Who is using Twitter? Who are they talking to? And what do they gain from doing so? Finding the answer isn’t nearly so simple as you would expect, however, there are identifiable trends, even if there isn’t a homologous Twitter type.

Social media, like music, films and just about anything in life, has trends – platforms are adopted by demographic groups and dumped when something new, interesting, or merely more cool comes along. When Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004, it quickly became the place to hang out online, make new friends, get reacquainted with a few old ones and tell the wider world what was happening in your own small world.

Over the past decade Facebook users have moved on with their lives, taking and adapting the platform to suit their needs. Today, it’s increasingly seen as a virtual meeting place for thirty and forty-somethings; a kind of online café for parents to chat about what little Jack and Victoria are going to wear to the Halloween party, or perhaps sell those unwanted gifts cluttering the attic to their group of friends (who probably tut-tut at the seller’s lack of altruism for not depositing them at the local charity shop).

Other social media platforms also have (very) general user demographics - YouTube (people who have something to say and they might as well make a few quid while they’re doing it), Vimeo (people who have something to say about themselves, but are doing it for the benefit of their ‘appreciative’ audience), Pinterest (trendy young things who don’t realise that the platform has been adopted as a commercial e-marketing tool), and Instagram (celebs and those who follow celebs, and anyone who is addicted to taking selfies). However, it’s Twitter which has morphed the most over the years.

Back in 2006, those posting 140 character messages to their ‘followers’ wanted to say something about life according to them. Celebs loved it, hip youngsters embraced it, and your next door neighbour probably used it too, but that changed as the platform grew – you can’t rack up over 100 million active daily users globally (nearly 16 million in the UK) without someone realising its commercial worth to marketing departments.

Today, Twitter has its use as a chatroom for views on life, the universe and everything, but it has developed a business following, and through the millions of commercial information posts tweeted daily, it has become the place to look for, and find, solutions to problems as diverse as where to buy the best cheese and how to construct a skyscraper. It has become the most expansive ‘local’ services directory on the planet, but its sheer size could have become its Achilles heel – where do you start looking? It’s like finding a particular needle in a haystack of needles on a farm made of needles.

However, making sense of this sprawling maelstrom of information can, and has been done. No human could possibly scan the whole Twittersphere, and no human would be able to find and respond to tweets on the very subject a user was searching among the millions of tweets appearing by the hour.

So, returning to the initial question, the who is increasingly business, the why is to spread information, and the what is to enable people to find products and services… and you may find the odd clever insight from Stephen Fry.

By Sheridan King, Sociomole