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.