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Do consumers really use Twitter?

That’s the question that I’ve been asked the most since we released FEED: The Razorfish Consumer Experience Report just over a month ago. Here’s the stat that draws the most attention:

28% of “connected consumers” use Twitter with some frequency. Of those, 5% use Twitter all of the time, 8% most of the time and 15% use Twitter once in a while.

For those who are not familiar with the study, we surveyed 1000+ U.S. “connected consumers” earlier this summer who have certain usage behaviors (broadband access, ecommerce activity, social media activity, digital media consumption, etc.). For the most part, this group tends tends to mirror the U.S. broadband population and is — depending on what research you read — about 165 million people. We look at it as a leading indicator of internet usage behavior and forward trends.

As Brian Morrissey of Adweek was the first to point out, first on Twitter (fittingly) and in later discussions, if you do some crude math based on the bps you get some 46 millionodd people in the U.S. on Twitter according to our study. That’s a big number.

Since Brian first brought it up, I’ve had several other queries around that line of thought (most recently as of last week) and it’s nagged at me ever since. So here’s my take:

Twitter participation (e.g. registered users) is soaring and — most significantly — Twitter posts (which can be read by anyone, just like the NYTimes) are quickly becoming a trusted news and social source by a wide swath of consumers. We can no longer define Twitter usage just as those who register and post but must also include those that read and discover Twitter through search.

Rationale:

First, Twitter usage is way up. If you look at publicly accessible data sources like Quantcast or Compete, Twitter.com is averaging 3.5 million unique visitors per month. That roughs out, crudely, to 42 million uniques. Given that run rate, it’s not hard to imagine how Twitter could get to 40+ million uniques per year sooner than we think.

Second, Google is indexing Twitter posts aggressively. John Battelle who runs Federated Media and Searchblog noted that earlier this month here. And it does so according to PageRank. In addition, Technorati was also quick to index. There is no registration to read a “tweet” which means this type of microblogging content is as open and as accessible as an article from the NYTimes or a video on YouTube.

Third, Facebook’s “News Feed” and “Status Updates”, both of which can be updated via Twitter, are another way that consumers can interact with the service even if they don’t “tweet” themselves. Couple this with FriendFeed and Twitter widgets courtesy of Widgetbox and you’ve got a much more pervasive footprint than any .com experience.

Finally, the way people are interacting with Twitter is increasingly beyond the desktop. Earlier this year ReadWriteWeb studied the way people were using various clients to interact with Twitter. They found that nearly 44% of Twitter usage (posts or tweets) comes from clients and largely mobile and desktop apps. Much of this activity is unmeasurable — save for Twitter’s own insight (which they share infrequently) — but significant.

Given this, it’s easy to see how our “connected consumers” would cite higher than average familiarity and usage of Twitter (even though it’s only been around for two years). Combine registered users and those that “tweet” with those that simply “read” and find via search or other mechanisms (add the Election internet spike) and you’ve got a small start-up with an increasingly large footprint.

So, are there really 46 million U.S. consumers “tweeting”? Maybe not yet, but we are going to get there much faster than most realize.

BTW, you can follow me on Twitter here:

http://www.twitter.com/gschmitt

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