Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

How Twitter users follow the news

People using social media as a news source can design their own news agenda — identifying the sources and topics they want to follow. This has led to speculation that people will become narrow in their interests without the agenda-setting influence of news organizations.

The survey probed this notion in various ways, including by asking people what sources they followed and whether it was more likely a news organization, a friend, an individual journalist or a sub-section of a news organization. (On Twitter, people are more likely to follow individual journalists than the main account of a whole news organization, which will be detailed later).

But the survey probed this most directly by asking people what topics they recalled following in the news in the past week. They were given a list of some two-dozen possible topics.

The findings, which reinforce earlier research conducted by the American Press Institute, suggest that American social media users have a fairly wide curiosity about news. When given a list of some 28 possible news topics, a majority of respondents in the nationally representative sample of social media users named seven that they recalled following in the news in the last week. Non-Twitter users also cited seven. And Twitter users, as we saw in several other questions, seem even more news-oriented. On average, Twitter users followed 14 different topics last week.

Twitter users Non-Twitter users All social media users
Current events, general 72% 60% 59%
Traffic and weather 69% 72% 68%
National news, general 68% 62% 60%
Politics and government, general 65% 55% 54%
Local stories/my town or city 62% 61% 56%
Technology 58% 26% 34%
Civil rights / civil liberties 58% 34% 32%
Sports 57% 49% 50%
Public safety and crime 57% 46% 46%
Social issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) 56% 32% 35%
International news 55% 44% 43%
Entertainment and celebrities 55% 39% 44%
National security / military / terrorism 52% 45% 42%
Science 47% 21% 25%
My region 47% 37% 36%
Business, financial and economic 45% 31% 33%
Health and medicine 45% 36% 39%
Positive news / human interest 45% 34% 34%
Health care issues 44% 41% 43%
Arts and culture 43% 16% 20%
Schools and education 42% 33% 33%
Immigration issues 40% 54% 52%
Environment 36% 26% 28%
Gun issues 30% 26% 27%
Marijuana / drug issues 30% 33% 33%
News about my racial / ethnic community 27% 17% 21%
Religion 25% 16% 18%
Non-specific / all news 16% 16% 15%
Other 4% 0 1%
None of the above 1% 3% 3%

Data Source: Question: Thinking of the last week, what kinds of topics do you recall following in the news? (Base: Twitter Users N=3713, Non-Twitter Users N=469, Total Panel Sample N=1,000)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

Nor is social media the only way that Twitter users and non-Twitter social media users get news. The survey found that most of the three different social media user groups get news from many different news sources or pathways several times a week at least. Indeed, majorities across all groups cite five different pathways they use to get news — from television news, search engines, newspapers, radio and word of mouth.

Social networks, in other words, appear to be adding to the ways that Americans are informed, not eliminating more traditional pathways entirely.

There were some notable differences in the news sources and discovery methods cited among the three core samples of social media users, the nationally representative sample, Twitter users and non-Twitter social media users.

Twitter users are less likely to be TV news viewers, more likely to use search, mobile apps and websites and social networks. There were not substantial differences in use of newspapers or radio.

Non-Twitter users, by contrast, are less likely than social media users in general to use various online tools, including search and mobile apps.

Twitter users Non-Twitter users
A person or organization you follow on Twitter 76% 4%
A person or organization you follow on another social networking site 66% 29%
An internet search using a search engine such as Google or Bing 62% 49%
Word of mouth from friends, family, coworkers or neighbors 59% 49%
A television news station through its broadcast or online 54% 75%
A mobile app 53% 31%
A radio station through its broadcast or online 46% 46%
Some website other than these 46% 31%
A newspaper through its print edition or online 43% 48%
A newsletter in print or online 31% 30%
A blog 28% 10%

Data Source: Question: There are many ways to find news. Please tell us how often, if ever, you use each of the following sources to discover news. Note: This 4% of non-Twitter users indicating they got their news from someone they follow on Twitter is likely due to respondent error. (Base: Twitter Users N=3713, Non-Twitter Users N=469)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

Why Twitter and non-Twitter social media users get news

People can use news in different ways — to talk about it, for civic action, to save money. The survey asked people the reasons they keep up with the news, and compared the answers of Twitter users and non-Twitter users. There were some differences.

