Twitter: Fewer New Users, But More Active Ones

Twitter may not be gaining new U.S. users as fast as it used to, but the users it has are much more engaged, according to a a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

About 15 percent of U.S. adult Internet users also use Twitter, based on data from February, the report said. That number is slightly up from the 13 percent who said they used Twitter in May 2011. That figure was up from 8 percent who used Twitter in November 2010.

The report also showed that while new user growth is slowing at Twitter, the percentage of engaged users is climbing.

According to the Pew study, 8 percent of Twitter users are actively engaged with the site on a typical day, a number that has doubled since May 2011 and quadrupled since late 2010 when only 2 percent of online adults used Twitter on a typical day.

Tweet on the Fly

So what's making users so much more attached to the microblogging site? The answer might lie in mobile users. According to Pew, smartphone users are more apt to be Twitter users, and the 140-character messages are ideal for users trying to get information out while they're on the go.

"I'm not all that surprised to see that Twitter's growth is primarily focused on the base of users tweeting more often," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.

He added that the report is both good news and bad news for Twitter executives.

"The bad news is that they're not getting big numbers of new users," Olds said. "But the good news is that their existing -- and sizable -- set of users are using Twitter much more. Given the choice, I think Twitter would rather have a smaller number of highly committed users rather than a larger number of folks who sign up, but then barely use the service. I think advertisers would also agree."

Generation Gap

The Pew report also noted that specific demographics show greater Twitter usage.

Of African-American Internet users, more than 28 percent use Twitter and 13 percent do so on a typical day. Young adults -- defined as those between the ages of 18 and 29 -- also are big Twitter users with 26 percent using the site. That's nearly double the rate of Americans between 30 and 49, which is 14 percent.

The Pew study also noted that the younger the age group, the more the usage. Of people between 18 and 24, 31 percent use the site.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said he's not sure that people are more engaged with the site because it's actually stickier. It could be that people are just figuring out more ways to take advantage of Twitter.

"I just think more of them are stickers," he added. "Users have adapted to it, learning how to use it better... This is excellent for Twitter. It does not assure rapid growth, but it documents a solid base."

Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project surveys, margin of error, plus or minus 2.7 percentage points based on Internet users. Note: Use for 65+ in 2010 and 2011 was listed as " less than 1 percent."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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