We don't follow

So, a teenager intern at Morgan Stanley wrote a report categorically stating that teens don’t do Twitter, and you could hear thousands of social media hype-meisters screaming bloody murder. It’s almost as if a million Twitter feeds cried out in pain at once. Being the cynical person that I am, I tend to take the opinion of one 15 year-old with a pinch of salt, particularly because the intern in question claims to have understood banking within a week. Perhaps we should put him in charge of the country’s finances… but I digress.

More interesting than the original piece has been the reaction. The Times led with the headline “Twitter is for old people“; the BBC covered the story as “The wisdom of teenagers“; while The Guardian received the report with a number of pieces that put their G8 coverage to shame, including responses by two other teenagers. In the middle of all the media storm, my favourite opinion has been Suw Charman’s reply, who rightly points out that one anecdotal report does not constitute hard data. As a commenter wrote in The Guardian: “This is what we call a generalisation. I know may teenagers who absolutely love Twitter, myself included.”

Why have social media types been so surprised by the news? I think that at the heart of the reaction is the very shallow reason that some people see Twitter as the ultimately cool social application, it shows the wannabe socialites that they still have the finger on the pulse of what’s happening; that they still know what the kids want. For these people, the news that Twitter is for “old people” must have been the greatest shock since they turned 30. At a deeper level, it was met with some surprise because it left a lot of social media experts scratching their heads and trying to find out where are the kids hanging out these days. If they’re not listening to the radio, and not on Twitter, where the bloody hell are they?

I will reserve judgement for now, but much as Suw and the commenters at Guardian CiF have pointed out, I will take my data from more authoritative sources than a single teen with some inflated ideas of adequacy. I have to say that I am not surprised either way. Perhaps this story tells us more about technology journalists, geek bloggers and other cool-hunters than it tells us about teenagers.

I’m off to tweet about this post to my ageing following of old geezers.



Suw · July 15, 2009 at 1:44 am

I don't think that *proper* social media types, i.e. people who actually work with social media on a regular basis, were at all surprised. The fact that few teens use Twitter is something we already knew. My other half linked to the sources that had told us the demographic of Twitter users here:

I think the only people who were surprised were media types who haven't been paying attention.

Of course the more interesting question is, why does the media think what teens do is so important? The growing demographic section for online is the over 55s, and they have a lot more disposable income than anyone in their teens. But the assumption that teens' habits are important is a legacy of the misapprehension that teens act as a bellwether for the rest of the population. Given the vast wealth of tools available, the idea that one age-group could be a bellwether for all the others is stupid. If it were true, Saga Zone would be sitting about thinking it's doomed…


Nicolas Holzapfel · July 15, 2009 at 8:15 am

Well this post provides a nice rebuttal to the argument that the decline of mainstream media = decline of considered, tempered journalism!

Despite this report's lack of meaningfulness, it does seem plausible that Twitter is less popular amongst teens than amongst adults. Twitter seems to work best for with a *professional* commitment to publicising or acquiring lots of information about a particular subject. When compared to sites like Facebook, Twitter is poor at facilitating frequent, direct interaction and feedback, which I think is what teens tend to be more interested in. Hmm, I just made a sweeping anecdotal observation, I'll look out for my headline in The Times)

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