Teens Adopting Twitter

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As recently as August 2009, blogs and media outlets reported that teens are just not taking to the Twitterverse, instead opting for text messaging, social networks such as Facebook and Myspace, and other communications tools such as IM. The reasons for not using Twitter ranged from privacy concerns to the devices they used to communicate.

Nielsen published a report that surveyed over 250,000 US Internet users to confirm everyone’s suspicions. Teens were among the smallest demographic using Twitter

In October 2009, I published demographic data defining all popular social networks, including Twitter, that only confirmed this finding. In my analysis, I found that more women than men registered for accounts on Twitter and that the 35 – 44 age group accounted for largest majority of users at 29% with  45 – 54 year olds in second with 20% and the 25-34 age group in third with 16%.

Male: 43%
Female: 57%


0 – 17: 11%
18 – 24: 8%
25 – 34: 16%
35 – 44: 29%
45 – 54: 20%
55 – 64: 11%
65 or more: 3%


Less than HS diploma: 12%
High School: 9%
Some College: 47%
Bachelors Degree: 24%
Graduate Degree: 8%

Every trend requires a spark, an event that serves as a catalyst to galvanize a series of actions that reverberate throughout society.  Twitter has surely experienced its share of incremental touchstones that continually propels the service across deeper oceans of users and followers.

One such instance would ultimately represent the bridge for “crossing the chasm” into the teen demographic. The celebrity adoption of Twitter, en masse, may indeed symbolize the stimulus necessary to reach and recruit the youth onto Twitter. At it’s forefront was a much publicized race between Ashton Kutcher and CNN.

Kutcher, either intentionally or unknowingly, would become was the accidental Pied Piper for attracting America’s youth to Twitter.

When I initially covered the Race to 1,000,000 followers between Ashton Kutcher (@Aplusk) and CNN (@CNNbrk), I too was pre-occupied with the excitement surrounding the idea of a celebrity challenging a traditional media organization for an audience in a new media channel. As the race progressed however, I started to sober  up, documenting the activities of other celebrities such as Will Smith and Britney Spears who also joined in the race. When Spencer Pratt Spencer Pratt challenged Ashton to a new Twitter race where the winner would either clean a house or wash a car, I realized that Twitter as we knew it would forever change, contributing to a complete shift in Twitter demographics and culture.

For Ashton, reaching one million followers represents the potential of socialized media, the future of information discovery and distribution, and the connectedness of contextual human networks. For the others, collecting followers represents the ability to push information to a faceless list of avatars using a new medium. As followers, we’re simply relegated to subscribers and fans, nothing less, nothing more. This is an exchange, however, a lesson that may elude those who focus on numbers, and not people. As “followers,” many of us continue to invest in online relationships because we realize rewards and mutual benefits for doing so. If we’re merely a number, and if we don’t, in the very least, receive a simple but meaningful gesture of a follow-back, then we rely on the shared content to keep us satisfied. Choose your tweets and updates carefully.

The future of Social Media lies with those who can create, cultivate, and empower individuals to produce and share meaningful content and inspire action, foster education, instigate change and build a more media literate society.

The allure of Twitter for many of us is the same essence and power that initially seduced celebrities into the Twitterverse, the ability to publish at will, bypassing traditional intermediaries to build a communications bridge between people who shared common interests. For celebrities, Twitter connected fans directly to them. For fans, Twitter provided them with a stage to potentially reach their favorite personalities in a way never before possible online.

It was just a matter of time until teens flocked to Twitter in the hopes of earning the attention of their idols and more importantly, finding that in the process, their friends were also active in the same network leading to existing and new connections in a new found place. Each time teen-focused personalities created an account on Twitter, their fans would follow suit.

The Jonas Brothers account has over 800,000 followers.

Soulja Boy currently boasts almost 1.7 million followers. Each time he sends a tweet, he usually starts a trending topic.

Prior to closing her account, Miley Cyrus had earned over 2.1 million followers according to Twitterholic.

I suspect that the majority of these followers represent the 18 and younger demographic.

On any given day, we can also peer into the state of Twitter demographics and psychographics by monitoring the current trending topics. The culture shift that was predicted during the race to 1,000,000 is already well underway.

In September 2009, comScore published a report that would change our perspective on teens and Twitter. In its study, comScore found that younger age groups were flooding Twitter and contributing to its mushrooming growth.

Of course other age groups are actively defining Twitter’s rise to pervasiveness, but as you can see in this graph, the most notable positive shifts are evident among the 12-17 and 18-24 year old segments, which are coming at the expense of the over 35 segments.

According to comScore:

We can clearly see how the demographic composition is shifting, but what this graph still doesn’t tell us is whether or not these age segments are visiting Twitter in higher or lower proportion relative to their use of the Internet as a whole. The way to demonstrate these changes is by looking at the composition index over time. The composition index tells us how a group is represented relative to what you would expect given their total Internet composition, with an index of 100 indicating average representation.

It is in this analsyis that comScore recognizes that12-17 and 18-24 year olds had mostly under-indexed during most of the course of the past year. Recently however, these age groups started to over-index. According to the report, it is now the youngest segments that have the highest average representation on Twitter, while the 35-54 and 55+ year olds now under-index where they had previously over-indexed.

The tides are turning and we’re paying attention.

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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. More so, he humanizes technology’s causal effect to help people see people differently and understand what to do about it. He is an award-winning author and avid keynote speaker who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation and innovation.

Brian has authored several best-selling books including What’s the Future of Business (WTF), Engage! and The End of Business as Usual. His blog, BrianSolis.com, is ranked as a leading resource for insights into the future of business, new technology and marketing.

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