Twitter has over 1 billion accounts, but only about a quarter are thought to be active users. Within this subset, though, you have the “lurkers”—a group the Pew Research Center defines as infrequent users who average fewer than five posts per month of any kind, whether original tweets, RTs, or replies.
Pew studies Twitter usage habits all the time. Just last November, it published data showing how the site’s top 25% of users produce the overwhelming majority of content—97%! Yet, despite tweeting an average of 65 times per month, this committed crowd is shouting a bit into the void: On average, each of these users receives just 37 likes and one retweet for the whole month.
In its newest Twitter usage survey published yesterday, Pew tries to understand what qualities the lurkers have in common, essentially asking them: Why do you keep using this site?
Most of the answers aren’t really surprises: If you’re a lurker, you tend to have fewer followers than normal users (15 versus 159 on average). Also, the bulk of your posts aren’t original tweets, but rather replies to other users (51% of posts versus 30% for everyone else). One notable trend is everybody is equally lazy with RTs: Just 5% of posts by lurkers or more active users are so-called quote tweets, the type where you retweet, but spend time to add your own comment above it.
Where a fascinating pattern emerges, though, is when Pew asks lurkers why they use Twitter to begin with. They’re almost three times more likely to tell Pew that the main reason is for exposure to varying points of view. In fact, 13% cite this as their top reason.
Given the binary of whether Twitter is a place they visit to express their own opinions or to hear what other people are saying, 76% of lurkers say it’s primarily a platform to see what others are saying. Only 5% of the general Twitterverse think the reason to be on this site is to hear different views. Yet, practically the same number from both groups say Twitter allows them to “stay informed” (24% of lurkers versus 21% of everyone else).
Perhaps Pew’s data can finally help explain why engaging in Twitter debates is often utterly pointless.