There has been a lot of talk recently around the idea of ‘Teens Don’t Tweet.’ Fifteen year old Matthew Robson’s Report for Morgan Stanley, How Teenagers Consume Media, which relayed the conversations of the 200 or so people in Robert’s year to the wider investment banking and the world, sent shockwaves through the media community also. One of the key findings of the report was that Twitter, a platfom which has shown explosive growth, and now finds itself increasingly becoming part of the established web infrastructure, is not used by teenagers at all.
This was a key theme which ran through the discussion at the Media140 conference which I attended yesterday. A number of the questions which were being asked referenced the idea that ‘Twitter is not a cool platform,’ or that ‘Twitter is not something which is used by young people.’ A consensus seemed to emerge throughout the day that different social networking platforms were good for targeting certain people.
What did not seem to be answered, however, way why this was the case. No one seems to have attempted to answer in a meaningful way why it is that Twitter is less ‘cool’ for young people. As far as I can see at least, there is no reason to be found in the way Twitter presents itself – Twitter presents itself as quite a ‘young’ looking tool, has a ‘young’ language which surrounds it (think ‘tweets’ and ‘follows’ rather than LinkedIn’s ‘recommendations’ and ‘connections’). Sure, Twitter has older people on it too, and this might lead some people to say that younger people find Twitter ‘irrelevant,’ but Gen Y are capable of moving at such speed that they could easily establish a critical mass of people anywhere if they.
In some senses also, Twitter allows a greater customisation of one’s core profile page than Facebook does – it allows people to change the CSS styles, and background image in a way that bears some relation to MySpace’s offering.
So, on the face of it, Twitter failing to achieve a significant following amongst Gen Y is something of a mystery. Twitter, it seems should have done better. There are plenty of reasons why one might think that Twitter should have taken off amongst Gen Y. Twitter seems to have all the peripheral elements to take off amongst Gen Y, but simply, thus far, hasn’t done so. This has been read as fact by marketing analysts, many of whom have simply given up on Twitter as a platform for engaging with Generation Y on (though many are still trying). When pushed for an explanation, they will tend to say that Twitter isn’t ‘cool,’ although Gen Y’s sense of cool is very fluid, and besides, Twitter seems to have the elements to be cool.
Why then, hasn’t Twitter taken off amongst Gen Y? I think that this is a question which certainly can be answered, and that it answering it, we can help to explain some meaningful concepts which surround Gen Y’s engagement and use of these kinds of platforms.
The main reason why Twitter has not taken off amongst Gen Y actually, in my opinion, cuts at the heart of why Generation Y use social networking. It is not a question of cool at all, but more a question of function. Facebook better provides for the needs of Generation Y, and what they require from the technology than Twitter. Generation Y use social networking for social slipstreaming. They use tools such as Facebook to track what people who they think are influential in terms of their fashion and social life are saying about the latest trends, or the latest party, or why she is wearing that dress, or which band they should like. Crucially also though, they are looking to track the responses to that, which come in Facebook, back and forth, in the form of the comments module. Critically too, Facebook will tell you when you have a response, meaning that valuable seconds are not spent checking for responses to messages, and facilitating live, public, IM-like conversations.
On Facebook, status updates are increasingly being used in the same way as they are on Twitter. They are manifesting themselves less as ‘how am I doing,’ and more ‘this is what I am thinking’ and ‘this is the statement which I would like to make.’ Think about the two different technologies, and the choice architecture which they offer people. Facebook, through its News Feed, offers a quick, easy, and live way in which to see what a circle of peers your age think about something, and the key discussions which are taking place around this. This functionality makes it easy to dive in and comment on just about anything, and people don’t have to worry about the length of their responses. These responses are also instantly public. For Gen Y, this also makes any sort of live event, such as X Factor, an absolute joy, as group dicussions abound.
A similar kind of experience is impossible through Twitter. Twitter offers a very linear stream of activity, and only allows you to send messages back and forth between individuals. Creating and sustaining any kind of group discussion is impossible on Twitter is impossible. Increasingly though, swarm like Gen Y are coming to thrive on, and depend on such discussions to guide their social decision making. The reason why Twitter has not taken off amongst Gen Y is a question of ‘cool’, but a question of function.