Hitwise released some research this morning suggesting that Twitter has caught up with Digg, in terms of site usage.

Note that these two sites aren’t direct competitors, but both can drive lots of traffic and help spread influence. Digg remains social media royalty, as anybody who has experienced ‘The Digg Effect’ will tell you. Twitter, on the other hand, is increasingly useful as a communications and networking tool, as a search tool, and as a filter. 

But first, a caveat: Hitwise tends to take its data from consumer ISPs. I don’t know of any business ISPs that pass on their data to the monitoring firm. As such, the stats are always skewed in favour of ‘at home’ activity. So while Digg and Twitter are both websites used by lots of non-business users, they are also the tools of our trade during office hours. At any rate, here’s the chart, and it shows a clear trend:

Market share of visits to Digg and Twitter

Meanwhile Comscore suggests that Digg remains way out in the lead. But it measures Digg’s unique users at less than 7m, which is highly inaccurate:

unique vistors Digg and Twitter

We know that Digg actually pulls in almost 24m uniques a month, because the website is ‘quantified’, meaning that it has added some Quantcast code to its pages for accurate tracking. Sadly Twitter hasn’t done this yet (Quantcast estimates Twitter’s users at 2.7m in the US), so we cannot measure apples with apples. 

Quantcast chart for Digg.com

Google Trends also paints a picture, although we’re not measuring traffic here, just ‘searches’. It is an indication of awareness though:

Google Trends comparison between Digg and Twitter

At any rate, it seems obvious that Twitter is a fast-rising star. For consumer-orientated brands it is going to become as important as monitoring your reputation via Google, blogs or forums. 

Bad noise travels faster on Twitter than in the blogosphere, and the network effect can be deadly, so you had better set up some listening stations if you’re not already on top of this. 

The good news is that the opportunities for redemption are there too, for brands that like to shoot at their own feet. Companies should already be using the web to become closer to their critics and fans. Twitter is a conduit to help with all that. 

Many companies (including Dell and Carphone Warehouse) have customer experience / customer support managers on Twitter. We here at Econsultancy listen and respond too. It’s very useful, and a prompt response can really surpass expectations and delight customers, while silencing any murmurs of discontent.

Here’s Hitwise’s chart for UK (consumer) growth in Twitter usage, for the past year. It shows a 974% increase in traffic!

UK internet traffic to Twitter

Let’s see if they release another one next month, as while Digg has ‘The Digg Effect’ I think Twitter is about to benefit from ‘The Ross Effect’, when Jonathan Ross – presumably – discusses it on his chat show this Friday. Fellow Twitterer Stephen Fry is appearing on the show and it seems inconceivable that these two habitual Twitterers won’t mention it. What odds a spike in growth and brand awareness after that? 

Twitter has already been featured in any number of lame newspaper articles as low-rent journalists attempt to pour scorn on the ‘mundane’ detail shared by the likes of ‘@wossy’ (to his 14,000 followers). So mundane that it bears repeating in print, as a means of selling newspapers? Hmmm.

So 2009 promises to be a good year for Twitter, and savvy companies would do well to keep one ear tuned in. You’ve heard it all before, I’m sure, but if the above charts are anything to go by then it bears repeating. Do let us know how you’re getting on if you’re already doing this. 

Then again, now that Philip Schofield is using Twitter maybe it has jumped the shark?