Pew Research has recently released a report that details the demographics and engagement of Twitter users. This virtual census is a useful tool for understanding who we are talking to when we send a Tweet and can help us learn how to get the best out of Twitter.
Another key area that separates this social media group from the rest of the nation is political differences. 60% of Twitter members identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, compared to 52% of the general public. Twitter users are 15% more likely to identify or lean towards the Democratic Party, and 20% less likely to identify or lean towards the Republican Party. This disparity is reflected in political ideology and political values relating to race, immigration, and gender.
Aside from the differences between Twitter users and the U.S. population, there are also some important differences among people on Twitter regarding their activity. Pew found that the median Twitter user posts only two times a month, while the top 10% most active Twitter users produce a median of 138 tweets monthly. In their estimate this means that “the top 10% of tweeters are responsible for 80% of the tweets created by all U.S. adults on Twitter.” The fact that such a small portion has close to a monopoly on content creation shows how easy it is for influential groups to drive national dialogue.
the top 10% of tweeters are responsible for 80% of the tweets created by all U.S. adults on Twitter.
Twitter isn’t real life. This won’t be shocking to most people, but it is important to remind ourselves from time to time. Twitter may be a useful tool in a brand’s social media strategy or even just a fun platform in your personal life, but it is not representative of the United States. Around 21% of U.S. residents use Twitter, and if 10% of those people are producing 80% of the tweets then that means 2% of the U.S. is driving the vast majority of Twitter. That same 2% is also responsible for what’s trending, who’s getting ratioed, and what’s usually being discussed on the evening news.
If a relatively small number of people dominate the conversation, then why does it seem like the things happening on Twitter matter? All of the most influential people are on Twitter, and they are active there. This includes a lot of celebrities, professional athletes, politicians, and members of national newsrooms. It gets reported because people naturally care about the things that are most relevant to them. This is why a news story about a local fire in New York gets more coverage, on Twitter and traditional outlets, than thousands of miles of roads being flooded in Nebraska. Or why weeks of conversation was devoted to the college admission bribery scandal, while only a few articles discussed the California governor’s decision to suspend executions. You’re more likely to care about a fire in New York, or college admissions if you’re an educated journalist that lives in New York. This doesn’t make them bad journalists, just human beings susceptible to the same biases as the rest of us. Just keep the natural biases of Twitter in mind when you see what’s trending.
If your brand is aiming to talk to wealthy, educated people in an informal and relatively inexpensive way, then your brand may benefit from being on Twitter. Even if your target audience does not align with Twitter’s skewed population, that doesn’t mean Twitter can’t be of value. However, whatever audience you are perusing, be sure to keep the Twitter user numbers in mind. There are a lot of people on the platform who don’t fit the average Twitter demographics who your brand may want to reach. There are also a lot of people that fit the demographics of a Twitter user who aren’t on Twitter.
Many campaigns use Twitter even if the Twitter user demographics aren’t their ideal target consumer. Brands are always conscious of appealing to the youth. They are the ones driving trends now, and even if they aren’t your current consumer they will be someday. The broader reason brands are on Twitter is because that’s where conversation is happening, and brands want to be a part of it. Having a brand presence ensures that a brand isn’t being passively affected by the platform. The people creating content on Twitter are opinionated, and they certainly don’t all agree. This results in a deeply polarized environment. Although some of those strong emotions are overstated or may not have significant real-world impacts, it is still valuable for a brand to monitor those opinions.
If your brand is thinking of taking a political stance or even just making a politically adjacent statement on Twitter, remember who you’re talking to. The Twitter population leans to the left and they are particularly sensitive to issues relating to race, immigration, and gender. However, this does not mean that all brands should be more progressive on Twitter. Ben & Jerry’s and Chick-fil-a both run fairly successful Twitter accounts, but a quick scroll through will illustrate the point. Neither company is pretending to be something they aren’t, but Ben & Jerry’s can be more outspoken about their political beliefs on Twitter and not have to worry about negative reactions.
However, if you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a Twitter mob, don’t be afraid. Twitter is not the real world. Twitter users do not represent the rest of the country. It probably isn’t in your interest to let 2% of the population dictate what your brand says and does. Pandering will eventually backfire. The best thing your brand can do is stay true to its key principles. Honesty will serve you better than retweets in the long run.
if you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a Twitter mob, don’t be afraid. Twitter is not the real world.