06 March 2010

Of course Twitter isn't for Teens!

Twitter is doomed because teens don't use it
Twitter is for geezers - Why Facebook will win

The media and the pundits seem to be obsessed with (repeatedly) uncovering the "story" that research shows teenagers don't like/use Twitter. Then then interpret this as meaning that Twitter will fail - in many cases because (in their mind) Facebook will "beat" them.

So let's quickly debunk this bullshit as it's getting really annoying.

1 - Of course teenagers don't use Twitter!!

First of all, teenagers don't have careers. In their personal hierarchy their jobs and their professional growth rank somewhere below dental hygiene. In looking at Twitter, "personal brand management" is a significant use-case. This largely takes the form of kudos-creating punditry and link sharing. Through creation of a perception of expertise and influence your professional brand is increased and awareness of you and your brand is created. For teenagers this is not only a bizarre concept it is literally a meaningless one. So that eliminates one of the major current value propositions of Twitter.

Secondly, most teenagers have largely localized social networks. In other words.... their friends are in physical proximity to them. Twitter (so far) doesn't function well when it comes to facilitation of real-world local activities. And as most teenagers haven't see the "social graph diaspora" that typically occurs post-college, there is no need for a tool to manage that exploded network - which is a major secondary value proposition for Twitter.

Third, most teenagers are less "network" focused in their social activities than they are "group" focused. Identity is largely about the group or groups you are a part of (and perhaps more importantly those who your group rejects). For insight on this I would point to both the works of Rene Girard and (of course) the seminal work Lord of the Flies. In this manner, teenagers are profoundly unsuited for an asymmetric model like Twitter's.

So yes - Twitter just flat out doesn't make sense for Teenagers. And this should not be something shocking or bizarre or hard to understand. It is obvious and logical.

2 - This is not a bad thing.

See.... here is the thing.
Everyone grows up.

Look at the above explanations for why teenagers are not attracted to (or in fact are repelled by) Twitter. As someone stops being a teenager and becomes a young adult they begin to become more confident in their own self-image and group affiliation becomes less and less critical. They experience the geographic explosion of their social graph post college. Jobs and a career become more and more strongly prioritized in their own personal hierarchy.

In other words.... all those teens who currently reject Twitter will one day be the core users of it.

I really hope this puts this to rest because I, personally, am really sick of this ridiculous repeated "story."


At 12:44 PM, Blogger Jonathan Grubb said...

Your contention that twitter is about personal brand management may be a little out of date. If you think twitter is full of people like you and me then a quick look at the trending topics list might change your mind.

At 2:32 PM, Blogger BIll said...

Great post, Chris: good analysis of why teens don't need/use Twitter, but why they will need/use it when they leave school and start to work on their careers.

I also like that it explodes the myth that if teens/kids aren't using something, it's old hat/out of date, and has no future. That's like saying that if, right now, 'tweens don't like classical music, 30 years from now there will BE no classical music. It's all about life stages, as you point out.

And as for your Lord of the Flies reference, in my book you hold the conchshell as the Lord of the Tweets. Keep up the good work! Cheers, Bill O'Connor.

At 3:14 PM, Blogger chris said...

Thanks for the comments.

Current trending topics are (in aggregate) Justin Bieber; Alice in Worlderland; Lady Gaga; Chile; ABDC; Lakers; Haiti; Guru
In other words.... all are short-hand for personal brand identity and affiliation.
Perhaps your ideas about brand and identity are "a little out of date"?
PS. Of course Twitter isn't full of people like me. Anyone who thinks Twitter (or any mass scale grouping of human beings) if filled with people like them is suffering from a serious cognitive bias issue.

Holding the conch shell seems to me to be one of those seemingly valuable (and powerful) positions that ends up being more dangerous and painful than expected.

At 8:48 PM, Blogger Gong said...

great piece, chris. my only add:

how much of twitter content today is about sex? right, not so much. the only thing that teenagers think about is sex. they can't help it. they are going through puberty. and their #1 priority is to liberate themselves from virgindom, not tweeting.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Phin said...

I think this is also about what it takes to be meaningful as a media company. MTV defined the power of the teen audience and the rise of Fb reinforced this thinking. But media has evolved and as you point out the changes in the use case have also changed the users -> what it takes to be meaningful as a media company.

The NYT talks about Fb today and says over 50% of US audience is OVER 35 and they note this as a strength (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/business/07digi.html?hpw)

I think this backs up your point about the value of Teens.

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Paul said...

and they donĀ“t tend to have costly data plans and smartphones, right? - at least not compared to the career tweeters ?


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