May 31, 2012

Twitter Use 2012

Twitter use

Some 15% of online adults1 use Twitter as of February 2012, and 8% do so on a typical day. Although overall Twitter usage has nearly doubled since the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project  first asked a stand-alone Twitter question in November 2010, the 15% of online adults who use Twitter as of early 2012 is similar to the 13% of such adults who did so in May 2011. At the same time, the proportion of online adults who use Twitter on a typical day has doubled since May 2011 and has quadrupled since late 2010—at that point just 2% of online adults used Twitter on a typical day.2 The rise of smartphones might account for some of the uptick in usage because smartphone users are particularly likely to be using Twitter.

Twitter usage over time

Several demographic groups stand out as having high rates of Twitter usage relative to their peers:

  • African-Americans — Black internet users continue to use Twitter at high rates. More than one quarter of online African-Americans (28%) use Twitter, with 13% doing so on a typical day.
  • Young adults — One quarter (26%) of internet users ages 18-29 use Twitter, nearly double the rate for those ages 30-49. Among the youngest internet users (those ages 18-24), fully 31% are Twitter users.
  • Urban and suburban residents — Residents of urban and suburban areas are significantly more likely to use Twitter than their rural counterparts.

Who uses Twitter

Twitter use among 18-24 year olds increased dramatically between May 2011 and February 2012, both overall and on a “typical day” basis

Twitter use within the overall population remained steady over the last year, and usage rates within most major demographic groups changed little over the same time period. The youngest adults (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are the primary exception to this trend—nearly one third of internet users in this age group now use Twitter, up from 18% in May of 2011 and 16% in late 2010.3 Twitter use by those in their mid-20s to mid-40s largely leveled off in the last year after roughly doubling between late 2010 and mid 2011.

Twitter adoption by age

In addition to increasing on an overall basis, the proportion of young internet users who use Twitter on a typical day also doubled over the last year. Fully one in five internet users ages 18-24 (20%) now use Twitter on a typical day, up from 9% in May 2011.

Notably, “typical day” usage among slightly older adults (those ages 25-34) also doubled—from 5% of such internet users in May 2011 to 11% in February 2012—even as overall usage levels within this group remained stable over that time period.

Typical day Twitter use by age

Twitter and the “Mobile Difference”

We can also see this relationship between youth, mobility and Twitter use when looking specifically at Twitter use on mobile phones. Twitter usage is highly correlated with the use of mobile technologies, especially smartphones. One in five smartphone owners (20%) are Twitter users, with 13% using the service on a typical day. By contrast, internet users who own more basic mobile phones are roughly half as likely to use Twitter overall (9% do so), and just 3% of these more basic phone owners are “typical day” users.

Indeed, this correlation between Twitter adoption and smartphone ownership may help to explain the recent growth in Twitter usage among young adults. Those ages 18-24 are not just the fastest growing group when it comes to Twitter adoption over the last year—they also experienced the largest increase in smartphone ownership of any demographic group over the same time period.

In addition to asking internet users whether they ever use Twitter (regardless of the platform or device used) in our February 2012 tracking survey, we included a question in our April 2012 tracking survey in which we asked adult cell phone owners if they use Twitter specifically on their mobile phones. Overall we found that 9% of cell owners use Twitter on their phones, with 5% doing so on a typical day.4

As with general Twitter usage, smartphone owners are much more likely than average to use Twitter on their phones (overall 16% of smartphone owners use Twitter on their phones, and 10% do so on a typical day).

As with our general Twitter usage findings, cell owners ages 18-24 are more likely than older cell owners to use Twitter within the context of their mobile devices—fully one in five 18-24 year old cell owners (22%) use Twitter on their phones, and 15% do so on a typical day. African Americans and Latinos (both of whom have high rates of smartphone ownership) also stand out as heavy mobile Twitter users.

Who uses Twitter on a cell phone

Cite this publication: Aaron Smith and Joanna Brenner. “Twitter Use 2012.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (May 31, 2012) http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/05/31/twitter-use-2012/, accessed on July 22, 2014.

  1. 80% of all U.S. adults are internet users. Demographic information about this group can be found at http://www.pewinternet.org/Trend-Data-(Adults)/Whos-Online.aspx
  2. We describe activities on a “typical day” by using data we gather from respondents in answer to questions we ask them about what they did “yesterday”—that is, the day before we reached them for our survey.
  3. This increase among 18-24 year olds did not manifest itself in higher usage rates within the overall population because this group is relatively small; 18-24 year olds represent 16% of the adult internet user population.
  4. This question was asked of mobile phone owners who use the internet, email or apps on their phones; the results here have been recalculated based on all cell owners.