Teens, Social, Mobile & Technology Overview 2015

teens social mobile

Mobile Access Shifts Social Media Use and Other Online Activities

Accessing the internet on mobile devices

The survey shows that 91% of teens go online from a mobile device, at least occasionally. African-American teens are significantly more likely than whites or Hispanics to use mobile devices to go online — with nearly all African-American youth in the study reporting mobile internet access at least occasionally, while 90% of white and 91% of Hispanic teens go online on-the-go.

91% of Teens Use the Internet on a Mobile Device

Internet use is a near ‘constant’ for some teens

Teens ages 13 to 17 are also going online frequently. Aided by the convenience and constant access provided by mobile phones, 92% of teens report going online daily — with 24% using the internet “almost constantly,” 56% going online several times a day, and 12% reporting once-a-day use. Just 6% of teens report going online weekly, and 2% go online less often.

Frequency of Internet Use by Teens

Much of this frenzy of access is facilitated by mobile phones — particularly smartphones. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of teens have a smartphone while just 12% of teens 13 to 17 say they have no cell phone of any type. Fully 91% of teens go online from mobile devices at least occasionally, and 94% of these mobile teens go online daily or more often, compared with 68% of teens who do not use mobile devices to go online.

African-American and Hispanic youth report going online with greater frequency than white teens. About a third (34%) of African-American teens and 32% of Hispanic teens report going online “almost constantly,” while 19% of white teens go online that often. White teens are more likely to say they go online several times a day — the most commonly expressed frequency of internet access across all groups.

Youth from well-to-do families go online more frequently than youth from the least wealthy households; nearly all (93%) teens from homes earning more than $30,000 annually go online daily, compared with 86% of those from households earning $30,000 or less.

Texting

33% of Teens with Cell Phones Use

Texting has undergone a change in the past several years with the advent of smartphone-based messaging apps that have added features and changed the cost, message length and other structures around sending short messages. Fully 91% of teen cell owners use text messaging — either directly through their mobile phones or through an app or a website.

In a testament to the shifting landscape of texting, one third (33%) of teens with cell phones use messaging apps like Kik or WhatsApp. These apps are more likely to be used by Hispanic and African-American youth who own cell phones, with 46% of Hispanic teens and 47% of African-American teens using messaging apps to send texts, compared with one-quarter (24%) of white teens with cell phones. Teens on the lower end of the income spectrum are also more likely to use messaging apps on their smartphones, with 39% of cell-owning teens from households earning less than $50,000 annually using the apps, compared with 31% of teens from wealthier families. Girls are also a bit more likely than boys to use messaging apps, with 37% of cell-owning girls using them compared with 29% of boys with cell phones. Use of these apps varies little by the age of the teen.

The number of text messages sent or received by cell phone owning teens ages 13 to 17 (directly through phone or on apps on the phone) on a typical day is 30. The number of messages exchanged for girls is higher, typically sending and receiving 40 messages a day. And for the oldest girls (15 to 17), this rises to a median of 50 messages exchanged daily.

Among teens with cell phones, those from less well-off families are more likely than others to report that they simply don’t send text messages. Some 18% of teens from families earning less than $30,000 annually report that they do not text, compared with less than 7% for those in higher-earning families.

A Typical Teen Sends and Receives 30 Texts a Day

Girls Dominate Visually-Oriented Social Media Platforms

Online Pinboards

Online pinboards are sites like Pinterest or Polyvore where users can “pin” online content to create highly visual displays of images and information for inspiration, purchase or construction. One-in-five teens — 22% — use online pinboards. Girls, especially older ones, are the major users of these sites, with 33% of girls and 11% of boys using the boards. A quarter of older teens pin on pinboards as do 16% of younger teens. The oldest girls ages 15 to 17 are the most likely to pin, with 38% using online boards.

33% of Girls Use Online Pinboards; 11% of Boys Use Them

Discussion boards

One-in-six teens (17%) read or comment on discussion boards like reddit or Digg. There are few differences among teens in use of these online boards by age or gender or any other major demographic category.

