Study finds African Americans make up abnormally high percentage of Twitter users.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Janelle Thomas knows how popular Twitter is among African Americans.
The soon-to-be University of North Carolina-Charlotte graduate has 300 followers on the micro-blogging service, most of them young African Americans like her. One friend sends out as many as 100 tweets — or messages — per day, enough to clog her account and eventually force Thomas to drop him from her circle.
“Literally, some people will tweet ‘Got up’ or “Going to class’ or ‘This girl in front of me is crazy looking,”‘ said Thomas, a communications major.
A recent study from Edison Research, a media research firm, is the latest to confirm Twitter’s popularity among African Americans. They make up 25 percent of Twitter’s 17 million users — about double the percentage of blacks in the U.S. population, according to the Edison study.
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Facebook’s more than 116 million U.S. users, by contrast, reflect roughly the same diversity as the American population. (Worldwide, Facebook has more than 400 million users).
“Twitter started out as somewhat elitist within the social media phenomenon, but now you’ve got all kinds” of users, said Jameka Whitten, head of JSW Media Group, a Charlotte marketing agency focused on urban art, entertainment and fashion.
Whitten, who has about 1,700 Twitter followers, said virtually all her friends, clients and business associates tweet.
Twitter’s short format — 140 characters or less per message — lends itself to mobile phone use, and African-American adults are the most active users of the mobile Web, according to research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Roughly half of all African-American adults have used their cellphone to access the Internet, Pew found, compared to 40 percent of Hispanic adults and 31 percent of white adults.
Amanda Lenhart, a Pew researcher, said low-income people — and to a lesser extent African-Americans and Hispanics — are less likely to have an Internet-connected computer at home, so many are possibly using their cellphones instead.
That’s been the experience of a Charlotte, N.C., social media expert too. “There is no ‘digital divide’ (between Internet access for whites and blacks) when it comes to the mobile Web,” said Jenifer Daniels, a social media specialist for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.
Some businesses marketing to African-American youth are taking notice. Power 98, the popular Charlotte hip-hop radio station, regularly tweets about its music and contests to a Twitter following of more than 3,400.
Some researchers have surmised that African Americans might use Twitter more heavily because they use it in a more conversational way than other groups.
Twitter’s “trending topics” — popular subjects on a given day — often center on issues African American users are tweeting about. And often, researchers say, those tweets involve hashtags, or keywords, which people add to tweets.
The hashtags, usually the number symbol followed by a provocative phrase, are meant to invite discussion or debate. The hashtags also allow Twitter’s search engines to group each tweet bearing the same marking. That lets millions of users participate in the same rolling discussion, even if they don’t know each other.
Recent popular hashtags have prompted tweets about relationships or fashion or music, often with writers using hip-hop slang in voicing their opinions.
Thomas, the UNC-Charlotte student, said the hashtags can prove so popular that one person might send out dozens of tweets giving their opinions on that same topic.
“It’s crazy,” she said, chuckling.
Daniels, the library staffer, said the attraction for young African Americans isn’t hard to figure out. She said much of their Twitter commentary — especially around trending topics lists and hashtags — echoes the kind of strongly-worded declarations and likes and dislikes found in rap songs.
Twitter “is just a natural fit based on the way hip-hop culture and African American culture choose to represent themselves in daily life,” said Daniels, who also teaches about social networks as part of a communications class at Central Piedmont Community College.
Even so, she and other local African American Twitterers lament that the online diversity doesn’t carry over to the business-oriented social networking groups and Twitter meetings — called Tweetups — common around Charlotte.
One recent gathering of social networkers, BarCamp Charlotte, drew about 150 people. Only a handful of African Americans attended the wide-ranging discussions on technology and the Internet.
Dwayne Waite, an African American who runs his own marketing firm, led one session. He sees all the activity African Americans are having around Twitter hashtags and on Facebook, but adds: “When you go out and are networking, they’re nowhere to be found … it’s quite disappointing.”
Whitten said Charlotte’s African American Twitterers are active — they just tend to move within their own social circles.
“For what Charlotte is, we have a strong enough presence,” she said. “It just depends on who you’re following and who you’re interacting with.”