Teens and College Students Ignoring Twitter. Part 1: The stats.

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Part 1 of 2

There’s no denying the popularity of Twitter. In just three short years, the micro-blogging service has infiltrated popular media with rock stars, athletes and even politicians tweeting. And as with any new technology, the youth market is at the vanguard of this cool and new communications tool, right?

Um, well, no. Much to the surprise of many trend watchers, Twitter has yet to catch on with teens and young adults under 25—the traditional early adopters of new media.

According to a recent survey conducted by a team from the Walter E. Griscti chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America at the University of South Florida, Twitter isn’t popular with young people. The group surveyed 250 Florida college students, asking about their Twitter awareness and online habits. Here’s what they found:

  • 99 percent use social networking sites
  • 15 percent have an account with Twitter
  • 34 percent have never even heard of Twitter
  • 58 percent of the students who have Twitter accounts never use it or rarely log-on

In addition, recent figures from comScore show that although Twitter traffic has exploded over the past year, as of February 2009, only 10.6 percent of Twitter users in the U.S. were between 18 and 24 years old.

A Nielsen NetView report (also for February 2009) found that Twitter users, ages 2 – 17, only comprised 3.6 percent of the site’s audience. In contrast, users ages 35 – 49 comprised 41.7 percent.

[And on a very informal level, anytime we ask teens about Twitter, most don’t even know what we’re talking about.]
What’s going on here?

One theory is that we are seeing a shift in the early adopter demographic. Societrends’ Nick Barron recently addressed the issue in an insightful post on his blog. He said:

“We’re seeing the destruction of the early adopter demographic, or at least the shifting of it from a group defined by age to a group defined by education and professional status.”

You can read his entire post here.

Is it game over for Twitter and Teens?
It may still not be too late for young consumers to embrace Twitter, but I do think it has one foot in the MySpace uncool graveyard.  There are three main reasons why I believe Twitter will have a tough time cracking the youth market:

  1. Teens can already micro-blog using Facebook, Bebo or MySpace. And unlike Plurk which is making a serious run for the youth market, Twitter doesn’t offer anything new, or add to the experience. And most importantly, they are already connected with their friends on other sites.
  2. Twitter has already been claimed by adults, specifically, us business-folk.  Remember the old youth marketing adage: If grandma is using it, forget it. This happened to MySpace, and Facebook is now showing signs of “graying.”
  3. Many companies that are on Twitter to engage the youth market find themselves being followed overwhelmingly by industry insiders. I haven’t seen any formal studies on this subject, but my sense is that for every one young consumer following a particular brand, there are something like 15 marketers, CEOs, trend watchers and other curious by-standers also following.  For the young consumer engaging a brand through Twitter and being able to see these followers, this may look more like a marketing experiment rather than an authentic experience.

Yes, I believe the cards are stacked against Twitter and the youth market, but there’s still a glimmer of hope. Curious? Well, that’s part two.

Comments (2)

  1. I wonder if young adults might be more engaged in what they are actually doing at any given moment. And they are with their friends during these times, so there’s less inclination to time out for tweets.

    Contrast this with the slightly older group who is in the workforce. As busy at these people believe they are, web traffic soars during the 9-5 work week. They may also be traveling, stuck in a meeting or have other pockets of downtime.

    It’s curious that texting and tweeting are so similar, yet (I suspect) so differently adopted by these two groups.

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