17% of Teens Read or Comment on Online Discussion Boards

Anonymous apps and sites

11% of Cell-Owning Teens Use Anonymous Sharing or Question Apps

Whisper, Yik Yak and Ask.FM are three examples of anonymous sharing apps or sites where individuals can ask questions or post confessional text or images anonymously. Just 11% of teens with cell phones report using anonymous question or sharing apps. Girls are a bit more likely to visit these sites than boys, with 13% of girls with cell phones using anonymous sharing or question sites while 8% of boys with cell phones report the same. Hispanic teens are nearly twice as likely as white teens to use these platforms, with 16% of Hispanic youth using anonymous sharing or question platforms compared with 9% of whites. And just 6% of the least well-off teens (those whose parents earn less $30,000 a year) visit anonymous sites, compared with 12% of teens from more well-to-do homes.

Playing video games

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of teens play video games online or on their phone — 84% of boys and 59% of girls — play such games. African-American teens are substantially more likely to report playing video games than their white or Hispanic counterparts; 83% of African-American teens play games compared with 71% of white and 69% of black teens.6 Teens who play video games cross the socio-economic spectrum evenly, with little variation by family income or education.

72% of teens play video games

Video call and chat

Some 47% of teens talk with others over video connections such as Skype, Oovoo, Facetime and Omegle. Older girls are the most enthusiastic chatters with 54% of them video calling or chatting with others compared with 44% of all other teens. And 53% of Hispanic teens video chat and call, a bit more than the 43% of white teens who report talking by video.

47% of Teens Use Video Calling or Chats

Social Media

Teens are enthusiastic users of social media sites and apps. When asked a general question about whether they used social media, three-quarters (76%) of teens use social media, and 81% of older teens use the sites, compared with 68% of teens 13 to 14.

When asked about seven specific sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Google+ and Vine), and given the option to report another site used, 89% of all teens reported that they used at least one of the sites and two-thirds of teens (71%) reported using two or more sites. Among the 18% of teens who only use one site, 66% use Facebook, 13% use Google+ and 13% use Instagram. Just 3% of the single site users use Snapchat, and another 2% say they use a site we didn’t ask about in the list, including Wattpad (a reading site), Youtube, Oovoo and ifunny, among others. Less than 2% (each) report using Twitter, Vine or Tumblr as their sole social media platform. Below is an analysis of teens’ use of social media, organized by major platform.

Facebook

71% of Teens are Facebook Users

Facebook is the most popular of all the social media platforms included in the survey, with 71% of all teens saying they use Facebook. Boys and girls are equally likely to report using the platform, but older users ages 15 to 17 are more likely to use it than younger users 13 to 14. Much of the difference is located within the youngest age group — the 13-year-olds — of whom less than half (44%) say they use Facebook, while of 77% of 14- to 17-year-olds report use.

Teens from somewhat less well-off households are more likely to report using Facebook than teens from wealthier homes; 77% of teens from families earning less than $50,000 annually use Facebook, while 68% of teens from households earning more say they use the platform.

Use of Facebook is relatively consistent across racial and ethnic groups. Urban teens report more use of Facebook than teens from the suburbs, with 77% of urban teens on the site, compared with two-thirds (67%) of suburban teens.

Adult use of Facebook has plateaued in recent years, with 71% of online adults using the site. However, Facebook’s user base remains quite active, with 70% of Facebook users engaging with the site daily. For more details on adult use of Facebook, please read Social Media Update 2014.

Facebook users typically have 145 friends

A Typical Facebook User Has 145 Facebook Friends

Among Facebook-using teens, the typical teen has 145 Facebook friends. Breaking it down, the largest group of teens — 30% — say they have Facebook networks of 0 to 100 friends. Another 12% report networks of 101-200 friends and 9% say 201 to 300 friends. And 15% say they have more than 300 friends. Tellingly, one-third of teens say they are not sure how many Facebook friends they have. Analyzing typical (median) friend counts for different subgroups of Facebook-using teens, we see some substantial variations. Boys report 100 friends to girls’ 175. Young teens 13 to 14 typically report smaller networks (91 friends) compared with older teens 15 to 17 who typically have 168 friends. Networks vary in typical size from 84 amongst the youngest boys to 200 friends among girls 15 to 17.

