Blacks and Twitter: Why the Digital Network is Tops With African Americans

November 1, 2012  |  

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

When it comes to social media, of course Facebook is the top dog. But within the black community, Twitter has become a go-to social media site.

In February 2012, Pew released data about the demographic profile of US Twitter users and found that 28 percent of black Internet users said they were Twitter users. Comparatively, only 14 percent of Hispanics and 12 percent of whites said the same.

Looking deeper into this trend, there are two main reasons why blacks turn to Twitter more than their general market counterparts: the age and mobile-readiness of black consumers. A third, not as noticeable, reason is that black consumers are more active in using social media to follow news, entertainment and politics than other consumers — areas where Twitter is already making an impact, especially because of its real-time nature.

Just as the overall black population is younger, so are Twitter users in general.

In 2011, the Census reported that the overall median age in the US was 37.3 years old, nearly five years older than the median age for US blacks, which was 32.7. Because of the young age of the black population, they are more likely to use social networks, increasing the current penetration rate.

And looking specifically at Twitter, a June 2012 study from website monitoring company Pingdom found that the average Twitter user is 37.3 years old, compared to 40.5 for Facebook and 44.2 for LinkedIn.

Indeed, Twitter’s unique shorthand, including hashtags and @ replies, and the ease with which it supports real-time communication, are appealing to younger consumers who have grown up spending more time texting with friends than sending emails. Facebook, on the other hand, expands upon more traditional forms of sharing and communication comfortable for older consumers, with its photos and messages.

This is demonstrated more clearly by March 2012 data from Common Sense Media, an organization that provides media and technology information to families and kids. When asked about the main social networking site that they use, 19 percent of black US teen Internet users said Twitter was their main site, and 49 percent said Facebook. Among teens overall, only six percent highlighted Twitter and 68 percent said Facebook was their main social network.

Mobile Readiness
Another reason for the move to Twitter is that black consumers have been early adopters of mobile technology, texting and accessing social networks on their mobile phones. Twitter, likewise, has always positioned itself as a mobile-first company, even deriving the 140-character limit of tweets from the original character limits of text messages.

During BET’s Hip-Hop Awards show on October 9, social media tracker Trendrr analyzed 2.6 million Twitter interactions related to the show, which included all tweets, @mentions and hashtags, according to an article in Mashable. Of those interactions, 70 percent came from mobile phones and only 30 percent from the Web.

Compare this to the 2012 Oscars, which reaches a more general market. It saw 44 percent of its related Twitter interactions come from mobile, according to Trendrr. BET encouraged this mobile participation, by offering a specific Hip-Hop Awards app, and its mostly black audience responded in full force.

Real-Time News and Entertainment
Twitter has emerged as the go-to platform to follow real-time news and television events, such as the BET Hip-Hop Awards, the presidential debates and MTV’s Video Music Awards, all of which led to spikes in related conversations on Twitter.

There are several topics that overlap as both interests of the black community and places where Twitter shines as a social site.

With its ability to bring together conversations around hashtags, Twitter has become a place for many users to get and follow news. Additionally, Pew found that black social network users were slightly more likely to get news from social networks overall.

Between May and June 2012, Pew asked social network users if they had seen news on a social network during the previous day. Of black social network users, 38 percent said they had, while 35 percent of whites and 34 percent of Hispanics said the same thing. Blacks, however, saw the greatest increase from 2010 in this type of news consumption, up 22 percentage points.

Going one step further, into political news, blacks were interested in using social media as part of political activities, according to the 2012 “Politics on Social Networking Sites” from Pew. Nearly half (48 percent) of black respondents said social networking was important for keeping up on political news, compared to 44 percent of Hispanic respondents and 33 percent of white respondents.

Twitter not only has more users than the smaller social TV applications, but also has the real-time nature that helped it become a go-to platform for TV conversations, more so than Facebook. BET, in particular, has embraced this trend, encouraging viewers to tweet, showing tweets on-air during live TV shows like 106 and Park, and connecting with fans throughout the day on Twitter.

While all social sites can provide entertainment and news information to a degree, Twitter has emerged as the best real-time solution. That is attractive to black consumers who enjoy participating in conversations around news and entertainment on social media.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Twitter continues to keep its popularity with the black community. Are you on Twitter? Do you prefer it over other sites and, if so, why?

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