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Twitter and the News: How people use the social network to learn about the world


How does Twitter change the way people get news? What kinds of thought leaders, journalists and organizations do people follow on the network? How are these Twitter followers different than those on other social networks? And how are people reacting to added elements on Twitter, such as advertising and promoted tweets?

At a moment when the network is poised to make a number of changes, the American Press Institute and Twitter, in collaboration with research company DB5, have produced a new study that probes the relationship between news use and the Twittersphere.

The study, which involved an online survey of more than 4,700 social media users, finds that Twitter users tend to be heavier news consumers than other social media users. News, indeed, is one of the primary activities that they engage in on the network.

Twitter users also tend to be younger than social media users in general. They tend to use the service heavily—the majority several times a day—and their use of the network is increasing how much news they consume. Almost all Twitter users are also consumers of other forms of news media.

While Twitter users follow news in general on the service, and sometimes do so just as a way of passing time, they act differently when they are following breaking news, becoming even more participatory—commenting, posting and sharing at moments when events are moving fastest.

All of these offer signals for how news publishers can make more effective use of social networks in general and Twitter in particular.

These are some of the findings of a comprehensive survey of Twitter users as well as social media users who are not on Twitter, produced by the American Press Institute and Twitter in collaboration with research firm DB5. The study, conducted online, surveyed 4,713 people — 3,713 Twitter users and, for comparison, a separate sample of 1,000 nationally representative social media users, including 469 who were not on Twitter.

The findings come at time when Twitter is increasing its emphasis on news and making tweaks that may affect publishers’ strategies. At the end of this report, API has included a set of recommendations for publishers based on the survey findings.

Among the findings from the study:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 Twitter users in the study (86%) say they use Twitter for news, and the vast majority of those (74%) do so daily.
  • Roughly the same number of people say they use Twitter to be alerted to breaking news (40%) as to keep up with the news generally (39%).
  • Three quarters of Twitter news users follow individual journalists, writers and commentators (73%) and nearly two thirds follow institutional accounts (62%). Twitter users also are very likely to discover new journalists and writers and consequently follow their work, often on other platforms beyond Twitter.
  • Fully 94% of Twitter news users get their news either through scrolling their timelines or browsing tweets of those they follow. Other features are used far less often: For instance just 34% of Twitter news users say they get news from trending topics and 30% use search.
  • 82% of Twitter users access the platform on their phones and many access Twitter across multiple devices.
  • A majority of non-Twitter users (51%) have seen tweets. 45% on TV, 33% from friends, 27% in news articles they read, 22% from going to without signing up, 12% from search and 8% in a newspaper.

Twitter funded the study but granted API researchers independence to develop the survey questionnaire. DB5 conducted the survey between November 23 and December 15, 2014 and tabulated results. API analyzed the data and produced this written report. All topline results with questionnaire are available to the public, as well as a more detailed methodology.

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