In what has emerged as Web 2.0's latest phenom, Twitter's membership is growing by leaps and bounds. According to comScore Media Metrix, Twitter saw 9.3 million visitors in March. That's an increase of more than five million visitors, or 131 percent, from February.
What's causing Twitter's exponential growth? Is it the media attention? The Google acquisition rumors? The viral nature of Web 2.0 technologies? All of the above?
"One interesting theory alluded to by several people in last week's discussion was that the mainstream media attention on Twitter is really helping fuel its growth. And there may certainly be some merit to that," said Andrew Lipsman, a senior industry analyst at comScore. "It seems you can't get through a typical newscast anymore without some mention of Twitter."
Twitter's Media Spin
Lipsman offers some examples of the media attention. If you watched the news this past week, he noted, you might have heard that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich leveled criticism of President Obama's response to the Somali pirate standoff over Twitter. In this case, a micro-blogging site was used as a politician's primary media outlet.
"It just goes to show you how much social media, and specifically a site like Twitter, have become woven into the fabric of our daily media lives," Lipsman said. "News broadcasters like CNN's Rick Sanchez have actually incorporated Twitter into their live broadcasts, and it seems like just about every other journo these days has a presence on Twitter."
Lipsman also noted how Twitter is turning average citizens into journalists, such as when news and pictures of Flight 1549 landing in the Hudson River broke on Twitter. Like it or not, he said, Twitter is quickly revolutionizing the way our news ecosystem operates, from journalist to consumer, and blurring the lines in between.
The Twitter Overlap
"Given the natural synergies between Twittering and news consumption, I wondered if comScore data might confirm any overlap in behavior," Lipsman said. "When I looked at the percentage of visitors to Twitter.com who also visited the Web sites of some of the top online news brands and compared it to that of the total U.S. Internet audience, I found a particularly strong level of overlap."
Specifically, the average Twitter user was often two and three times as likely to visit the top online news brands as the average person. While 17 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience visited CNN.com in March, comScore reported more than double that percentage of Twitter.com visitors did so. What Lipsman is wondering is if it's the real-time "newsiness" of Twitter that inherently attracts news junkies or if it's that the mainstream news attention on the site is pushing more news consumers to join Twitter.
"There's some sort of virtuous cycle occurring between 'breaking news' and 'making news' that is feeding on itself, and it is only under such conditions that we can realistically see the sort of growth that we've seen at Twitter over the past few months," Lipsman said. "At least that's the best explanation I can come up with for now."
Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said the media attention on Twitter is filtering through the larger population. Like other social media, Twitter is inherently viral. The more people use it, he noted, the more it grows, and the more it grows, the more people use it.
"The momentum builds on itself. The media has run Twitter stories on almost a daily basis. Biz Stone, one of the cofounders, was on 'The Colbert Report.' There's been enormous exposure," Sterling said. "The power of popular culture can't be underestimated. There are a lot of celebrities using Twitter. That has helped to raise the profile of Twitter and make it a mass-market tool very quickly."