It has up to now been enjoyable to make a cocktail party comment that was some version of, “You know, teens don’t use Twitter.” Saying this immediately marked the speaker as someone “in the know” when it comes to social media. While sites like Facebook and Twitter have shown exponential growth, they are not ubiquitous and many people see them as alien realms better understood by young people. The assumption that such people make is that these sites, of which they have read but about which they know little, are used by kids. To say otherwise brands one with inside knowledge, because it is counter intuitive.
However, it’s also now wrong. Latest research shows that teenagers are overrepresented on Twitter. This has been true since June, according to Comscore.
The following chart (from Comscore) shows the relative index of a number of age ranges over time. An index of 100 means that the age range is represented among Twitter users exactly the same as in the general Internet-using population. An index over 100 means that the age range is more likely to use Twitter than one would expect if the distribution were random.
In case it is too hard to read, the notable features are:
- Ages 2-11: Steady growth beginning April 2009, was under- now overrepresented
- Ages 12-17: Steady growth beginning April 2009, was under- now overrepresented
- Ages 18-24: Steady growth beginning December 2008, before that volatile, now overrepresented
- Ages 25-34: Insanely huge spike October 2008, sharp trough February 2009, now near index (100)
- Ages 35-54: Fairly steady shrinkage, now underrepresented
For community benefit organizations and other groups who hold a public trust, these trends are important to keep on top of. For instance, colleges and universities can no longer archly dismiss Twitter as something “teens aren’t into” because they are. And, organizations whose membership skews older can’t put all their eggs in the Twitter basket.
What these data show, it seems to me, is that Twitter (as well as Facebook, though I do not show data here) is still growing and maturing as a platform. People are experimenting with whether and how to use it and are coming up with different answers. So there is no monolithic answer to the question of “how should our organization use Twitter” and there probably are not yet consensual best practices. At best, there are emerging good ideas.
As these platforms mature, they are showing that they can be home to a variety of different approaches — this seems to me to be the key takeaway.
The Power Of Celebrity
Comscore attributes the shift to April’s well-publicized race between Ashton Kutcher and CNN to reach 1 million followers. Around this time, other celebrities also began using Twitter and this sensitized young people (so the theory goes).
This celebrity-effect is a reasonable conclusion: According to another media research firm, Quantcast, there are differences when it comes to publications that “average” users of Facebook vs. Twitter are likely to read:
Twitter users appear to have an affinity for celebrity-oriented sites and information — and more intensely, too.
President As Driver?
Here’s another interesting thing to look at in the chart above. Note the spike in October and the trough in February for the 25-34 age range. It is interesting to consider what was going on at that time. October was the presidential election campaign, while February was the immediate aftermath of the inauguration of our current president. A closer examination of how these interacted might be interesting, as it suggests that these events were strong motivators of social media behavior for this age range.