Twitter is a real-time microblogging platform, publicly launched in July 2006. Its defining feature is the tight limits on the length of each post – known as a ‘tweet’. Initially this stood at 140 characters, though this figure was doubled in most languages to 280 in 2017. Rated 11th in the world by the Alexa global website rankings, and #21 in Forbes Top 100 Digital Companies 2018, Twitter is one of the most recognisable names in the contemporary tech and media landscapes. It currently boasts 335 actively monthly users, and a market cap of $21.46 billion (October 2018).
Twitter was developed as a side project of podcasting platform Odeo, by former Google employees, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, engineer Jack Dorsey, and software developer Noah Glass. Initially conceived as an SMS-based platform (hence the 140-character limit), Twitter was built using the Ruby on Rails web application framework. After internal trialling within Odeo, it was launched to the public a few months later. It was known as twttr, until the creators were able to purchase the already-in use Twitter.com a few months after launch. The name, referring to small bursts of inconsequential information or chirps of birds, was considered to perfectly capture the ethos of the new product.
The potential of the microblogging platform, in conjunction with the threat posed by the launch of Apple’s podcasting platform, led Williams, Stone, and Dorsey (the current CEO) to buy out Odeo as the Obvious Corporation. Twitter’s coming of age was considered to be SXSW 2007, at which giant screens showed tweets from attendees in real time. Daily usage increased threefold to 60,000 tweets. A suffusion of venture capital following the event saw the foundation of Twitter, Inc.
Users can choose to follow other users, with tweets from those they have chosen to follow appearing in their feed. They have the option to make their tweets private, appearing only to their followers. Public posts are searchable and viewable by anyone, even without a those without an account. Users can reply directly to posts, and also have the option to send private messages.
A range of Twitter business features are also available. Brands can post promoted tweets, post from promoted Twitter accounts, or promote Twitter trends (using the # feature). Promoted content appears to the users to whom it is most relevant, based on their stated information and usage of Twitter. Tweetdeck is an official tool that allows businesses to manage, monitor, and schedule tweets.
As well as being accessible through web browsers, Twitter apps are available across a range of mobile devices (iOS and Android). Tweets and feeds can also be embedded into web content – a mainstay of the online news landscape.
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Key Twitter Statistics
- Twitter’s latest quarterly profits stood at $106 million
- Twitter turned a profit for the first time in Q4 2017
- Twitter’s current market cap stands at $26.2 billion. In 2014, it was close to $40 billion, while in 2016 it fell to under $10 billion
- Twitter reported revenue of $758 million in Q3 2017
- 326 million people are active on Twitter – 67 million in the US, 259 million international
- Katy Perry is the most-followed person on Twitter, with 107 million followers
- 500 million tweets were sent daily in 2014, the last time official stats were released
- 80% of Twitter usage happens on mobile devices
- 66% of brands with over 100 employee use Twitter for marketing purposes
- 26% of US users check Twitter several times daily; a further 20% at least once a day
- 12% of Americans use Twitter as a news source
Twitter User Statistics
Twitter is one of the most-used social media platforms in the world. Official Twitter statistics show that 326 million monthly users actively used Twitter in Q2 2018. This is down slightly on the Q2 figure of 335 million, which itself was down on Q1’s 336. It’s also down on Q3 2017’s figure of 330 – for the first time showing a year-on-year decline for any given quarter. It’s equal, however, to the 326 million reported in Q2 2017. This decline is thought to be related to a crackdown on spam and bot accounts. The latter have been connected with the dissemination of ‘fake news’ in the last couple of years, with the intention to disrupt electoral processes. Twitter also suggested GDPR may have played a small part.
Beyond this, growth in monthly active Twitters users has slowed somewhat in recent years, as compared to previous rapid growth. In Q1 2010, for example, Twitter could only boast 30 million active users. This figure had more than doubled a year later, to 68 million. By Q1 2012, with 138 monthly active users, the same had happened again. Growth has been steadier since around 2015 (with 302 million monthly average users in Q1).
Average monthly active users Q1 2010- Q2 2018, in millions
There are no official Twitter statistics for daily average users, though they do release a growth figure. In contrast to the MAU trend, DAU are up 9% in Q3 2018 and compared to Q2 2017. This has been a consistent trend. Between Q2 2017 and Q2 2018, growth stood at 11%. Equivalent Q1 figures stood at 10%. In the US, around one in five internet users are on Twitter.
Twitter US market penetration
Of the 326 million average users, 67 million were in the US, with the remaining 259 million ‘international’. Outside of the US, Japan is the next biggest Twitter market (with market penetration of over a third), followed by the UK. There were even thought to be 10 million Twitter accounts in China, where Twitter is blocked. Twitter supports over 40 languages in total, and is used in 83% of UN member nations, according to Omnicore. Its reach is not just limited to Earth either; astronaut Timothy Creamer sent the first tweet from the International Space Station in 2010.
