Why Teens Just Aren’t that Into Twitter

Fail Whale
Do teens tweet? Or is Twitter essentially “adults only?”

Yesterday’s New York Times picked at the scab of what’s becoming a hot button debate in digital circles.  The demographics of Twitter has obvious implications  for marketing efforts, but, more importantly, the reasons behind them speak to the difference between teens and adults expectations of the social benefits of each platform.

The Debate

For those of you looking to catch up, the debate began back in early July when a 15-year and 7 months old Morgan Stanley intern, Matthew Robson, published his research paper, “How Teenagers Consumer Media.”  The paper sought to provide a teens-eye view of media consumption and presented a well articulated vision of one young man’s observations and assessment of the landscape.  The report is definitely worth a read and covers an extensive list of major and minor media platforms: Radio, Television, Gaming, Social, Mobile and more.  Wow.  Nicely done.

Of course, the paper being printed on Morgan Stanley letterhead, many people assumed this was an empirically validated observation.  (Who says branding doesn’t work?)  It was not, as Mashable correctly pointed out.  But it did kick start the debate.  After all, the first rule of Twitter is “you don’t talk down about the Twitter.”  The second, but only slightly less well known is: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”  Still surprising how many miss that last one.

Nevertheless, the phrase “teens don’t tweet,” was quickly elevated to the level of “trending topic” as observers retweeted the article and teens (who obviously did tweet) announced their existence to the Twitter-sphere.

Nielsen conducted a study of their own and reached the conclusion that teens, in fact, don’t tweet.


Researcher Danah Boyd and Ph.D student Fred Stuzman, both published excellent critiques of Nielsen’s methodologies that give us strong reasons to doubt their conclusion, but the (anecdotal at least) reality is that teens do seem to be less interested in Twitter than adults.  The key question is why?

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