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Trying to catch customers’ attention on isn’t easy. So before you spent too much time tweeting today, you might want to know just who you’re talking to.

As the novelty about social media tools wears off – and it is rapidly losing its surprise-shine – the challenge for the various technologies is relevancy: Just what are we supposed to be accomplishing with each Facebook update, LinkedIn connection and Twitter outburst? We’ve even wondered it Twitter has any redeeming value. To answer that question, marketers should start where they always have when it comes to communication tools: Audience assessment.

Thankfully, Pew has done a lot of that work for us. In their latest research report on Twitter for 2010, you’ll find plenty of information to decide if, how and when to try to reach potential followers on Twitter. Here are a few highlights (U.S. data):

  • 8% of online adults say they use Twitter, with 2% doing so daily
  • The largest age group using Twitter is 18-29
  • Less than 10% of Twitter users are over the age of 50
  • Hispanics are the largest ethnic group on Twitter
  • 16% of Twitter users earn $50,000 or less annually; the same proportion earns more annually
  • Women are more likely than men to use Twitter

That’s who they are. Now, how do they act?

  • 25% of users check Twitter multiple times a day
  • 20% never check the site for updates
  • 41% say they check the site less than every few weeks
  • 72% say they post about issues related to their personal life
  • 62% say they post about issues related to their professional life
  • 52% say they post to share links to other stories/content on the web

What are they saying? Since Twitter is constrained to the “short” and hopefully sweet communication, here’s what you’re likely to see:

  • 54% send out humorous or philosophical observations about life
  • 53% retweet others’ messages
  • 52% send direct messages to a particular individual
  • 40% share photos
  • 28% share videos
  • 24% share their current location

What does it all mean? Here are a few thoughts (ours, not Pew’s) on how marketers and salespeople might want to leverage Twitter:

  1. Determine if the demographics match your target customer profile. The majority of Twitter users are young, femals Gen Y’ers. If you’re merely tweeting into open space, trying to simply stir up noise and traffic (using hashtags, for example) your success will depend upon matching your message to the concerns of the age group. For example, REALTORS looking for first-time buyers might find a fertile audience, while second-home property opportunities might go nowhere. Entry-level car companies probably do better than luxury vendors. Remember, the Bieber dominates the medium most days.
  2. Even if you build a list of “followers” directly connected to you, it’s likely most will not see what you’re saying on a regular basis. If they check the system infrequently, it means that good information, ideas or links you share might go entirely missed by a large portion of your audience (Tweets move down your audience’s news stream very rapidly). So consider a “recycling” approach to important tweets, to maximize the value of your content within the cyclical attention span of your audience.
  3. The research value of Twitter outweighs the communications value. Users are most likely to tweet about their personal life, work life and philosophical observations about life in general. This is powerful content to have access to and can tell you a lot about certain customers in certain market segments. It’s almost like being a spy with telepathy, able to search and see trends in the “thinking” of your prospective customer audience. The business approach for Twitter might be better listening than tweeting.

It’s not unusual for the value of a new technology to turn out to be the opposite of what was initially promised. It seems clear that the world isn’t tweeting and watching in real time, or even every day. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find some great opportunities for targeted, consistent messaging – and a constant avenue into what your audience is thinking and valuing every day.