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Twitter seems to be everywhere these days. Twitter has gone way beyond techies and first-adopters. It's now used (and promoted) by major brands, celebrities and politicians, amongst many others.

From this perspective, Twitter would appear to be quite 'mainstream'. But is it? Based on the figures published in this year's Edison Research/Arbitron Internet & Multimedia Study, the answer is...it depends on what you mean by 'mainstream'.

According to the study, 87% of Americans know about Twitter. But only 7% of them actually use it. Contrast that with Facebook, which is just as well-known as Twitter, but is used by 41% of Americans.

While the difference in usage is quite substantial, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that Twitter doesn't rival Facebook in the usage category.

While avid Twitter users rave about the service and its virtues, it's not a typical social network and the type of interactions that take place on Twitter are far different, and perhaps far more limited, than those you'll find on Facebook. To a certain degree, Twitter and its 140 character messages are an acquired characteristic.

It's unclear to me that Twitter will ever be able to convert a substantial portion of those who know about the service but aren't using it into active users. Which raises a few interesting questions:

  • How valuable is Twitter's 'brand recognition'?
  • Does the positive (widespread brand recognition) outweigh the negative (less usage)?
  • Is Twitter over-hyped, especially when it comes to business use?

These aren't easy questions to answer. It would be foolish to write Twitter off simply because it's more widely known than widely used. But at the same time, businesses in particular do need to consider whether or not 'Follow us on Twitter' is really as important a call to action as some apparently believe it is. After all, consumers might know what Twitter is, but if they won't follow you there, what's the point?

From this perspective, the Edison Research/Arbitron Internet & Multimedia Study figures for Facebook also add some useful perspective. With all the talk that Facebook could 'beat out' Google for internet dominance, the fact is that even it is used by less than half of the American population. That's a lot of people, to be sure, but is it sensible for businesses to over-focus on one platform that reaches less than 50% of their potential market?

In my opinion, this study is a good reminder that a strong presence on Facebook or Twitter is not a substitute for a strong overall presence on the internet. To get reach, 'mainstream' alone probably doesn't cut it.

Photo credit: 7son75 via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 30 April, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2378 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Tom Nixon

'Mainstream' is only important if your goal is to try to reach absolutely everyone. For most brands, what's important is where their particular customers are hanging out online. Twitter might only have 7% of Americans as users, but many brands may only care about a small percentage of the overall population. If there's a good cross-over with Twitter's user base then they should almost certainly be active there.

Markets, especially when we look at people online, are increasingly fragmented. The trick is to find all of the social spaces where the various niches that make up your market exist and then figure out a strategy to get the right monitoring and engagement in place. Some of these spaces will be miniscule in comparison to a leviathan like Facebook, or even a challenger like Twitter but together they add up to a lot.

about 6 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Tom,

You're absolutely correct that most brands don't want to target everybody. But how many brands can state with confidence that the 7% of the American population that's on Twitter just happens to come anywhere close to overlapping significantly with their entire target market? Outside of perhaps the tech industry, I don't think you'll find many.

The challenge with finding all of the social spaces that might potentially be useful to your brand is that social media is difficult to do right. It's not like buying 50m impressions and being done with it. So it's probably unrealistic for most brands to expect that they can work effectively on a multitude of social media properties. In other words, for all of its many virtues, social media is not easily scaled.

about 6 years ago

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Andrew

I used to have a poor opinion of Twitter, but not now.

If you stop thinking about it as a social network and try to view it as a source of incredibly up to date news then you'll appreciate it more. 

You write that only 7% of Americans use Twitter. That doesn't mean too much. I personally don't use Twitter, but then again ... I use it everyday.

In other words, I read stuff but I don't write stuff.

There are a lot of problems here in Bangkok right now, but the half-dozen or so Twitter feeds I follow have kept me informed as to what's safe and what isn't far better than the so-called "breaking news" offered by traditional sources.

about 6 years ago

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Kim McAllister

This was a really interesting post, I'd also be keen to know what the user figures are for the UK. According to Twellow there are 14000 active Twitter users in my city, so for local businesses like bars and restaurants this is a significant market. However I always recommend to my clients that Twitter be used in conjunction with other media to achieve maximum effect.

about 6 years ago

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