Rise and Fall of the Twitter Generations

This is an extended version of my Belfast Telegraph column 16 Feb.

A shiver ran round the corporate offices of technology, media and investment companies last summer. A 15 year old intern in Morgan Stanley said “Kids don’t use Twitter”.  Actually he said “…  teenagers do not use twitter [sic]. Most have signed up to the service, but then just leave it as they release [sic] that they are not going to update it (mostly because texting twitter uses up credit, and they would rather text friends with that credit)”

Did he say “uses up credit”? While the report was anecdotal rather than evidential, it received massive publicity. (Remind when the “silly season” is? Summer?)

When the respected Pew Internet and American Life Institute produces statistics about use of social media – including Blogging and Twitter – then we should pay attention. This month Pew announced “Since 2006, blogging has dropped among teens and young adults while simultaneously rising among older adults. As the tools and technology embedded in social networking sites change, youth may be exchanging ‘macro-blogging’ for microblogging with status updates.”   You can read the full report here (http://ow.ly/13SAz).  

“Teens are not using Twitter in large numbers” says Pew. “While teens are bigger users of almost all other online applications, Twitter is an exception.  8% of internet users aged 12-17 use Twitter. This makes Twitter far less common than sending or receiving text messages as 66% of teens do.
  • Older teens are more likely to use Twitter than their younger counterparts; 10% of online teens ages 14-17 do so, compared with 5% of those ages 12-13. 
  • Young adults lead the way when it comes to using Twitter or status updating. One-third of online 18-29 year olds post or read status updates. “
The commercial end of the internet is run by suits trying desperately to understand the best way to “monitize” this socialweb intermedia contraption.  The first group they almost always turn to are young people who have no responsibilities and an allowance to spend supporting their free spirited lifestyle.  Another target is “Young Adults”, the engine room of western economies with all that house buying and 18 years of selfless spending on their off-spring broken only by visits to restaurants, subscription TV and the odd exotic car.  The next group is the retired and there are several social networks for them.  All that pension, all that free time and money to spend on cruises, fine wine and golf.  I know, that only profiles a minority of retirees (and considering the state of the West's pension funds the profile might not be around for much longer – although the people themselves are likely to be).  

How these age groups use all media is important.  But when they are living on or migrating to the web and to social media their presence creates a market and the platform or channel they use becomes more valuable.  So when "young people" are said not to be using a particular brand, that brand loses value.

When Madison Avenue shivers, some start-ups catch a cold.

Incidentally, I counted about 60 Tweets about the report – none appeared to be from people under 30.

So what are young people up to in their media consumption?  I'm grateful to @Ruairimn at Bluecube for reminding me about Ofcom's annual survey of UK media consumption.  You can see the most recent edition here: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/advice/media_literacy/medlitpub/medlitpubrss/digital_young/

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