Exploring Social Media: Defining Twitter Demographics and Interests

Exploring Social Media article series badgeIn Exploring Social Media: Twitter Adoption Stats and Demographics, I covered the article by Hitwise, “Twitter traffic according to Hitwise,” which cited statistic research showing Twitter moving into main stream adoption. The report also offered some other interesting downstream traffic stats, the numbers which report on what types of links Twitter users click, an indication of the trends and interests of Twitter users.

If asked what types of links would be most likely clicked through from Twitter tweets, you might agree with my blogger friends whom I asked the same question. They all responded with blogs. After all, bloggers were some of the earliest adopters of Twitter.

However, according to Hitwise, blog clickthroughs represent only 6.6% of all the downstream traffic, not the largest majority. Entertainment websites account for 17.6% and news and media for 10%.

They list 14.6% going to social networks as the second highest statistic for clickthroughs from Twitter.

Many consider Twitter a social network, as they do MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook, so maybe the social network sites link to those types of services or to specific tweets. The problem with this type of information is the lack of a clear definition of what entertainment, social networking, and blogs mean. Blogs are social networks, and many of the most popular entertainment sites in the world are hosted on blog platforms – aren’t they blogs? If users are retweeting and linking to twitter tweets, then that would also account for the high number of social networking link traffic.

It’s clear we need to do more to define social media tools categorically to improve web analytics and demographic research.

When considering which social media tool to use to reach your blog’s demographics, this information is important to consider, but such analytics is still early days. These statistics declare entertainment sites and services are doing well via Twitter, if we can define what types of sites these really are. Is an entertainment site a celebrity news media outlet, game sites, or what?

Social networking services are clearly on the rise as people are linking to them, building up their social networking tool visibility, but there are still too many assumptions to define a clear demographic and traffic interest.

Twitter’s Demographic Reach

Bill Tancer of Hitwise published an article in Time Magazine’s Science of Search column about the Latest Twitter usage statistics illustrate Twitter’s global reach in August 2008 and found that while it is easy to dismiss Twitter as a kid’s online chat tool, it’s real demographics reaches into the business working world.

I figured that the service would appeal exclusively to youngsters with nothing better to do. The user data, however, tell me I’m wrong, and reveal a very specific user profile: for example, males make up 63% of Twitterers, specifically males from California, whose residents account for more than 57% of Twitter’s visitors. More interestingly, the age demographics of Twitterers show a dramatic shift. When the site became popular in early 2007, the majority of its visitors were 18-to-24-year-olds. Today the site’s largest age demographic is 35-to-44-year-olds, who make up 25.9% of its users.

His research found that the “Stable Career” demographic of “young and ethnically diverse singles living in big-city metros” represent 14.7% of Twitter visitors, followed by “Young Cosmopolitan” 40-somethings likely to be environmentally aware and earning household incomes over $250K a year with liberal political leanings. These are people who tend to embrace social media tools and online applications, and spend a lot of time using these tools for life relationships and networking such as job hunting, dating, events, and social interaction.

The idea that businesses and business professionals are using Twitter more is validated by the many press releases and announcements of businesses using Twitter for public relations, marketing, and promotions I find across the web. For example, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is now using Twitter to update their fans with race news and moment by moment action of the races, reaching out to the more tech savvy of their audience.

Paul Kelly, communications manager for the IMS, said Twitter is one of the leading micro-blogging sites in the social networking world and would open up the Speedway to two-way communication with fans.

“It’s got a lot of momentum and it’s just one of the social media tools that we want to use to connect the fans,” he said. “We realize that social networking is getting more popular as more and more people are using mobile devices.”

In “Twitter demographics: More business people than kids,” Kevin O’Keefe found that most of the keyword specific tweets he follows come from more business professionals than young kids, though it is a mixed bag of demographics:

These people are interesting business professionals. One is with a large PR and marketing firm which, among other things, does work with the technology industry. Another is a principal in a company providing ancillary services to hundreds of radio stations around the country.

Following ‘Seattle’ is a little tougher. There are hundreds of ‘tweets’ a day mentioning Seattle – whether by locals on there way to a meet up of tech professionals or people flying into Seattle for business or pleasure. I only browse a portion of those search results once a day or even once every 2 or 3 days.

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But in that browsing I’ve not only met people I am now following, but I’ve been turned onto upcoming events of interest that I would have never known of but for Twitter. In one case I ‘direct tweeted’ a person who just moved to Seattle to head up a new group at Microsoft. On another occasion I connected with a leader in the Search Engine Optimization industry.

Twitter is not the perfect social tool for every business or community building opportunity. If your audience uses it, you need to use it, but if your audience and customer base won’t be found glued to their computers waiting for the random comment to catch their attention and inspire their return comment. They’ve better things to do with their time and money.

But for those who understand how Twitter works, and understand the capacity to reach the many fast, living without it could be exceptionally difficult.

Tracking Trends with Twitter

Mitch Wagner of Information Week was frustrated recently trying to track trends on Twitter using TwitScoop, a third-party application that can be used separately or through integration within Tweetdeck to track conversational trends on Twitter. Like most of us, he couldn’t figure out what were really the most popular topics at the moment on Twitter.

The top keywords on Twitter were installing, darius, and cloud. Thinking they might be related or at least reflective of hot topics worth following, he found out that “installing” covered discussions on the latest World of Warcraft update, and “darius” was about Darius Rucker, a popular singer at the Country Music Awards that night. “Cloud” covered discussions of cloud and grid server discussions, but also from a much shared link about an unusual cloud photograph people were discussing.

He concluded:

Keeping track of trends on Twitter is like walking down Main Street and being able to hear every single conversation by everyone you pass. Sometimes, the results are obvious. Last Tuesday, for example, everybody was talking about the U.S. presidential elections. But sometimes you pick up a couple of surprises.

…Is all this information useful? I started out this blog by saying that keeping track of conversational trends on Twitter is like listening to conversations on Main Street — but Main Street of what town? Are the demographics of Twitter users a meaningful subsection of any significant demographic of the U.S. population? Do you learn anything useful tracking Twitter conversational trends, or is it all just another way to procrastinate?

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