Twitter ranks highly as place to interact with brands

Twitter users are more likely than members of other social networks to interact with brands and are less averse to advertising, according to a report from Edison Research.

The report, Twitter Usage in America 2010, paints a nuanced portrait of a social network that has exploded in recognition while lagging in actual users. It also contains some surprising demographic insights into the Twitter population. The study surveyed 1,753 Americans age 12 and over via telephone interviews in February 2010.

According to the report, 51 percent of Twitter users said they follow at least one brand on a social network. That number drops to just 16 percent for users of all social networks. Forty two percent of Twitter users said they use it to learn about products or services, and 41 percent said they use it to provide opinions about them. Twenty eight percent use Twitter to look for sales or discounts, 21 percent use it to purchase products or services, and 19 percent use it to seek customer support.

But what may really grab the attention of marketers on Twitter - and Twitter itself - is what the report found about attitudes toward advertising. Fifty percent said that their use of Twitter would be unaffected if the service began incorporating targeted advertising. (Fifteen percent said they would stop using Twitter all together, but 16 percent said they would use it more.) Just weeks after the survey was conducted, Twitter introduced a new ad model that centred on "promoted tweets."

"There's tremendous inertia already for people to want to engage in brand conversations on Twitter because it's much more natural and comfortable than it is on Facebook," said Tom Webster, VP of strategy and marketing for Edison, which is based in Somerville, N.J. "Twitter could absolutely take advantage of that."

Indeed, it's Twitter's failure to promote such attributes that has contributed to a sizeable gap between its brand recognition and user numbers, said Webster. The report found that while Twitter now enjoys awareness levels on par with Facebook - about 87 percent of the population has heard of Twitter, up from just 5 percent in 2008 - Facebook has six times as many users.

Webster acknowledged that comparisons between Facebook and Twitter aren't quite parallel: Facebook offers a media-rich interface that dwarfs Twitter's functionality. But the report points out a similarity between SMS texting and Twitter that the social network has failed to exploit.

"About 70 percent of Americans send and receive SMS messages via mobile phone, with 45 percent doing so multiple times every day," read the report. "If Twitter can successfully communicate relevant features and benefits to this growing majority of Americans, it may be able to stimulate user growth among mainstream Americans."

Among the report's other findings was the disproportionate number of African-Americans tweeting: roughly 25 percent of Twitter users are black, which is about double the black population of the U.S. Webster was at a loss to explain the group's overrepresentation, but pointed out that "if you follow the trending topics on Twitter on an average day, you'll see a lot of topics and themes that are very relevant to African Americans. I also think there's a real conversational usage of Twitter for Africa Americans that may be stronger than for other cohorts who are using the service."

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