While people end up following news in general on Twitter and use the social network “to pass the time,” the immediacy of using the network to track news in real time, as noted above, is one of the primary reasons that people say they use Twitter and the most common form of news that is followed.
To get deeper sense of that experience, we asked people to recall the last time they used the network to follow a news story as it was breaking in real time.
The great majority of those who use Twitter for news (70%) said they had used Twitter in the last month to follow a story in real time. Most of them (80%) said they did so by scrolling through their timeline.
From there, however, people became active in much more marked ways than we see in their general activity on Twitter.
For instance, fully 80% of those who have followed a breaking story in the past month said they clicked on a story as events were moving in real time. That is early double the 39% of Twitter news users who say they “always or usually” click on news stories.
More than half, 55%, also said they retweeted a story, and 53% similarly said they clicked or searched a hashtag. All of these are much higher numbers than said they take these actions routinely on Twitter. More than a third (40%) also tweeted their reaction to the story, and nearly a third (30%) said they followed someone new.
Many, 78%, then did something outside Twitter. Half, 51%, went to a search engine for more information; 40% found a news organization and repeatedly checked its website or TV broadcast. More than a third, 34%, went to another social network.
The study also probed the contours of how people use Twitter to follow live events. In all, 57% of Twitter news users said they had used the network in the last month to follow or “double screen” a live event in real time, such as a sports event or an entertainment show.
What did they do then? Most, 79%, scrolled through their timeline; 60% tweeted their reaction and 61% retweeted something. A third, 45%, clicked a story about the event and 44% clicked or searched a hashtag.
The survey also asked people to recall their most recent interaction with a particular news story on Twitter (any kind of story, whether breaking news, a feature, a trend story, news story or any other type). Most Twitter news users, 81%, could recall engaging with a specific news story on Twitter in the last week, 30% in the last day, and another 34% in the last three days.
The topics ranged fairly widely, from sports, to civil rights, current events, politics and more. No topic was higher than 22% (sports).
By far and away the most common form of discovery (62%) was by Twitter news users scrolling through their timeline of people they follow. The next most common form of discovering that story was by checking trending topics, but that was just 8%.
What did people do next?
As with the tracking of a story in real time, Twitter news users were quite active. Fully 46% said they clicked on a story, not just read tweets, 42% retweeted, 26% favorited a tweet, and 14% tweeted in their own words.
And what motivated people to take whatever action they did? Significance emerged as the number one reason. Fully 38% said they took whatever action they did because they thought the story shed new light on an important topic. That is more than twice the number (15%) who said they thought the story was unusual or amusing. Pathos was even further down the list. Just 8% said they pursued whatever their last news encounter was on Twitter because the story was a tragic one.