Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Teens, Texting + Twitter: age old marketing questions?

The teenage mind is notoriously fact, science! [conjure Thomas Dolby song] has suggested that the teen brain pares nearly 60% of its neurons during this formative phase. This biological focussing leads to forgetful moments + ever changing obsessions that could make even a veteran ping pong observer dizzy.

So how come teens don't use Twitter? It would seem to provide a realtime center stage from which to lifestream one's short attention span theatrics. Aren't these two hallmarks of the all-powerful teenage marketing segment's mindset?

According to Neilsen they don't use it as much as their parents. And while parents would be the easy answer, they DO use Facebook, YouTube and other social features-disguised-as-applications that their parents also use.

So what?

Aside from the fact that the graph has some odd segmentation notions (2-24 year olds? do 4 year olds use Twitter? Are 24-year olds really like 12 year olds?) three questions marketers might want to ask themselves come to mind from this story:

1. Why would they use it? Teenagers were early adopters of SMS/Text Messaging. Twitter is more difficult to use as a mobile application and more limited in capabilities. So, what does Twitter enable that they can't already accomplish? (see useful, usable, and desirable here). "What's in it for the user" is an important consideration for marketing to anyone, but especially when the fundamental function has an equivalent already in place.

2. Who knows what they think? Given the notoriously fickle allegiances established during adolescence, isn't the real story that Twitter is being adopted by so many people in pre-Y generations (i.e., the largest population segments)? Even if teenagers tell you what they are thinking, do you ever really get it, er, I mean understand?

3. When does they become you...or me? As in any other story based on age (or gender or race or....) we burden ourselves trying to assign people to pigeonholes. When we use singular dimensions to describe the complexity that is a person, we are left to wonder why such explanations seem unsatisfying when applied to our own behaviors. If the point of social media tools isn't to enable individual expression through social connections, then to what end do we employ them differently than traditional media? Interests, rather than age, are a more reliable predictor of a person's behavior.

I asked my own 16-year-old about Twitter (doesn't use it) and here's what she said:

"It's all status updates, no real interaction. Facebook allows you to do more. It's [Facebook] more convenient and that's what we're already doing. Texting comes with the phone. Some people have it [Twitter], but mostly its to follow celebrities like the Jonas Brothers. It doesn't seem like Twitter is really for us, more for adults."

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