The Tizzy over Twitter and Teenagers

Judging from the reaction from the media and blogosphere yesterday, you would think that a Morgan Stanley report how teenagers use technology had provided insight that had never seen the light of day before.

Sure, it was written by a 15-year-old intern, Matthew Robson with good writing skills but the report was far from earth-shattering. Most people realized teenagers don’t buy CDs, watch a lot of television, listen to radio or read newspapers.

But the blogosphere was most agog about Robson’s contention teenagers don’t use Twitter because they would rather spend their dollars on sending their text messages to friend rather than posting updates on Twitter.

The reaction from bloggers a combination of shock, disbelief and disappointment. Twitter is the world’s hottest, fastest-growing social networking tool, and teenagers aren’t using it?

What’s next cats chasing dogs?

Before anyone gets too carried way, here’s a few things to consider.

1. As Mashable’s Ben Parr made clear, Robson’s report was entirely anecdotal evidence as opposed to something based on statistics and facts. Sure, Robson made be on the mark when it comes to Twitter and teenagers but it’s just his opinion.

If you’re looking for stats on Twitter and demographics, check out Sysomos’ Inside Twitter report, which indexed 11.4 million Twitter profiles. (Disclosure: Sysomos is a client.)

2. Who really cares whether teenagers are using Twitter? I mean, different services appeal to different kinds of users. For now, teenagers love SMS to communicate with friends and family. It’s unobtrusive and a private way to communicate.

Then again, who’s to say teenagers won’t eventually come around to Twitter. After all, older folks have gravitated to Facebook after dismissing it as something for the young-uns.

3. Based on anecdotal evidence I’ve collected from people who have teenagers, teenagers are using Twitter so maybe it’s just Robson’s buddies who aren’t Twitter users.

The reality is teenagers are a fascinating demographic when it comes to how they use technology because they are the next generation that everyone wants to figure out so they can sell products and services to them.

Robson got everyone excited because he provided some in-the-trenches insight. But keep in mind, it’s just one person’s view of the world so all the excitement is unwarranted.

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  • luca filigheddu

    I've been told teenagers (under 13 at least) don't smoke cigars and don't buy cars = who really cares they don't use Twitter? Who did say Twitter is for teenagers? I never thought so ;-)

  • Erin Bury

    I think you're absolutely right Mark – his view is completely anecdotal and doesn't really provide an accurate snapshot of the average teenager. That being said though, I'd have to agree with him about his view of teenager and Twitter – and I'd extend that through to the mid-twenties (excluding people in the tech industry). I'm 24 and less than 5 of my friends have Twitter, and only 1 of them updates frequently (and she is more concerned with following Anderson Cooper and John Mayer than learning valuable information). To be honest, if I wasn't in the tech industry I doubt I'd have Twitter either. I completely believe it will catch on to every demographic in the next few years – but right now, it hasn't taken the 14-24 group by storm.

    • markevans


      Thanks for the insight. The reality is Twitter is popular within a small handful of niches – tech geeks, marketers, public relations, etc. Maybe the rest of the world will come around in time to Twitter…or not. The most important thing is a lot of people find it to be a useful, interesting and valuable tool…and that's okay.

  • Fred Snodgrass

    Is it just me, or does everyone seem to be losing sight of the fact that teens see their friends pretty much all day every day at school? Yet how many of us adults – with jobs, spouses, and kids, can say the same? Would any adult who uses Twitter regularly be using it as much if they spent five days a week with their peer group? Teens supposed lack of usage of Twitter is more likely a result of lifestyle versus their willingness to accept it for what it is.

  • Will Robertson

    As someone who is 20, I know very few people my age or younger that are on Twitter. They are without a doubt on Facebook though.

  • steve Dodd

    Hey Mark, I tend to agree that teens are not typically using twitter. I've talked to many who don't even know what it is. I'm seeing many twitter users claiming that it is becoming thier news feed and not something they regularly "converse" or socially chat over with out some common purpose. Teens typically do not have that kind of need and are far more interested in the kind of Facebook functionality that shares pictures and more social discussions amongst a typically closed group of friends.
    As far as the statistics that are out there are concerned relative to age demographics, the samples are so very, very small (7/10 of 1% or 80,000 or 11.4 million), I'm not sure they are all that accurate. Plus, since the stats also show a very small number of twitter users actually seem to be using it, how many of those registered teens are actually using it? Given that the Sysomos report doesn't show activity by age, I'm wondering if there was enough data to even support it. Plus, I'm wondering if most of the "teen" group got caught up in the Kutcher / Oprah factor which generated wild signups will little ongoing usage.