Despite all the media and celebrity chirping about Twitter, almost three-quarters of Canadian internet users weren't aware of the social networking site three months ago, suggests an online survey by Ipsos Reid.

As well, only a tiny fraction of them ever used Twitter.

'The buzz [to] usage ratio is sort of out of whack right now.' — Mark Evans, social media consultant

When asked "Are you aware of Twitter?" just 26 per cent of more than 824 respondents answered yes during the online survey conducted in March, Ipsos reported Thursday.

The latter were asked "Do you actually use it?" Of those, only six per cent — or about 1.45 per cent of respondents — said they did.

About the survey

The 824 respondents were randomly selected from a panel who signed up with Ipsos Reid online or through a third party. They were roughly even across demographic groups such as age, sex, location and income, said Mark Laver, associate vice-president of Ipsos Reid. Sampling and weighting techniques were used to ensure the demographics of the sample approximate the Canadian population. Typically, with this sample size and a 100 per cent response rate, the estimated error of the results would be plus or minus 3.41 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Twitter allows people to make brief online posts of up to 140 characters that can be viewed publicly and are automatically sent to other users who sign up to "follow" them, either online or via mobile devices.

Across the country, Quebecers were the least likely to bat an eyelid over Twitter, with only seven per cent saying they were aware of it, the survey found.

Awareness was higher among 18 to 34 year olds, at 32 per cent, than among older people. Those with university educations were more likely to be aware than those with high school education or less.

It was impossible to draw conclusions about the demographics of Canadians who actually use Twitter, as their numbers in the survey were too low, said Mark Laver, associate vice-president of Ipsos Reid.

Laver said he was "a little bit" surprised by the low awareness of Twitter.

Computer skills may be barrier

"But that being said, when I look at … internet skill level, you have to remember that most people don't classify themselves as expert or very skilled," he said, adding that the skill required may stop some people from using new technology such as Twitter.

He added that Twitter is still quite new, with other social networking sites such as Facebook having "much higher" awareness and market penetration. Mark Evans, a Toronto-based communications, marketing and social media consultant, said he wasn't at all surprised by the results.

"Twitter's got a lot of media attention for being the hot new thing within sort of the web landscape, but the reality is it's still at a very early stage," he said. "It really hasn't been embraced by the mainstream yet."

More buzz than use right now: analyst

Although Twitter has been around for two years, it's only seen tremendous growth since March, he added, crediting recent media attention.

"The buzz [to] usage ratio is sort of out of whack right now."

The pattern of growth is similar to that seen by other social networking sites such as Facebook when they first started, and that Twitter has "huge prospects," he said.

Evans predicts companies will embrace Twitter as a marketing and communications sales tool because it is easier to get up and running than other online tools such as blogs that require more writing skill.

"Even if there's no audience, it's good to be there so that when the audience comes you already have a presence."

But Anabel Quan-Haase, who researches online communication, suggested that it  might be too late for Twitter to capture a large audience.

"Canadian internet users are starting to lack time to devote to a new internet tool," she said in an email, adding that many Canadians might be satisfied with existing tools such as Facebook and might not have the time to learn or use a new one like Twitter.

Twitter seems geared toward more tech-savvy users rather than the general population, said Quan Haase, an assistant professor in the department of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario.

The estimated margin of error of the survey is plus or minus 3.41 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, said Ipsos Reid.