Twitter Ecosystem Featuring More Teens, Tweens

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.

Overrepresented, Underrepresented

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.

Twitter Composition Index Over Time, from Comscore
Twitter Composition Index Over Time, from Comscore

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.

A One Pager On Why An Organization Should Consider Social Media

Today I took part in a a conversation with a client who is mounting a broad-based initiative that will be based on holding a number of events around the country. The organization has a proposal from someone to help them use “social media” and, while a couple of key people are convinced of the worthiness of these new tools, they need help convincing the rest of their board.

Writing A Memo
Writing A Memo

I was asked to draft a quick one-pager that makes the case, briefly and succinctly. I thought I would share what I come up with as a first draft, since it might be useful to others in the same boat.

So here it is.

The Case For Social Media In Promoting Organizational Goals

In the last five years, a revolution in online tools has taken place. The question facing new efforts used to be, “should we get a web site?” Now it is, “should we get a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and start a blog?” As it was in the past, the answer to this new question is – for most initiatives – yes.

These and similar tools, collectively called “social media,” have one key element in common. They are online tools and platforms that facilitate social interactions and user generated content, so the contributions, comments and other responses of users are seen as intrinsically important. What this adds up to, is that social media is intrinsically about sharing.

This fundamental aspect of social media is at the root of why it is important, especially for small and low-budget initiatives, to work with it. Social media is nothing more than a means of generating, amplifying, and continuing what a decade ago was called “word of mouth.”

As an organization, I want to influence people’s decisions so that they decide to do what I want them to (for example: attend my event, take my course, pay attention to my issue).

The case for using social media, then, relies on three simple propositions:

  • People make decisions based in large part on recommendations from peers or trusted figures. Increasingly, these recommendations are passed along through social media tools.
  • The key characteristic of social media that makes it different from other media is that the contributions, comments and other responses of users are seen as intrinsically important.
  • To influence people’s decisions, we need to monitor and play a role in these user responses.

For these purposes, important social media tools include: blog posts, comments on blog posts, user forums, email lists, reviews by consumers on shopping sites, and online communities like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. Each of these is a channel in which user responses and activities are key. They are all areas where an organization can seek to gain a presence.

While this may sound daunting for a small organization, it can actually be very simple and does not need a lot of apparatus. The three key elements are a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. The mechanics of doing this are outside of the scope of this note, but the approach is simple and, for the most part, free or inexpensive.

(Please feel free to adapt this if it is useful to you. Please do give me credit if you do, and letting me know you used it might be nice too as it would make my day. Note, too, that a portion of this appeared in another blog post on a similar subject.)

Ducking Trade Offs In Public Life

I love the first day of the month. There are two things I do on the morning of every first day. First, I say “Rabbit, Rabbit.” That’s a tradition that I learned sometime back in the eighties: if, on the first day of the month, the first words out of your mouth are “Rabbit, Rabbit,” you will have good luck all month. Second, there’s this month-ahead horoscope I like to read.

Anyone want to play duck, duck, goose? by Flickr user terren in Virginia
"Anyone want to play duck, duck, goose?" by Flickr user terren in Virginia

Together, these two little habits make me look forward to the first day of the month for a number of days leading up to it. I know they are superstitions, and I don’t really believe in either “luck” or the stars guiding (or determining) my fate. But I still read the horoscope and say the words. It’s fun.

So, today, I am thinking about irrationality.

In many of the difficult problems of public life, there is an important form of irrationality: the belief that major trade offs can be avoided. Most major public debates going on now hinge on this. For instance, here are two trade offs that are currently being avoided:

  • There will not be universal health care without some form of explicit rationing of care.
  • There will not be meaningful reduction in greenhouse emissions without drastic changes in how business (manufacturing and goods transport) gets done.

For people who are in favor of the policies, these trade offs need to be addressed and embraced. Otherwise one is engaging in magical thinking — that we can have some change without paying for it.

What other trade offs are we trying to duck in public life?