(An excerpt from my #TwitterBook. The book is available at Amazon.com. — andreas)

Black Twitter

There are so many black teens on Twitter that they’ve created their own world on Twitter. People talk about “Black Twitter”. These kids have come up with new ways to use Twitter.

Use TrendsMap to look at trending hashtags. First of all, tweets tend to concentrate around large cities. Hashtags spring up suddenly, grow explosively, and disappear within a few days.

Many of these are by and for black teens. They write “fill in the blank” tweets, such as #IfSantaWasBlack or #InPhilly (you know you’re in Philadelphia if…) The replies are witty and often very funny. Paula Deen got her own #PaulasBestDishes hashtag. Go ahead and look up some of these hashtags.

I think this comes out of Call-and-Response, a tradition in US Black culture. You’ve seen this in movies that include Black churches, where the preacher calls out to the audience and they shout back a reply and it goes back and forth. For whites, it’s disruptive, but some blacks like it that way.

Several factors come together:

  • US Blacks and Latinos are early adopters of mobile devices, with Latinos leading whites as much as three to one for smart phones.
  • Blacks and Latinos tend to have strong family networks and they stay in touch with each other. Latino families may also live in several countries. So they use phones to stay in touch.
  • US urban Blacks and Latinos teens can use Twitter on $5 cell phones.

Look at several hundred tweets by black teens and you’ll see they nearly always use hashtags, photos, and videos. They tweet in group conversations by sharing their thoughts and experiences. This is in strong contrast to celebrities and marketers who use Twitter for one-way broadcast.

Black teens are also using Twitter to meet new people. The Pew study points out 54% of black teens have become good friends with people they’ve met online in comparison to 35% of white teens.

This brings me back to what I wrote at the opening of this book. I noticed people in Appalachia knew Twitter better than people in Silicon Valley. Looking at Twitter, I found widespread underground use. Black teens didn’t read books on how to use Twitter; they figured this out on their own and the remaining teens joined them.

Look at people’s tweets. If it’s a long series of “official tweets” with capitalized words and URLs to articles, then the person is broadcasting. He’s not listening. Is the person a “Like Whore” collecting followers for the sake of numbers? Ask them, and I’ve found out that if they know you well enough, some will admit they don’t get Twitter.

Latinos on Twitter

There are 542 million people in Latin America and another 52 million Latinos in the USA. If we assume the common 16%, adoption rate, that’s 95m Latinos on Twitter, or about twice as many as Americans on Twitter.

That’s why many of the top hashtags are in Spanish, such as #TodoIbaBienHastaQue (#EveryThingWasGoingWellUntil…) with very funny completions (these are all in Spanish).

Use TrendsMap to look at hashtags in South America and Central America.

Chinese on Twitter

In mid-2013, China began to allow Facebook and Twitter in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Chengdu where there are global corporations and business conferences.

Many Chinese use VPN to access Twitter. VPN disguises the user’s location, so it’s difficult to know the number of Chinese on Twitter.

Weibo, which is similar to Twitter, has over 600m users and 100m daily posts. It allows photos and video, like Twitter. It also allows music, which Twitter doesn’t have. Furthermore, you can send tweets with animated emoticons (cartoon animations). These are very popular and many companies have developed cartoons or licensed existing cartoon characters. Some emoticons are free and others cost a small fee, such as a dollar for twelve.

There’s something about tweeting in Chinese that Westerners don’t realize. A tweet allows 140 characters, which is 12-20 English words (with lots of abbreviations). But a word can be written in Chinese with a single character. Chinese also uses fewer spaces between characters, so a Chinese tweet can have 120-130 words. This allows six times more text than English, which also allows them to write complex thoughts that are impossible to express in a short English tweet. Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist, said “With 140 Chinese characters on Twitter, you can write a short story or novel.” Would you like an example? This paragraph has 120 words, which fits in a Chinese tweet, but is impossible to tweet in English.

How Many People Really Use Twitter?

When Twitter IPOed (started selling stock in Wall Street), they had to file an S-1 document with the government. The S-1 stated they had 215m monthly active users (MAUs). On p. 46, they admitted there was no independent confirmation of this number (see http://1.usa.gov/16J0RMo, 233 pages, HTML).

Twitter counts the active accounts. This includes:

  • Humans: A person logs into Twitter to read messages or send a message.
  • Multiple accounts: Many people use several accounts. For example, someone may have two accounts for personal and work use. A company team may have 10-20 accounts for different purposes (an account for each product, each service, the company, the CEO, the company dog, and so on). Large corporations may have hundreds of accounts.
  • Robots: Many computers log into Twitter to collect messages or send messages. For example, weather and earthquake reports are automatically sent.
  • Automated activity: Your cell phone automatically checks Twitter every few minutes for new messages. Each of those automated checks is an activity. It’s possible someone set up Twitter on her phone four years ago but forgot about it, yet she’s still considered a daily active user.
  • Spammers: Marketing and spammers create millions of fake accounts to send messages.

All of these are considered active accounts.

A better way is to see how many humans use Twitter. The Pew Internet and American Life Project (PewInternet.org) found 16% of US adults (20-75 years old) use Twitter. There are about 250m adults in the USA, so that’s 40m adult Americans on Twitter.

Pew also finds 24% of US teenagers use Twitter (May 2013). There are 30m US teenagers (age 13-19), many of whom had a party next door last night. So that’s 7.2m teens on Twitter.

This means 47.2m people in the US on Twitter in mid-2013.

People at Twitter told me 77% of their users are outside the USA. If 47.2m are in the USA, then there are an additional 128m people outside the US for a total of 175m people. An additional 40 million accounts are multiple accounts, robot accounts, fake accounts, or spam accounts.

Mike Isaac at AllThingsDigital wrote Twitter has had over a billion registrations, which means the abandonment rate is greater than 83%.

Why do people sign up but not use Twitter? Twitter won’t explain to people how to use it. The interface is also primitive and confusing. Furthermore, Twitter encourages Twitter a something for celebrities, so everyone else has little incentive to use it.

Twitter’s visibility is greater than its use. TV shows, billboards, and advertising now show hashtags and tweets. A study by Edison Research and Arbitron shows that 44% of Americans see tweets daily through other media.

Be careful with data from 2012 or earlier. In 2011, only 12% of teens used Twitter but in 2013, 26% of teens were on Twitter. These numbers can quickly change.

Researchers estimate 3% of accounts are fake (around 5 million accounts). Twitter themselves say about 5% (11m) are fake. (Yes, I’ve read estimates of 10-20%, but I think the lower numbers are better justified.)

There around 500m tweets per day, but many are automated or spam.

Documentation for these numbers is in the References section.

If you have a better way to calculate Twitter’s numbers, please let me know.

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