Instagram

First launched in 2010, Instagram has become a mainstay for adolescent social media users. More than half (52%) of all teens report using Instagram to share photos and video with friends, with girls substantially more likely to use it than boys (61% to 44%). Much of the difference between boys and girls is accounted for by the youngest boys (ages 13 to 14) of whom only 33% use Instagram, compared with half of older boys (ages 15 to 17) and more than half of the younger girls. The heaviest users of Instagram are the oldest girls of whom 64% share photos on Instagram.

Half of American Teens Use Instagram

The typical teen’s Instagram network has 150 followers.

A Typical Instagram-Using Teen Has 150 Followers

The typical American teen who uses Instagram has 150 followers in their network. Girls outpace boys in their typical number of followers, with girls reporting a median of 200 followers on Instagram compared with 100 followers for boys. There is little variation in the number of followers between younger and older cohorts of teens. And fully 39% of Instagramming teens are not sure how many followers they have.

Use of Instagram is not just confined to teens; 21% of American adults use the photo and video sharing platform. As with Twitter, young adults ages 18 to 29 are the most likely to use Instagram. The service is also popular with adult women, Hispanics, African-Americans, and urban and suburban dwellers. For more data on adult use of Instagram, please visit our Social Media Update 2014.

Snapchat

Snapchat is another relatively new photo and video focused sharing app that teens have embraced in the last two and half years. Two-in-five American teens (41%) use Snapchat to share images and videos that are then automatically deleted within a predetermined amount of time — usually a few seconds. (At least that is the way the firm describes how the service works. In practice, there are many workarounds that allow viewers to capture images.) By a wide margin, girls and older teens are the most likely to send snaps — with half of girls using the service, compared with 31% of boys. Similarly, 47% of older teens 15 to 17 send snaps, while 31% of younger teens do so. Older girls are the most likely of any teen group to use to service, with 56% using Snapchat. Teens from the lowest income households earning less than $30,000 per year are the least likely to use the service, with 30% of them sending snaps, while 43% of wealthier teens send them.

41% of Teens are Snapchat Users

Twitter

A third (33%) of all teens use Twitter. Older teens are more likely to use the service than younger, with use rising steadily as teens age, from just 13% of 13-year-olds using the service to 28% of 14-year-olds and 43% of 17-year-olds. The oldest girls ages 15 to 17 are the most likely to use Twitter with nearly half of them (49%) using it. This study does not show statistically significant differences by race, locale or a teen’s socio-economic status.

33% of American Teens Use Twitter

Typical Twitter users have 95 followers.

Typical Twitter-using Teens Have 95 Twitter Followers

Among teens who use Twitter, the typical Twitter user has 95 followers — though 44% of teen Twitterers are not sure how many followers they have. Digging deeper into subgroups of teens, girls outpace boys in numbers of followers, with the typical girl reporting 116 followers to 61 for the typical boy. The differences are even more extreme between younger teens and older; 13- and 14- year-olds report a median of 30 followers compared with 103 followers for older teens.

Among all adults 18 and older, 19% use Twitter. Young adults 18 to 29 are the most likely to use the platform with 37% using the service. Since 2013, Twitter has seen growth among whites, men, those earning $50,000 or more, college graduates and urban dwellers. For more data on use of Twitter by adults, please see our Social Media Update 2014.

Google+

Google+ is a social network that comes as a part of a suite of Google-offered tools through an account on the service. A third of teens (33%) say they use Google+. Hispanic teens are more likely to use Google+ than white or African-American youth; 48% of Hispanic youth use Google+, compared to a little more than one-quarter (26%) of white teens and 29% of African-American teenagers.

