Who’s using Twitter? Some surprising answers

Minorities and two specific income groups jump out among the microblogging service's most active participants.

Eight percent of online Americans may use Twitter, as the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported on Thursday. But does that mean your small business should use the service in its marketing and communications efforts?

That all depends on your target market. The Pew study found significant differences among particular demographic groups, suggesting that while some target markets may be especially likely to be reached on Twitter, others are not, potentially making your efforts on the service a waste of time.

Here's who is more likely to be using Twitter:

Young adults: Consumers between the ages of 18 and 29 are much more likely to use Twitter than older adults are, the Pew report found. Specifically, 14 percent of the online users surveyed in that age group use the service, compared with just 7 percent in the 30-to-49 age group, 6 percent in the 50-to-64 group and 4 percent of those 65 and over. In many ways, that feels like a no-brainer, since the service is relatively new. What it means, of course, is that for a business that sells life insurance, say, Twitter may not be the best tool.

Minorities: Race and ethnicity were a more surprising factor that jumped out of the study. Specifically, while only 5 percent of white Internet users said they use Twitter, a full 18 percent of Hispanic respondents and 13 percent of black respondents did. So, again, depending on who your business is targeting, this surely holds a lesson for you as to whether Twitter is worthwhile.

Women: Ten percent of online women use Twitter, compared with 7 percent of men on the Internet. Surprising? Not particularly.

College-Educated: Nine percent of college-educated consumers on the Internet use Twitter, compared with just 5 percent of those who have only a high school diploma.

Urbanites: Where people live matters, too. Twitter is used by 11 percent of online consumers in urban areas, but only 8 percent of those in the suburbs and 5 percent of those in rural areas.

Two Income Groups: This was a weird one. According to Pew's data, Internet users with household incomes of less than $30,000 per year and those earning between $50,000 and $74,999 per year were most likely to be using Twitter, with 10 percent in each category using the service. Those earning between $30,000 and $49,999 as well as those earning over $75,000, on the other hand, weighed in at only 6 percent.

So, should your business use Twitter? That depends on where your target consumers fall in this fairly complicated matrix.

Of course, keep in mind that the Pew study also found wide variability in how often consumers check the service. Some 36 percent of Twitter users check it at least once a day, while roughly a quarter check for updates a few days each week or every few weeks. Forty-one percent say they check the site less than every few weeks--or never.

Then, too, there's the question of how much attention consumers pay to what they find on Twitter, if they bother to check it. Back in September, analytics firm Sysomos found that a full 71 percent of tweets on Twitter are ignored by those who receive them.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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