At Feedback we are constantly exploring various demographic and geographic differences as they pertain to our clients. As a part of that, we also explore the various channels these audiences prefer, shun or flourish in at a given time.
There’s been quite a bit of chatter surrounding Twitter demographics and ethicity, however uncomfortable broaching the topic may be. One of the most interesting statistics to come out of it all are the levels of African American users on Twitter, because the figures are so disproportional to the overall U.S. representation.
A study done by Pew indicated that as of May 2011, 25 percent of African-Americans use Twitter as compared to 19 percent of Hispanics and only 9 percent of whites (note: these figures reflect the percentages of Americans as a whole who use Twitter, and not the actual makeup of the service, which is about half white and a quarter black).
A humorous but factual presentation by The Onion’s digital director, Baratunde Thurston – bluntly titled “How to be Black Online” – noted that while less than half of African-Americans have high-speed Internet at home, they dominate mobile broadband usage – nearly double that of their white counterparts. And the ease of Twitter (140 characters or less to update) and access to other people within the service makes it popular for use on mobile devices.
And lastly, a study suggested that Twitter adoption among African-Americans was based on the finding that they are more likely to have a greater interest than other ethnic groups in celebrity and gossip news. And thanks to the fall of MySpace, Twitter has become the online outlet of choice for celebrity drama. Plus, you can shout at them.
In my opinion, it’s the age of user as opposed to race that might be most indicative of how people are using Twitter.
The younger generations (teens and young twentysomethings) of Caucasians, African-Americans, Latinos, and others generally use Twitter as a public instant messenger. It’s more conversational than Facebook, and they can not only message their friends, but also tweet celebrities and read their tweets in real-time. Like Myspace, users can also personalize their pages with colors, designs, and different backgrounds.
Thurston also makes mention of the Twitter trending topics that dominate many evening chats (such as, #thingshoodratslove, #ghettohurricanenames, or #waystogetoffthephone) in the U.S., referring to them as, “blacktags.” It’s even a subject that has entered the halls of academia. From Slate:
Brendan Meeder thinks he’s got a good hypothesis about what’s going on. Meeder, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, has downloaded the tweets of more than 100 million users. (Twitter gave him special permission to do so for research purposes.) He’s been probing this collection to see how Twitter users interact with one another; he’s particularly interested in how trends begin and spread through a social network.
While analyzing his database a few months ago, Meeder noticed something strange—he found a cluster of hundreds of users whose profiles were connected to one another. When he looked up the users, he noticed that a lot of them were black. It’s in exactly these kinds of tight-knit groups that Twitter memes flourish, Meeder says.
“It’s my impression that these hashtags start in dense communities—people who are highly connected to each other,” Meeder says. “If you have 50 of these people talking about it, think about the number of outsiders who follow at least one of those 50—it’s pretty high at that point. So you can actually get a pretty big network effect by having high density.”
These kinds of bonds are obviously not unique to social media – rather, these are cultural distinctions we are merely seeing reflected inside. The nation’s African American community is finding its voice and community on the web, and that platform of choice is increasingly looking like Twitter.
In coming months, we’ll explore ethnicity, age and other personal traits and how different cultures interact online.