Leading countries for Twitter users in April 2018, in millions
Twitter users skew male, with men accounting for 57% of Twitter users globally . This trend is broken in the US, where according to research by the Pew Research Center, 24% of women overall use Twitter, compared to 23% of men. In terms of age and wealth, Twitter has claimed that 80% of its users are affluent Millennials. In the same collection of Twitter demographic statistics, it also claims that 53% are early adopters of new products, and 64% are likely to influence purchase.
In Japan, Twitter users skew male and are more likely to be over 30 than under.
Japanese Twitter demographics, 2017
Source: humble bunny
In the US, 28% of those with a college education use Twitter, compared to 14% of those who don’t (Pew Research Center). The percentage also creeps up according to wealth bracket. 30% of those who earn at least $75,000 are users; 26% in the $50,000-$74,499 bracket; 16% of those at $30,000-$49,999, and 18% of those below that.
Compared to other social media sites, those who use Twitter as a news source are likely to be white, in the 30-49 age bracket (followed by 18-29). As elsewhere on Twitter, they are more likely to be college-educated.
Demographic breakdown of US news consumers
Twitter has come to be the de rigueur mouthpiece of celebrities, politicians, and organisations aiming to speak directly to the public. Blue ticks were introduced in 2009 to indicate verified celebrity or business accounts – partially based on complaints from Kanye West, who feared being impersonated.
Actor Ashton Kutcher was the first to reach 1 million followers, while Donald Trump (54.9 million users) is renowned for his liberal use of the platform. The 45th president of the US, however, is no match for singer Katy Perry, at 106.84 million. It’s probably best not to mention to 45 that 44, aka Barack Obama, comes in at third with 101.78 million. Ellen DeGeneres (76.8 million) and Cristiano Ronaldo (73.99 million) break the popstar hegemony of the top-10, while Youtube (70.37 million) is the only business.
Most-followed Twitter accounts in August 2018, in millions
There are no official statistics for the average number of followers for Twitter users, but a 2016 study of 96 million accounts by KickFactory set the figure at 707. If you exclude those with over 100,000 followers, the figure stands at 453. This is up considerably on the 2012 figure found by Beevolve, of 208, based on 36 million profiles.
Twitter Usage Statistics
The last official Twitter stats on the number of daily tweets stood at over 500 million. This was in 2014, this number may have increased since then – or decreased given the silence. One thing we do know through Twitter’s use of the phrase “hundreds of millions” is that we’re not quite up to a billion yet…
Twitter is very much a mobile platform, with 80% of Twitter usage coming via mobile devices, according to stats listed by Google. The platform also reveals that 93% video views happen on mobile device. Twitter videos can be a key tool for brands, with the potential to increase purchase intent by 34%, and to improve positive brand sentiment by 14%. In general, it seems that brands understand the power of Twitter, with 66% of US companies with over 100 employees utilising the platform for marketing purposes. Engagement is central to success in this regard; 77% of users feel more positive about a brand if they respond directly to tweets. During 2017, brands tweeted between 112.6 to 130.5 times a month on average. It’s an increasingly cost-effective way for businesses to market; with total ad engagements increasing by 81% and cost-per-engagement falling by 32% between Q2 2017 and Q2 2018.
Twitter as a news source
Twitter usage statistics show that Twitter users habitually use the app with a high degree of regularity. According to the Pew Research Center, 26% of US Twitter users check Twitter several times a day, with a further 20% claiming to the check it daily.
A total of 12% of Americans claim to get their news from Twitter. Or to look at it another way, 74% of US Twitter users use Twitter to get their news. It’s not just about those reading the news though; around one quarter of verified Twitter accounts belong to journalists. In order to tackle to issue of fake news, Twitter has announced plans to introduce greater transparency around who pays for advertising using its platform and how much in order to tackle the topic of fake news.
Twitter usage innovations
In the years following its launch, Twitter pioneered or made mainstream several innovations that inform how we use social media today. Many of these emerged organically as the result of way users interacted with the platform. For instance, the hashtag, using a # symbol to tag information pertaining to a particular topic, the @ symbol to address a user directly, and the use of the retweet (RT) to reshare other users’ tweets. All of these features we recognised by developers and incorporated into the app.
It has also been championed as an open source of news. Twitter was widely credited for its role in the Arab Spring where it was key in passing information not available through conventional channels. In more recent times, it has played a central part in the #MeToo movement. On the other hand, it also received criticism for providing a channel for the dissemination of false information aiming to disrupt democratic processes. The finger has been pointed at ‘bots’ – false accounts producing automated postings.
Most popular on Twitter
The most retweeted ever tweet? That would be Carter Wilkerson’s poetic “HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGGS”, with 3.6 million retweets to date (part of a well-orchestrated campaign by fast food outlet Wendy’s – if he reaches 18 million he’ll win a year’s supply of chicken nuggets). This even edges out Ellen DeGeneres’ 2014 Oscars super selfie, featuring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts, Channing Tatum, Meryl Streep, and Lupita Nyong’o (3.3 million). It’s all about the pop stars once more, though, with no fewer that 25% of the top 40 tweets in this metric posted by members of now defunct boyband One Direction.
HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGGS pic.twitter.com/4SrfHmEMo3
— Carter Wilkerson (@carterjwm) April 6, 2017
The World Cup always generates huge spikes of activity on Twitter, with 115 billion impressions taking place during the 2018 edition in Russia. Twitter reports that 125 million hashtags are shared every day. The most popular emoji used in Twitter is, ‘crying with laughter’, followed by ‘in love’, and ‘crying’.
Most-used emojis on Twitter, 2017-18
What better way to celebrate #WorldEmojiDay than with some 📊✨data✨📊?
These are the most used emojis on Twitter the past year:
— Twitter Data (@TwitterData) July 17, 2018
After 12 years of operation, Twitter turned a profit for the first time in the last quarter of 2017 –$91 million, compared to revenue of $732 million. Twitter profit figures have since increased to a record $106 million in the third quarter of 2018, following an also-record $100 million in Q2 2018, and more-modest $61 million in Q1. The high Q2 figure was bolstered by the release of deferred tax asset valuation allowance in Brazil, and Q3 by the same in the US.
As recently as Q4 2016, Twitter posted quarterly losses of $167 million.
Twitter revenue stood at $758 million in Q3 2018, representing a 29% year-on-year increase. Twitter advertising revenue weighed in at $650 million over this quarter; a 29% increase year-on-year. In total, Twitter advertising revenue was worth $2.1 billion in 2017 – representing a 6% decline on 2016. Twitter revenue for Q3 represents the highest quarterly figure reported by Twitter, followed by that first profitable quarter in 2017 ($731.6 million).
Advertising revenue comes from promoted tweets, accounts, and trends. Twitter uses an algorithm to offer tailored advertising opportunities – targeting the users who might be most interested in any given product or service.
Twitter revenue Q1 2011-Q3 2018
Data licencing and other sources provided $109 million (29% up). Data licensing is the fastest growing Twitter revenue source. Q1 2018 saw $90 million in sales made by this part of the business – a 20% increase on the previous quarter. Data licensing sales by Twitter have attracted some negative attention, with Cambridge Analytica counted among its clients (it was later removed as an advertiser).
$367 million worth of revenue came from the US, while $344 million was international. Japan contributed 16% of Twitter revenue in this quarter – slightly down on the 18% posted in Q1.
GAAP expenses totalled $631 million in Q2. This is 3% up, year-on-year. Twitter’s profitability, however, has been driven by reduction in costs in recent years. The slashing of stock-based compensation over 2017, at points worth over 50% of Twitter revenue, was seen as instrumental. Expenses in Q4 2017 decreased by 28%, with stock-based compensation decreasing by 26%. It fell by 36% the previous quarter, as part of a 16% year-on-year drop.
Twitter have held a number of funding rounds, each raising between $5 million and $400 million, between July 2007 and December 2011. The last of these saw a single investor, Saudi businessman Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, invest $300 million.
Twitter stock price
Twitter went public in November 2013, listing on the New York Stock Exchange. On the first day of trading shares opened at $26, and closed at $44.90, giving Twitter a valuation of $31 billion. Twitter share price went as high as $69 in early 2014. In October 2018, share price stood at $27.99.
Twitter stock price, Nov 2013-Nov 2018
Twitter market cap
Twitter’s market cap currently stands at $25.03 billion (November 2018). This reflects a considerable drop in the wake of the purge of fake accounts which saw a loss of two million accounts between Q1 and Q3 2018. A stock surge earlier ($46.65) in the year saw the Twitter market cap reaching a three-year high of $33.84 billion. In early 2014, it had been as high as $39.32 billion. It had, however gone as low as $9.83 billion in mid-2016. In June 2018, S&P Dow Jones added Twitter to S&P’s to the S&P top US public companies.
Twitter market cap, 2013-2018
Since Twitter emerged on the market over a decade ago, the social media landscape has undergone huge changes. Image-based rivals such as Snapchat and Instagram have risen to precedence over that time period, though Facebook continues to loom large over the social media landscape. Crucially, we’ve also experienced a mobile revolution since then, with the 2007-launch of the iPhone, making social media an ever-present part of our lives.
While Twitter perhaps doesn’t command the same numbers as some of its rivals, it has endured through the many storms that have occurred since its launch. It has firmly established itself as the medium through which the news agenda is set, with a rich mixture of politicians, businesspeople, brands, journalists, and commentators vying for attention. The dark side of this is the troubling rise of politically-charged bots manipulating the picture, though Twitter is attempting to take action on this point.
Electric growth figures in early years have given way to more subdued figures in recent times, though its new-found profitability has kept the momentum going. It remains to be seen, however, how sustainable the thriving data sales part of its business will be as people increasingly ask questions of what is happening with their private information.
Whatever happens next, however, Twitter has become an essential part of how we communicate. It’s hard to imagine a world without it.