Why Twitter is Bigger Than You Think

Photo by Flickr user stevegarfield.
Edison Research posted last week about their new research on how Americans use social media. One interesting finding: a huge percentage (89%) of Americans twelve and older are familiar with Twitter while a much, much smaller percentage (10%) actually use it.

This has been a pretty consistent finding over the past several years, so while it’s interesting, an even more interesting finding is the explanation for that gap. Edison concluded that “44% of ALL 12+ Americans report seeing tweets in other media (radio, TV, newspaper or other websites) ‘Almost Every Day,’ and 80% of Americans overall claim to have ever seen tweets in other media.” This is big deal, because it means that Twitter’s impact is outsized relative to its market penetration and because it means that its impact is actually quite complicated, filtering through other media in addition to whatever direct impact it has.

Edison points to three important implications:

  • Regardless of how you use Twitter, most Americans (as in an actual majority of Americans) view Twitter as a purely broadcast network.
  • As such, Broadcasting is far from dead, and social isn’t killing it. Social is changing it, but in terms of how most Americans consume tweets, Twitter is just another cable network.
  • If you are measuring anything based upon unstructured data mined from Twitter (particularly influence), you are missing nearly 80% of the potential impact of Twitter by not taking the cross-media and offline impact of Tweets into account.

They won’t be releasing the actual study until Blogworld NY in early June, so we may have to wait until then to really dive into their findings, but it may have substantial implications for what an effective nonprofit Twitter strategy might look like.

Some of the most important nonprofit uses of Twitter are relatively confined, involving conversations amongst engaged nonprofit folks. Twitter is where a lot of those conversations happen, and a nonprofit Twitter strategy might fruitfully focus on engagement in those conversations. It’s not clear that the Edison study impacts that type of strategy very much.

But for nonprofits that want to use Twitter to engage with people outside of those conversational circles, paying attention to how tweets and Twitter memes escape the Twittersphere and penetrate other channels and other conversations is really important.

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