Are Teens Using Twitter?

I see so many different blog posts telling me that teenagers just are not using Twitter. In my own house, this holds true. My teenage kids are still using MySpace almost exclusively, popping onto Facebook every once in a while just to make sure they didn’t miss anything. However, I also live in an area of the country where there are almost as many teens without a computer in their house as there are with. The fact that we have two computers (three if you count my work laptop) is virtually unheard of in our area.

I have to wonder how much of this “teens don’t use Twitter” stuff really is true and how much is based on inaccurate or misinterpreted data. Looking at my followers, and their followers, I see quite a few teens using Twitter and they are doing so extremely frequently.

My thoughts on the matter are as follows:

  1. There are quite a few teenagers using Twitter.
  2. Twitter doesn’t ask for your birthdate, so how are we tracking the data of teenagers that use or don’t use the service?

I honestly do believe that there are not nearly as many teenagers using Twitter as there are using Facebook or MySpace. But, to say they’re not using it at all is preposterous. There are quite a few reasons for teenagers ignoring Twitter in droves, though.

The first reason is that Twitter is not Facebook or MySpace. It’s a completely and totally different type of platform. Facebook and MySpace, for the most part, are places to keep in touch (or get back in touch) with people you know. They do that extremely well. Twitter, on the other hand, is a place to meet new people and find new and interesting things, thanks to those new people. Most teenagers live in a bubble until they prepare for college. If a person doesn’t go to their high school (or at least live in their general geographic region), a lot of teenagers will have simply no interest in talking with that person. They do enough learning in school (at least, that’s what they think), and they hate the idea of actually hooking into an online space to learn more.

Facebook and Twitter offer all kinds of tangential services, as well. If you want to play a game, you can do that on Facebook or MySpace (YoVille, Mafia Wars, etc.). You can’t do that on Twitter. Twitter isn’t “fun”. Sure, there can be funny posts on there, but, for the most part, it’s a place to find information. Teenagers aren’t interested in what you had for breakfast anymore than adults are. Since the average teenager has little more to share¬†than what they’re eating or who they think is hot (which, they most likely wouldn’t want to post in a public forum such as Twitter), they’re simply not interested in using Twitter.

So, why are some teens using Twitter? Well, obviously, there are teenagers that are interested in the world around them. I’m sure, if Twitter was tracking our ages, we’d find that the majority of teens on Twitter are in their late teens. They are beginning to pay attention to what’s going on around them, outside of their local geographic region. They are beginning to realize that college is coming soon (or they are already in college) and that they are going to have to start communicating with people that don’t live next door. Beyond that, there are teens using Twitter simply because it is popular, and there are also teens who are genuinely interested in technology and Web 2.0. Had there been blogs and Twitter and all of those things when I was a teen, I certainly would have been a part of them. Instead, I was developing crappy Web sites on Geocities (before they were bought out by Yahoo!) and talking on BBSs.

What does this mean for people marketing toward teens? Well, you can still use Twitter to do so. However, you need to understand that you are marketing toward globally conscious, intelligent, older teens. If you’re trying to market a new NERF football, you’d have better luck trying to market to parents than to teen. However, if you are trying to market a new program at a college or a hot new song, you may very well get your money’s worth out of Twitter. That’s not to say that you can just hop onto Twitter and start bombarding teens with advertising messages. That simply won’t work (read the last sentence again, where I described what kind of teens are using Twitter – they’re intelligent – they’re tech savvy – they’re, for the most part, not going to fall for guerilla marketing). If that type of teenager is your target market, Twitter is a great place to start, though.

With that in mind (and also keeping in mind that these are just my observations, and, just as with the blog posts I linked to above, contain no real statistical evidence), go for it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

2 Responses

  • Kunal Kripalani

    You make a good point. Twitter does not ask for your birth date, so we are left to rely on third party surveys for user profile information. I think rather than segment Twitter users by age, looking at them at how different types of people use Twitter is more valuable. For example:

    Lifestreamers: People who broadcast every little aspect of their life on Twitter. They will automatically follow you back after you follow them, but they are not interested in what you have to say, with a strong internal focus.

    Gurus: People who exclusively broadcast and retweet information about their field of expertise. Common titles include: ‘Social Media Gurus’ ‘Internet Marketing Expert’ etc. They are interested in building a large follower base and will follow you in the hope that you follow them back, to produce the illusion of their influence. You will typically receive a generic and useless direct message after you follow them along the lines of “Thanks for the follow. I look forward to your Tweets. Check out my site….”

    Networkers: These people arguably use Twitter for what it was meant for. To communicate and connect with a community of their peers, be it around an interest or a geographic region or both. They collaborate, comment and help increase the value of their community.

    Affiliate Marketers: The Twitterverse spammers. Trend hijackers who follow you in the hopes that you follow them back so that they can send you their junk mail about the latest get rich quick scheme or “How to gain 4000 new Twitter followers in 7 days” Parasites.

    Socialites: People who use Twitter in a totally blase fashion. Purely social in their intent, there’s no subterfuge in their interactions. They are on Twitter for fun.

    • That’s a fantastic synopsis (worthy of its own blog post). Thanks for your thoughts. The “Gurus” really muddy the waters for me, as quite a few of them have glommed onto my account and followed me.

      In my line of work, it becomes difficult to separate the people that are strictly there for marketing purposes and the ones that are actually posting useful information (since much of what they post could actually be useful if it’s not a scam). Generally, unless I see some extremely useful information in their recent tweets, I’ll let those people continue to follow me (I won’t block them), but I won’t follow them back.