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What Is Twitter? Apparently, No One Knows

You may feel like you can't escape Twitter, but many are doing just that: A new study shows that nearly 70% of adults don't know what Twitter is.

twitter-birdLately, Twitter seems like an inescapable part of life. People tweet from home, tweet when they're out, they even tweet when they're at work (it's safe to say the Fast Company office is Twitter-obsessed). But results from a recent LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll show that the Twitter phenomenon might be more concentrated than we thought.

Of the over 2,000 adults surveyed, 69% said they didn't know enough about Twitter to have an opinion on it—69%?! That's a shocking number—my mother even knows what Twitter is, and I still have to place a weekly call just to remind her to check her e-mail. An additional 20% of consumers think that Twitter is either already past its prime or will continue to be used only by young people and the media. When you add up those numbers, that leaves a pretty small portion of consumers who think Twitter will continue to grow.

It's not ground-breaking news that questions are being raised about Twitter's staying power. It has a retention rate of just 40% (about half the rate of Facebook and MySpace) and most of its 7 million users simply follow friends, not companies or brands. But not knowing what Twitter is? Numbers like that don't bode well for advertisers, especially when their awareness of the micro-blogging site seems to be vastly different from consumers'.

The study also surveyed over 1,000 advertisers, of which 45% felt that Twitter will continue to grow. Only 17% said they didn't know enough about Twitter to comment (which still seems high for the ad industry, but it pales in comparison to 69%), another 17% said Twitter is already over and 21% said it will continue to be used solely by young people and the media.

So the ad industry has more confidence in Twitter than consumers do, but no one seems to be overwhelmed by its potential marketing ability. When asked about the effectiveness of tweets, only 8% of advertisers and consumers alike believe it is "very effective." (This was demonstrated last week at Comic-Con, when convention-related tweets fell way short of expectations.)

Twitter has said before that the site is not interested in pursuing advertising, but hopes to bring in cash with tools and services. But if the site continues to attract only youth and media, as some have predicted, will it be enough to sustain the Twittersphere?

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