Some of us spend longer using Twitter than we care to admit. As an academic, I use it constantly to keep up with conferences, developments in my field, network with fellow academics and interact with students. I’m not the only one. Twitter has an enormous reach in many areas including politics, science and business, and companies and advertisers know this only too well. From celebrities / influencers being paid to feature products on their timeline to the millions paid for advertising and featured tweets, everyone is at it. Educational institutions also promote their wares on Twitter and other social media. The holy grail? Engagement with potential customers / employers / employees / students...
Research has been carried out into all sorts of aspects of using Twitter to engage people as well as to teach and learn among many other uses. We have a fair amount of data on how people engage with Twitter, how often they check it, for how long, best times to tweet for impact and use of images and video, for example, but little research has been carried out on what people are doing while they use Twitter.
Checking Twitter is something that many people do not do as an isolated activity. This is linked to the rise in 'Continuous Partial Attention' (the idea that we do not pay attention fully to anything anymore and are always paying partial attention to more than one thing).
The fact that many TV programmes and sports events trend on Twitter while they’re on confirms that many users tweet during these, and are hence tweeting whilst watching. But what else are people doing? To get a tentative initial answer to this question, I set up an informal survey using - of course - Twitter. In total I asked 13 questions as polls within a thread, and most respondents replied to all questions (the first question received 237 responses and the last one 222). All the questions asked whether users did a certain activity (watching TV, cooking, exercising) whilst they were on Twitter. For all questions there were three possible answers: yes, writing tweets; yes, both reading and writing tweets; or no. I’m not going to try to pass this on as any sort of scientific research: the methodology is flawed. However, it does give us a picture of the sorts of activities people undertake at the same time as they use Twitter.
First, the good news: 99% of the people who took the survey do not use Twitter while they’re driving. This means that 1% do, which is somewhat alarming. Those two people only read tweets (they do not write them) and I want to believe that these are tweets that pop up on a wearable device. Quite a lot of passengers in cars or public transport, however, do engage with Twitter. 88% do so, with 59% of the total both reading and writing tweets and 29% reading only.
As suspected, a large number of users (79%) check Twitter while watching TV: 43% read and write tweets and a further 36% read them. The overall number is lower when people are listening to music or the radio: 68% do so (23% read only and 45% both read and write). The activities during which people don’t seem to check Twitter as much include exercising and cooking (only 4% and 27% respectively use it while doing that).
If you’re one of those people who worries that the art of conversation is disappearing because of social media, I have relatively good news for you: 63% of respondents do not engage with Twitter while talking to someone else. 23% read tweets, however, and a very rude 8% both read and write tweets. Speaking of rudeness, 4% of respondents engage with Twitter while at the the cinema or theatre. Upon seeing these statistics, other Twitter users replied to the tweet that contained that question with comments such as “I’m going to hunt down the 4% who tweet while at the cinema”, and “I hope they get nits”.
Some 68% of respondents engage with Twitter while they’re at work: 21% reading only and 47% reading and writing. A further 51% say they engage with Twitter during meetings / presentations / lectures. 51% use Twitter while eating (32% reading only and 19% reading and writing), but one user specified that only when they eat on their own, and this may well apply to more users.
Finally, there is one place where a lot of engagement with Twitter takes place. Have you guessed yet? It’s the bathroom. Fear of dropping their devices in the water may be the reason why a relatively low 17% engage on Twitter in the bath, but this fear doesn’t apply to the toilet, where 53% of people do (24% read only and 29% read and write).
Although these results are only an snapshot, with data gathered in an unscientific, informal way, they open up the door to further research into Twitter engagement. To be able to correlate the results with other data such as age and gender would provide undoubtedly interesting results.
So wether you’re posting your latest cat photo or launching an expensive ad campaign, consider this next time you tweet: over half the people reading your tweet may be sitting on the toilet as they do. Is your content engaging enough to keep their attention while they go about their business?
Original survey and results can be found on by clicking here