And teens from families with somewhat lower levels of education (parents with a high school diploma or some college experience) are more likely to use the service (35%) than teens from families with parents with a college degree, where a bit more than one quarter (27%) of teens report a Google+ account. Given that schools are increasingly adopting Gmail and other Google tools to use with students in and out of school, many youth have access to Google+ through tools for school work.

33% of Teens Use Google+

Vine

Roughly one quarter of teens (24%) use Vine, an app that allows users to record and share short, six-second videos. Vine is used by more girls than boys, with 27% of young women using the app compared with 20% of young men. As with many social photo and video platforms, the oldest girls ages 15 to 17 are the most likely to use Vine, with 29% of them reporting use. Use of Vine is evenly spread across income groups, education, and racial and ethnic groups.

24% of American Teens Use Vine

Tumblr

Tumblr is a microblogging service where users can curate and share posts of mostly visual content they create themselves or find elsewhere on the web. About one-in-seven (14%) teens use Tumblr. Tumblr is predominately used by girls in this age group with 23% of girls 13 to 17 using the service, compared with just 5% of boys the same age. Much of this is driven by the oldest girls (ages 15 to 17) of whom 27% report using Tumblr. Overall, older teens are modestly more likely to use Tumblr than younger teens, with 10% of 13- to 14-year-olds and 16% of 15- to 17-year-olds using it.

23% of Teen Girls Use Tumblr

Facebook is used most often by the bulk of teens, but access varies, based on family income

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat Used Most Often by American Teens

When asked to rank social media sites by their frequency of use, Facebook is the platform that teens report that they use most often, with 41% of youth saying they use it most. Instagram is the next most often used social media platform, with 20% of teens saying they use it most often. Fully 11% of teens say Snapchat is the social site they use most, and another 6% say Twitter.

The data shows a split in social media use by socio-economic status. Less well-off teens from families earning less than $30,000 annually remain more connected to Facebook, with 51% saying they use it most, compared with 38% of teens from wealthier families. More well-to-do teens instead are significantly more likely than the least well-off teens to say they visit Snapchat most, with 14% of those from families earning more than $75,000 saying Snapchat is their top social media platform, compared with 7% of teens whose families earn less than $30,000 annually. There is a similar pattern by income around Twitter, with the wealthiest teens shifting to Twitter more than their least well-to-do peers.

Split in Social Media Used Most Often by Household Income

The youngest teens — the 13-year-olds — divide their loyalties between Facebook and Instagram, with a bit more than a quarter of teens this age reporting they use each of these platforms most often. Teens 14 and older are more likely to have Facebook as their most often visited site. Indeed the youngest girls (ages 13 and 14) are the most likely to report using Instagram most often of any age/gender group, with 31% reporting Instagram as their most often visited platform.

Boys are more likely than girls to give Facebook as their most visited site, with 45% of boys reporting that, compared with 36% of teen girls. Girls are more likely than boys to report Instagram as their most often visited site, with 23% of girls and 17% of boys saying it is their most visited platform. Older teens are more likely than younger teens to list Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter as their most often visited platforms, though for Snapchat this is driven by great use among 15- to 17-year-old girls. Urban teens are most likely to say they visit Facebook most often, while suburban teens report visiting Instagram more than their urban peers.

Many teens ho use multiple online social network sites report “some” overlap in their online personal social networks

Lower Income Teens More Likely to Have the Same Friends Across Multiple Social Media Platforms

When asked to think about how much overlap they have with various friends on the different social networks they use, the largest group of teens who use multiple social media platforms report that there is “some” overlap in their friends on the different sites. More than half (57%) of teens describe their networks as having some overlap across sites. Another three-in-ten teens (29%) have tight networks — reporting that their networks are composed of the same people on every social site they visit. And 9% say there is “not a lot” of overlap in their friends across social media sites. Another 4% of teens are compartmentalizers, who report no overlap of friends across the social sites they visit.

