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Dying Twitter Is Huge Source of Breaking News

While all eyes are on Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) and its search for a chief executive officer to lift the company’s sagging share prospects, there are some signs that if the company can sort out its problems it has some major opportunities. One of those opportunities, according to a new study, is the short-form social media’s use to follow breaking news.

The study, conducted by research firm DB5 in conjunction with Twitter and the American Press Institute (API) surveyed 3,713 Twitter users and another 1,000 social media users, including 469 who were not Twitter users.

Among the study’s findings are some encouraging words for Twitter:

Nearly 9 in 10 Twitter users in the study (86%) say they use Twitter for news, and the vast majority of those (74%) do so daily.

Roughly the same number of people say they use Twitter to be alerted to breaking news (40%) as to keep up with the news generally (39%).

Three quarters of Twitter news users follow individual journalists, writers and commentators (73%) and nearly two thirds follow institutional accounts (62%). Twitter users also are very likely to discover new journalists and writers and consequently follow their work, often on other platforms beyond Twitter.

Fully 94% of Twitter news users get their news either through scrolling their timelines or browsing tweets of those they follow. Other features are used far less often: For instance just 34% of Twitter news users say they get news from trending topics and 30% use search.

Some 77% of all social media users check the news at least once a day, and 76% of the subset that does not use Twitter at all checks the news at the same rate. Among Twitter users, 81% check the news at least daily.

A full 79% find it easier to keep up with the news today than five years ago, compared with 62% of non-Twitter users who feel that way, and 70% of social media users overall. Twitter users also follow twice a many news topics, 14, than do non-Twitterati and social media users in general. And Twitter users are less likely to be TV news viewers, more likely to use search, mobile apps and websites and social networks. There were not substantial differences in use of newspapers or radio.

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The good news for traditional media? “Social networks … appear to be adding to the ways that Americans are informed, not eliminating more traditional pathways entirely.”

But have the traditional media waited too long to figure this out? Twitter’s user growth has slowed, its management is in turmoil and other social media competitors are not standing still. And the recommendations for traditional media hold few surprises:

  • Because Twitter users follow journalists as opposed to publications, get the journos using Twitter.
  • Focus on breaking news; 70% of Twitter users who read news on the service do so to get the news immediately.
  • Hard news ranks much higher on Twitter than it does on other social media, so publishers should focus on that. The two most popular topics are sports and politics.
  • Avoid using hashtags except for breaking news because they are not used for discovery unless the story is breaking. Then more than 50% of Twitter users click on a hashtag to get more info.
  • Because more than 80% of the Twitterati use mobile devices to access the service, the content must be mobile-friendly. Duh.

The full report is available here.

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By Paul Ausick