Most people across both groups said it helped them function as a citizen (more than 8 in 10). Twitter users were somewhat more inclined to say they liked to talk about news with friends (66% vs. 59%) and find it relaxing and entertaining (36% vs. 29%). People who use social media but are not on Twitter were more likely to say the news helps them save money when they shop (11% for Twitter users, 21% for non-users). Twitter users were significantly more likely to say the news helps them with their job (30% vs. 6% for non-Twitter users).

Twitter users Non-Twitter users All social media users
It helps me stay informed and be a better citizen 86% 81% 80%
I like to talk to friends, family and colleagues about what's going on in the news 66% 59% 60%
I find it relaxing and entertaining 36% 29% 31%
It helps me in my job 30% 6% 11%
It helps me find places to go and things to do 29% 29% 30%
It helps me solve problems 22% 17% 21%
It helps me save money when I shop 11% 21% 25%
It helps me raise my family 10% 12% 16%
Other 8% 7% 6%
None of the above 4% 6% 4%

Data Source: People use news in different ways. What are the 4 top reasons you, personally, tend to follow the news? From the list below, please select up to four. (Base: Twitter Users N=3713, Non-Twitter Users N=469, Total Panel Sample N=1000)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

Twitter and the news

By various measures, the study found that news and Twitter are intimately linked. Fully 86% of Twitter users say they use the social network for news, and the vast majority of those, 74%, do so daily.

The majority of Twitter users in the study also believe that they now get more news than they did before they joined the social network. Fully 6 out of 10 Twitter users (61%) say they get more news since joining. Just over a quarter (24%) say their news consumption has stayed about the same. Only 2% estimate they consume less news since they joined Twitter.

News on Twitter is also highly participatory, meaning it is more than just consuming news. Fully 64% of Twitter users say they both get and share news on the service. Just 21% say they just consume; only 2% say they get their news elsewhere and just use Twitter to share it.

Percent
Both get and share news 64%
Get news only 21%
Share news only 2%
Neither 14%

Data Source: Question: You might have already said this, but do you ever use Twitter to get news or share news. (Base: Twitter Users N=3713)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

One interesting finding of the study is that the vast majority of Twitter users rely mostly on two paths for discovering or finding news on Twitter, though there are potentially many more. Fully 80% of Twitter news users said they get news by “scrolling through my timeline” and 67% by “browsing tweets from people I know.” In all, 94% of Twitter news users get their news either through scrolling or browsing.

Beyond that, the other ways that users could follow news are far less frequent. Just 34% of Twitter news users, for instance, said they check trending topics, the same number that said they see tweets as part of articles on other websites. About half as many (15%) said they checked Twitter’s “discover” section, a feature more recently replaced with “while you were away.” And 11% said they employed Twitter push notifications to tablets or phones.

In other words, there are more ways to customize Twitter than the majority of its users are employing most of the time.

Percent
Scrolling through my timeline 80%
Browsing tweets from people I follow 67%
See tweets as part of articles on other websites 34%
Checking trending topics 34%
Searching Twitter for keywords or hashtags 30%
Checking Twitter's "Discover" section 15%
Twitter push notifications to a phone or tablet 11%
Browsing customized Twitter lists 10%
Twitter email notifications 7%
Other 2%
None of the above 1%

Data Source: Question: How do you get news through Twitter? (Base: Twitter News Users N=3206)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

When they do find news on Twitter, how often do people click on stories? Virtually everyone who uses Twitter for news (92%) clicks through to read stories at least sometimes. Thirty-nine percent said they usually or always do so, another 53% said sometimes. Just 8% said rarely or never.

Percent
Always 7%
Usually 34%
Sometimes 51%
Rarely 7%
Never 1%

Data Source: Question: How often do you click links to a news story in any tweet you read on Twitter? (Base: Twitter News Users N=3206)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

Need to Know newsletter

The smart way to start your day

Each morning we scour the web for fresh useful insights in our Need to Know newsletter. Sign up below.

Featured topics

Go deeper on…

Dive deep on everything we produce about these key topics.

Strategy Studies

The best practices for innovation within news organizations

This Strategy Study presents examples and insights about journalism innovation, offering actionable advice and methods to move your journalism and business forward.