Teens who use more than one social media platform and come from households earning less than $75,000 per year are more likely to say they have the same friends across all of their networks, with 35% of teens in these income brackets reporting the same friends, compared with 23% of teens from the wealthiest homes. Teens from higher income households (earning $50,000 and above) are substantially more likely to report that they have some overlap among friends across their different social networks, with 61% reporting some overlap, compared with 48% of those earning less. Teens from households that earn less than $50,ooo a year are more likely than wealthier teens to report that they have completely compartmentalized their social network platforms, with no overlap of friends across the different sites they use. Fully 7% of households earning less than $50,000 say they have no overlap in friends, compared with 2% of teens from families that earn more.

[Source: Pew Research]

Users who arrive at News Sites via Facebook spend Less Time, view Fewer Pages, return Less Often

PewReferralTrafficChart

Facebook’s efforts to cozy up to media organizations appear to be timely, as Internet users who arrive at the 26 news websites analyzed in a new study from Pew Research Center via directly typing in those sites’ URLs or via bookmarks spend far more time on those sites, view more pages, and return more times per month.

Pew analyzed three months’ worth of data from comScore for those 26 sites, and it found that Internet users who arrived directly or via bookmarks spent an average of four minutes and 36 seconds per visit, compared with just one minute and 42 seconds for those arriving via Facebook.

The gap was even wider when it came to pages viewed per month, as direct visitors averaged 24.8, versus just 4.2 for Facebook visitors.

PewFBReturnLessChart

And direct visitors averaged 10.9 visits per month to the sites studied by Pew, while Facebook referrals accounted for just 2.9 visits per month.

PewVisitorsEngagementFBChart

Pew detailed its findings in the report:

This higher level of engagement from direct visitors holds true across the full mix of sites studied, from those that rank among the most shared on Facebook, such as Breitbart, to those whose traffic is heavily driven by traffic from search engines, such as ABC News, and from those with a small total audience (Mr. Conservative) to aggregators (Yahoo News). Even sites such as digital native BuzzFeed and National Public Radio, which have an unusually high level of Facebook traffic, saw much greater engagement from those who came in directly.

The data also suggest that converting social media or search eyeballs to dedicated readers is difficult to do. Most people who arrived at one of these popular news sites used only one of the three modes, suggesting that, at least on desktop/laptops, individuals tend to come to these news sites using a single method. Users had not, in other words, logged into ABC News in the morning to get the latest news and then later that night followed a link to another ABC story when checking status updates on Facebook. Of the sites examined, the percentage of direct visitors who also came to the site via Facebook was extremely small, ranging from 0.9 percent to 2.3 percent, with the exception of BuzzFeed at 11.3 percent. Similarly, direct visitors who also came to a site through a search engine ranged from 1.3 percent to 4.1 percent — again with one exception, this time being Examiner.com at 8.6 percent.

At a time when news organizations are working to understand how consumers interact with news in the digital space and are implementing digital subscription plans while energetically pushing content in social spaces, these findings encapsulate some of the key challenges facing digital news. Facebook and search are critical for bringing added eyeballs to individual stories, and they do so in droves. But the connection a news organization has with any individual coming to their website via search or Facebook seems quite limited. For news outlets operating under the traditional model of building a loyal, perhaps paying audience, obtaining referrals so that users think of the outlet as the first place to turn is critical.

The data also shed light on new audience approaches. The strategy of BuzzFeed, for example, is very different from that of traditional news organizations. It is not built around building a loyal, returning audience. Instead, it is built around “being a part of the conversation,” says Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith. The site’s writers and editors develop content that people want to share so that a story reaches all those it “should” reach. It may well be a completely different audience from one story to the next. That strategy is reflected in the 50 percent of its desktop/laptop traffic that comes in through Facebook with lowengagement, but high volume — far more than the 32 percent of traffic that accesses the site directly and show higher levels of engagement. The revenue strategy — built around advertising, rather than subscriptions — reflects that strategy, as well. On the other hand, a site like The New York Times — which relies on user subscriptions for a substantial portion of its revenue, and, thus, likely places high priority on loyalty and engagement — gets 37 percent of its laptop/desktop traffic from direct visitors and only 7 percent from Facebook.

