May 16, 2010

Twitter Usage and Measurement - Promise and Caution

Two recent studies about Twitter point to its potential promise as a measurement tool, yet point out the limited audience it measures.

The recent Twitter Usage in America Study, 2010, by Edison Research has revealed that awareness of Twitter has exploded from 5% of Americans 12 years and older in 2008 to 87% in 2010 (by comparison, Facebook's awareness is 88%). However, utilization is a different story. Despite equal awareness, Twitter trails Facebook significantly in usage: 7% of Americans (17 million persons) actively use Twitter, while 41% maintain a profile page on Facebook. And what does "usage" mean when the study finds that the majority of Twitter users are “lurkers,” passively following and reading the updates of others without contributing updates of their own.

The study also shows results on frequency and channel of Tweeting: 63% of tweeters do so at least once a week, and nearly two-thirds of active Twitter users access social networking sites using a mobile phone. (I access via both mobile and laptop myself). The age range biases young, not surprisingly: 29% of Tweeters are 12 to 24 years, and 33% are 25 to 34. (Thus I am in the older third...)

Meanwhile, a Carnegie Mellon data mining analysis has analyzed sentiments expressed in a billion Twitter messages during 2008-2009 related to yielded measures of consumer confidence and of presidential job approval. The sentiment results were found to be similar to those of well-established public opinion polls. Although the CMU researchers did acknolwedge the results were quite "noisy."

These study findings will be presented May 25 at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media in Washington, D.C.

What are the implications of these two studies together? They show at the same time the promise of monitoring Twitter as a rapid, cost effective research tool, and yet the cautionary reality that those being measured are a limited, self-selecting subset of the population.

The same considerations hold for those planning to use Twitter as a relationship marketing vehicle for awareness or acquisition. The reach and demographic of your Tweets will be limited, so please understand that Twitter should be just one component of a well thought media plan.