If you’re a certain type of person, it might feel like Twitter is where everything’s happening on the internet. That is very much not the case. Outside of the bubble, most people simply do not care about the bird site.
A lot of attention has been put on Twitter since Elon Musk completed his $44 Billion takeover. However—as he’s finding out—Twitter is really not very popular. The platform has an inflated sense of importance for a variety of reasons.
Twitter in Perspective
Twitter is one of the original mainstream social networks on the internet. It was launched in 2006, around the same time that Facebook was taking off and Google bought YouTube. It’s been around for a long time, but it’s never been as popular as its competitors.
The video embedded above gives us an excellent look at social media growth from 2004 to 2022. There are a few familiar names consistently at the top—Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram—but Twitter is not one of them.
Here are a few stats to put Twitter’s size into perspective:
- Twitter was the third most popular social media site for a period of time in 2011-2012. That’s the best it’s ever been.
- Tumblr has had more users than Twitter for much of its existence.
- Instagram passed Twitter in users in less than four years despite Twitter having a four-year head start.
- TikTok had more users than Twitter before it was even available in the U.S.
- Pinterest had more users than Twitter as recently as February 2022.
In January 2022, Twitter was behind Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Telegram, and Pinterest in monthly active users. People talk about Twitter in the same breath as Facebook and Instagram, when it’s actually on the same level as Quora.
Twitter in the News
If Twitter is so small in the grand scheme of things, why does it still get so much attention? That has to do with who is using Twitter—journalists, politicians, and celebrities.
A lot of people who garner attention are using Twitter to broadcast their thoughts out into the world. Even if you don’t use Twitter, you’ve probably seen tweets in the news. “[Celebrity] says [blank] about their co-star!” “[Political candidate] slams their opponent over [blank]!” You get the idea.
Anyone can make an account and interact with those journalists, politicians, and celebrities, but you don’t really have to. Even if you never use the site, what’s happening on Twitter is being regurgitated into the news cycle. This gives the impression that it’s more popular than it really is.
That’s the big difference between Twitter and a site like Tumblr. They’re both relatively similar in size, but Tumblr doesn’t have a lot of journalists, politicians, and celebrities. Big names are good for Twitter’s clout, but not its bottom line.
Twitter Loves Twitter
The other thing that contributes to Twitter’s inflated place in the social media world is how much people on Twitter talk about Twitter. I am a long-time Twitter user, and let me tell you—we love to talk shop.
In my little journalism bubble, Twitter is where all the conversation happens. Not only do we talk about our work, but we talk about the very tools that enable it. Twitter is one of those tools. Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition has been a huge topic because it directly affects that work.
This is a somewhat unique thing about Twitter. Even the celebrities who use Twitter will often talk about Twitter. The platform itself is part of the conversation. YouTube is similar in that people who make YouTube videos love to talk about YouTube. People who use Twitter love to talk about Twitter.
Every social media network is a bubble to some degree, but Twitter’s bubble is much smaller than those of us on Twitter would like to admit. The outside world does not care, and that’s totally fine.