Pew Director of Journalism Research Amy Mitchell said in a release announcing the study’s findings:

These findings encapsulate some of the key challenges facing digital news. Facebook and search are critical for bringing added views to individual stories, but the data suggest that it is hard to build relationships with those users. For news outlets operating under the traditional model and hoping to build a loyal, paying audience, it is critical for users to think of that outlet as the first place they should turn.

And John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Vice President of Journalism and Media Innovation Michael Maness added:

News organizations can use this study to better understand how people find their content and what attracts and sustains audiences. The findings show that cultivating relationships is central to developing a loyal following. This highlights the need for organizations to constantly experiment with new engagement opportunities, get to know their audience, and create content that resonates.

Readers: Do you think Facebook can improve its performance when it comes to engagement with news sites?

[Source: Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project]

[Complete Study: Social Search and Direct Path ways to Digital News]

6 new facts about Facebook

Facebook turns 10 tomorrow and reaches that milestone as the dominant social networking platform, used by 57% of all adults and 73% of all those ages 12-17.  Adult Facebook use is intensifying: 64% of Facebook users visit the site on a daily basis, up from 51% of users who were daily users in 2010. Among teens, the total number of users remains high, according to Pew Research Center surveys, and they are not abandoning the site. But focus group interviews suggest that teens’ relationship with Facebook is complicated and may be evolving.

New Pew Research Center survey findings show how people are using Facebook and what they like and dislike about the site.

Some users dislike certain aspects of Facebook, but fear of missing out on social activities (or “FOMO”) isn’t one of them.

FT_Facebook-user-dislikes

Their dislikes start with oversharing by friends and people posting one’s personal information (such as photos) without first asking permission are among the most common. Parents are especially protective of images of their children, as 57% of Facebook users with children under the age of 18 say that people posting pictures of their children without asking permission first is something they strongly dislike about using Facebook.

On the other hand, the “fear of missing out” phenomenon resonates with only a small proportion of the Facebook population. Just 5% of Facebook users strongly dislike the fact that Facebook allows them to see others taking part in social activities that they themselves were not included in—and 84% of users say that this aspect of Facebook life doesn’t bother them at all.

Women and men often have varying reasons for why they use Facebook – but everything starts with sharing and laughs.

FT_Facebook-use-reasons

Users say they especially appreciate photos and videos from friends (47% say that’s a major reason they use the site), the ability to share with many people at once (46% cite that as a major reason), updates from others (39% cite that), and humorous content (39%). Other aspects of Facebook—such as keeping up with news, or receiving support from the people in one’s network—appeal to a more modest audience of users. Men and women sometimes vary in their reasons for using the site.

Half of all adult Facebook users have more than 200 friends in their network.
FT_Facebook-friend-counts

Facebook users differ greatly when it comes to the number of friends in their networks:

  • 39% of adult Facebook users have between 1 and 100 Facebook friends
  • 23% have 101-250 friends
  • 20% have 251-500 friends
  • 15% have more than 500 friends

Among adult Facebook users, the average (mean) number of friends is 338, and the median (midpoint) number of friends is 200. In other words, half of all Facebook users have more than 200 friends, and half have less than 200.

Younger users tend to have significantly larger friend networks than older users: 27% of 18-29 year old Facebook users have more than 500 friends in their network, while 72% of users age 65+ have 100 friends or fewer.

12% of Facebook users say that someone has asked them to “unfriend” a person in their network.

Younger users are more likely to have experienced this than older users: 19% of 18-29 year old Facebook users have had someone ask them to remove a friend from their network (compared with 10% of 30-49 year olds, 7% of 50-64 year olds, and 5% of those 65 and older).

These “friend removal” requests tend to come primarily from other friends (35%), or from current (23%) or former (12%) spouses or romantic partners. Some 38% of those who received this type of request say that they were asked to remove a friend from their Facebook network, while 22% were asked to unfriend a former romantic partner.

