiness is reflected among tweeters as well. According to PIAP, 17 percent of adult Internet users who make US$30,000 or less also tweet, while only 10 percent of households making $75,000 or more broadcast their status into cyberspace. This is not particularly suprising as the memo points out, since the younger generation typically earns less money than older folks.

Tweeters are also more ethnically diverse and more likely to live in a city. Neither statistic is surprising as American youths are more ethnically diverse than older Americans. Twitter most likely appeals more to those in the urban jungle because city social lives are typically more active and less centralized than in rural areas.

Tweeters embrace social media
What I found most interesting from the PIAP memo was the fact that tweeters are using their status updates as one piece of a much larger social media landscape. In other words, Twitter is an add-on for other social media. This is not all that surprising, since Twitter welcomes third-party developers to create other uses for Twitter, such as broadcasting your tweets into your Facebook status, blog, or other web page. About 23 percent of social network users tweet, with only 4 percent of non-social networkers do the same.

Tweeters are also more likely to consume and read blogs than other Internet users. Fifty-seven percent of tweeters have read a blog, and 21 percent said yes when asked if they read a blog yesterday. By comparison, only 9 percent of non-tweeters said they read a blog yesterday and only 29 percent have ever read a blog. The statistic gets even wider when talking about blog creators: 29 percent of tweeters have created a blog, while only 11 percent of the Twitterless have ventured into the world of Wordpress and Moveable Type.

Other Tweeter facts
The PIAP memo also says that tweeters are big on wireless devices, including laptops, cell phones, smartphones, and PDAs. They are more likely to read the news online and typically they'll do it on a mobile device. Tweeting is a great way to share a news story or some other little tidbit you found on the internet. Services like TinyURL or Snurl also make it easier to Tweet your discoveries since they shorten long web addresses, allowing tweeters to maximize their 140 character per message limit.

Tweeters may only make up a small percentage of online users at the moment, but I wonder if this is a trend that is likely to continue and expand. Recently, NPR's On The Media took a trip to Japan to study the Japanese love affair with mobile devices . The Japanese use their phone regularly for everything from boarding a plane to paying for simple purchases; most interestingly, however, the mobile device is the primary and sometimes only gateway onto the Internet for the average Japanese citizen. There are a variety of reasons for this including the way their digital culture developed and financial constraints, but I wonder if U.S. tweeters are simply ahead of the curve and one day, like the Japanese, Americans will give up their personal computers and get online primarily through their BlackBerrys and iPhones.

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