Chapter 4

Who people follow and discover on Twitter

On Twitter consumers can discover new voices, authors, news providers and take following actions as a result. The survey tried to track those patterns by asking what kind of news sources people follow and what kind they had discovered.

The findings reveal that, to a substantial degree, Twitter is a way that news consumers follow journalists and journalistic organizations. More than 7 out of 10 Twitter news users, 73%, said they follow individual writers, journalists or commentators on Twitter. A sizable majority (62%), also said they follow news organizations main brand account. And 4 in 10 (39%) said they follow subsection accounts of a news organization (such as lifestyle or technology).

Twitter is also a way, to a significant though somewhat lesser degree, for people to follow the news their friends recommend. A majority of Twitter news users (58%) also said they followed friends or “people I know.” The smallest number of users (33%) said they follow news curators on Twitter, that is destinations that largely select and present news gathered by others.

Individual journalists, writers, columnists or commentators 73%
News organizations’ main brand accounts (such as @nytimes or @wsj) 62%
People I know 58%
News organizations’ subsection accounts (such as Lifestyle or Technology) 39%
Curators (people who pull together information from others) 33%
Other 6%
None of the above 2%

Data Source: Question: When you use Twitter to get news, what kinds of people or organizations do you follow? (Base: Twitter News Users N=3206)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

Twitter news users also discover new sources for news. For instance, 67% said they have discovered individual journalists, writers or commentators whose work they had now begun to follow. Half of those said they have also begun to follow that person’s work outside of Twitter.

As opposed to discovering new individual writers or commentators, a slightly smaller number, 45% said they have discovered new news organizations on Twitter and begun to follow them. Of those who did, 53% said they have also begun to follow the work of the organization outside of Twitter.

The survey also tried to probe the degree to which people felt that Twitter created a filter bubble in which they saw mostly opinions of people who agreed with each other. When asked which came closer to their experience, a plurality (45%) of Twitter news users said they see mostly differing opinions. A smaller number, 35%, said they saw mostly agreeing opinions. Another 20% said they weren’t sure.

Differing opinions 45%
Mostly agreeing opinions 35%
Unsure 20%

Data Source: Question: Some worry today that people only follow those whose opinions they agree with. Which comes closer to being true for you: Twitter exposes you to more differing opinions than before, or mostly on Twitter you see opinions of people who tend to agree with each other? (Base: Twitter News Users N=3206)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

This notion of discovery is linked in part to why people use Twitter as a news delivery platform. Here immediacy became primary. When asked the reasons they used Twitter for news, more than two thirds (70%) of Twitter news users said “it’s a great way to get news … in real time.” That far outstripped the second most popular reason people say they are drawn to Twitter for news, that they come across sources they wouldn’t normally use (47%) or that it’s easy to scan (42%).

Somewhat fewer but still a sizable minority of Twitter news users said that Twitter was a way to “engage a journalist or news source directly” (27%) or keep up with friends (19%).

It’s a great way to get the news immediately, in real time 70%
I come across sources I wouldn’t normally find 47%
It’s easy to scan 42%
I can engage with a journalist or news source directly 27%
I like to keep up with my friends 19%
I like following trending topics or hashtags 19%
I can follow famous people who would not normally talk to me 18%
I feel like I have a voice 16%
Other 3%
None of the above 3%

Data Source: Question: There are a lot of reasons people use Twitter. Thinking of how you use Twitter specifically for news, what are the 3 reasons below you consider most important to you personally? (Base: Twitter News Users N=3206)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

One dimension of social networks like Twitter is the fact that people can navigate to news many ways, and the research explored this as well.

We began by asking people what topics they are most passionate about and then it asked them how they used Twitter to follow that topic.

The range of topics was fairly wide, with sports (25% cited it as a passion on Twitter) and politics/government (21%) at the top, followed by technology (14%) and civil rights (13%). The survey was conducted around the time of the controversy over a police shooting and subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

Sports 25%
Politics and government, general 21%
Technology 14%
Civil rights / civil liberties 13%
Local stories / my town or city 11%
Social issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) 11%
Current events, general 10%
Arts and culture 9%
Science 8%
Entertainment and celebrities 8%

Data Source: Question: Now thinking overall about the types of news stories you pay attention to, what 2 topics are you especially passionate about? (Base: Twitter News Users N=3206)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter

What may be more interesting are the varied paths that Twitter news users take to follow those topics. The majority of Twitter news users employ three different ways to follow their passion topics — subjects that they have a particularly deep interest in and follow closely. Six in 10 use Twitter to follow specific news organizations (63%) about the topics they are passionate about. A similar number (60%) follow individual journalists, writers and commentators who tweet about the topic and follow other non-journalists who they think are interesting on the topic (62%).

Far fewer Twitter news users use some of the other features of Twitter that could be employed to follow topics. For instance, just 28% say they search for people and organizations that tweet about that topic, and 23% say they search hashtags or keywords. Even fewer, just 9% create their own custom lists of people and organizations to follow on a topic, and just 4% employ the lists that other people have created.

I follow news organizations that tweet about that topic 63%
I follow individuals that tweet about that topic, other than these 62%
I follow journalists, writers, editors, columnists or commentators who tweet about that topic 60%
I search for people and organizations that tweet about that topic 28%
I search hashtags or keywords 23%
I create my own lists 9%
I find and follow existing lists 4%
Other 1%
None of the above 6%

Data Source: Question: How do you use Twitter to follow news about that/those topic(s)? (Base: Twitter News Users N=3206)

American Press Institute, DB5 and Twitter