Facebook users “like” their friends’ content and comment on photos relatively frequently, but most don’t change their own status that often.

When asked about the frequency with which they engage in certain behaviors on the site, Facebook users tend to point towards “liking” content that others have posted and commenting on photos as the activities they engage in most often. On the other hand, most users change or update their own status only occasionally:

  • 44% of Facebook users “like” content posted by their friends at least once a day, with 29% doing so several times per day.
  • 31% comment on other people’s photos on a daily basis, with 15% doing so several times per day.
  • 19% send private Facebook messages to their friends on a daily basis, with 10% sending these messages multiple times per day.
  • 10% change or update their own status on Facebook on a daily basis, with 4% updating their status several times per day. Some 25% of Facebook users say that they never change or update their own Facebook status.

Half of internet users who do not use Facebook themselves live with someone who does.

Many non-Facebook users still have some familiarity with the site through family members. Among internet users who do not use Facebook themselves, 52% say that someone else in their household has a Facebook account. In many instances, these may be parents who do not use Facebook but live with a child who does. Fully 66% of parents with a child living at home who do not use Facebook themselves say that someone in their household has a Facebook account.

In addition, some 24% of Facebook non-adopters who live with an account holder say that they look at photos or posts on that person’s account.

[Source: Pew Research Center]

Twitter NOT a Reliable Indicator of Public Opinion

Obama-twitter
Seemingly dozens of startups exist which try to make sense of Twitter sentiment, and Twitter itself has been trying hard to portray its sentiment data as an accurate reflection of public opinion. However, Pew Research Center — among the gold standards of public research polling — says it might be all for naught.Pew compared traditional public poll results with Twitter sentiment data around eight of the most significant political events over the last year, often finding significantly divergent results.According to Pew, in some instances — Barack Obama’s reelection, the first presidential debate and a federal court ruling on California’s same-sex marriage ban — the reaction on Twitter was “more pro-Democratic or liberal than the balance of public opinion.” However, other events — Obama’s second inaugural speech, John Kerry’s nomination as Secretary of State and Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address — elicited a more conservative response on Twitter than they did in opinion polls.

Pew also pointed to the general negativity of political tweets, which perhaps suggests people are more likely to tweet about something about which they disapprove rather than vice-versa. That would affect Twitter sentiment data vis-a-vis public polling data, as Twitter data is comprised of opinions from people who weren’t directly prompted to share an opinion whereas public opinion polls rely on respondents’ answers to a series of questions.

Why else is there a difference between Twitter sentiment and public opinion polling? Three reasons, according to Pew: Demographics, sampling and grouping.

  • On demographics, only 13% of adults use Twitter, and only 3% said they regularly or sometimes tweet about the news, according to previous Pew studies — hardly enough to form a representative sample of voters. Additionally, Pew found that Twitter tends to skew young and left. “Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public and more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party,” reads the study.
  • There’s also a sampling issue: Twitter conversations can include non-voters (such as those under 18 or international citizens), while public opinion poll samples about domestic politics are limited to citizens aged 18 and older.
  • Finally, there’s a problem of grouping: Not everybody who tweets about politics tweets aboutevery political event.

“Those who tweeted about the California same-sex marriage ruling were likely not the same group as those who tweeted about Obama’s inaugural or Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan,” reads the Pew study, which pointed to the substantial difference in the number of people who tweeted about Obama’s relected compared to Kerry’s nomination as evidence.

“In the two days following Obama’s re-election on Nov. 6, there were nearly 14 million Tweets from people expressing their reaction,” said Pew. “And more than five million expressed their reactions to the first presidential debate. But other events, particularly the federal court ruling on same sex marriage in California last February and Obama’s nomination of John Kerry in December, drew a much lower volume of tweets.”

There is, of course, a potential conflict of interest here: Pew might not want Twitter infringing on its opinion-polling turf.

Mashable has contacted Twitter for its response to the Pew study, and we will update this post with any comment.

Do you think Twitter can be a reliable source of public opinion?

[Source: Mashable]