Teens and Twitter

Given the recent coverage of a 15-year old at Morgan Stanley who wrote a report about why teens aren’t using Twitter and the numerous reactions, we thought that we’d jump on the bandwagon and get the perspective of Redfin’s youngest employee, Edward Chang, on the matter.

Edward Chang

A couple of weeks before starting my marketing internship at Redfin, I emailed my boss-to-be Matt Goyer to ask if there was any reading I should do before I started. He suggested some books to read and blogs to follow, but he also said, “Jump on Twitter if you haven’t already.”

I had heard of Twitter before, but the only Twitter user I knew was one of my former TAs who was both old (i.e. over 25) and married. To me and my friends, Twitter was something that only 30-something-year-old, white males did when they were bored; none of us had ever used it before, and none of us really had a reason to try. Why would we Tweet when we have Facebook? Who’s really narcissistic enough to think that other people care about what he’s doing at any moment in the day?

Since working at Redfin, however, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for Twitter. I’ve seen how unhappy customers who Tweet about Redfin can get better service, how Twitter can provide news faster than any traditional news source, how people can gain a voice through Twitter that would otherwise be suppressed. And yet, I still don’t Tweet. I’ve got an account, but I’ve never updated—and I don’t really feel the need.

From a sociological perspective, I find Twitter fascinating. While any one Tweet is relatively insignificant, taken as a whole Twitter becomes a pulse on societal trends and thoughts. I can search for all mentions of Redfin to see how people are reacting to the news that we’re finally profitable, or I can see what people are saying about the new Harry Potter movie. But I’ve got news for you: teens don’t care. Fundamentally, I don’t care about what goes on outside my bubble of friends and family. Does some random woman in New York love Twilight? I don’t care. Are people enraged that Goldman Sachs is making billions after receiving bailout money? Meh.

Herein lies the problem with Twitter: the most interesting uses of Twitter are irrelevant to teenagers. We don’t need to track a company’s image, we don’t want to build our personal brand, we don’t care to listen to random people on the internet. While Twitter’s power emerges when it amasses the voices of thousands of people, the typical teenager doesn’t have thousands of friends to follow. And without this critical mass, the Tweets lose their significance and devolve into narcissistic updates about their friends’ lives. Who needs that when we already have Facebook, especially when Facebook provides so much more information about those we care about?

Twitter is a wonderful, innovative service that has already had a meaningful impact on society and acts as a useful tool for businesses and web personalities, but it shouldn’t come as a shock that Twitter isn’t popular amongst teens. But I ask, does it need to be?

Discussion

  • http://blog.redfin.com/ Glenn Kelman

    Great post Edward; so are you saying that teens wants friends and middle-aged white people just want influence? Sad, but maybe true. If the demographic breaks the way you say it does, I’d rather be Twitter. People my age spend more money. As Jonathan Sposato said at the Naked Truth, the 19 year olds who use Picnik never give them any money. I also think one reason Twitter gets so much attention is that the journalists writing Twitter stories love using Twitter to build their own brands (which they need now more than ever in the Mad-Max world of journalism). Thanks for the wonderful post.

  • http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com Drew Meyers

    Nice post Edward; always fascinating to get different perspectives on Twitter. It certainly took me awhile to figure out Twitter, but now I find huge value to being active in the Twittersphere. I wanted to comment on something specific you said:
    “we don’t want to build our personal brand”

    You may not want to, but I think the sooner people start thinking about their personal brand, the better off they’ll be in the long run. Everything you do, both online and offline, is part of that “brand” and Twitter is just one way to start building that online personal brand at a very early age.

  • http://blog.redfin.com/ Glenn Kelman

    If ever someone had a personal brand, it is Drew Meyers, mostly because of thoughtful posts like this…

  • http://blog.redfin.com/blog/author/matt Matt

    Guilty as charged! I’m a twittering thirty something white male.

    I think a challenge for companies is that on Twitter they can monitor what folks are saying about their brand with real time search. However, if teens eschew Twitter for Facebook we’ll never know what they’re saying since Facebook has been a fairly closed community with no real-time search across all status updates.

    Not a big concern for us at Redfin since not many teens are buying houses :). But if I was marketing something targeted to teens I’d be frustrated I couldn’t follow what was being said behind Facebook’s closed doors.

  • http://apellatabletalk.spaces.live.com/ Apella

    Ok, 30 something here but way new to the Twitter thing. In fact the only reason there is for business. At first it was the same reason for no “business” Myspace but I think that as a “mico” blog platform it is different for business and the old foggys. Dont get me wrong Facebook and sites like that can serve a use too, but as a business I do like the options that Twitter can put on the table. Thanks for the post.

  • Sharon

    Good food for thought–thanks.

    See also danah boyd, who works (inter alia) on how young people interact with emerging tech.

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  • http://www.Kens411.com Ken Brand

    A case study that reminds me, “I over estimate what I “think” I know, and under estimate what I “don't” know. Nice share. Thanks.

    PS. I'm an older than that, half white guy, trying to muster up some crazy influence. If I ever get it, I hope I know what to do with it.

    cheers