Are Teens on Twitter? My 2 Cents.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Concepts, Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 08-31-2009


Another week, another blog post about the continuing debate of the question “Are Teens on Twitter?”

We first heard from Mashable, who reported in early August that the “Stats Confirm It“.  Then, the phrase ‘Teens Don’t Tweet’ was a trending topic all day long. Not because of the usual Mashable RT crowd, but because of teens coming out of the woodwork. At any given moment, results would resemble something like this that day:

So the latest ‘research’ comes from a TechCrunch post, and it’s again spreading like wildfire. Don’t miss the first line of the article: “This guest post is written by Geoff Cook, cofounder and CEO of social networking site myYearbook.”

This research (or is it just a well-positioned promotion for MyYearbook??) is now causing people in higher ed to exclaim on Twitter that “More teens tweet than Facebook“.  False. Absolutely False. According to the post, a higher percentage of twitter users are teens than the percentage of Facebook users who are teenagers. But when it comes to straight numbers, teens on Twitter don’t even compare to teens on Facebook. Not yet, anyways.

Looking at data, 22% of Facebook’s 98.7 million monthly US viewers are 17 or younger.  That’s 20,614,000 teens.  On the Twitter side? 9% of Twitter’s 28.0 million monthly US viewers are 17 or younger. That’s 2,520,000 teens. According to that count, there are 818% more teens on Facebook each month vs. Twitter. More teens tweet than Facebook? Hardly.

Are they on Twitter? Are they not? What should we do?

Here’s the thing.  Twitter should not be at the core of your marketing strategy. Yet. But should you have a presence? Absolutely. Do you need to know how to use the site? Yes.  Are you building your presence and community as the site grows? I hope so.

If you use Twitter, remember the last time you complained about a bad experience with a company or site and they weren’t there to listen online?  What about your favorite brands that you desire to interact with online and receive valuable information from?  What do you think of them when they aren’t on Twitter, ready to listen? It’s a huge customer service opportunity. Conversations about your institution are happening all the time online, and in increasing frequency on Twitter.

Apply the same thought to your institution or office.  Twitter is not going to solve all of your goals and objectives.  But there are teens out there ready to engage and interact with you.  They want to connect with you, and if you are not there, you’ve missed an opportunity.  (Or worse, someone else takes over your brand/identity and runs with it like many universities we see in our research.)

Final Thoughts

The research is nice. But how much weight should you actually put into it? My challenge do you is this: do your own research.  Throw a quick survey together and integrate it into first week activities.

IU East did, and found out that 67% of incoming students are on MySpace, while only 60% are on Facebook. (Twitter? 6%.) If IU East had just ‘followed the research’, they’d be listening to everyone who says MySpace is dead and missing out on reaching a large percentage of their student and alumni base.

Almost a year ago I reminded everyone to do their homework after a conference.  The same thing goes for any research online.  If you’re changing your entire marketing strategy based on what Mashable or TechCrunch posts on their site, you’re going to have some issues. And if you’re retweeting and spreading this information without even reading or confirming it… please stop.

What do you think?

Do you agree with the research that’s out there? Disagree? Indifferent?  Let me know below in the comments!

Comments posted (21)

Excellent post, my man. Reinforces the point that solid research always helps us build better strategy.

I’ve just finished the Tuesday HEE Newsletter and included a post written by Ed Cabellon that definitely illustrates your point about engaging teens on Twitter: Connecting With Students, One Tweet At A Time.

With our institution’s Twitter account, the majority of followers seem to be beyond their teens, with a few teens mixed in here or there. So much so that I passed the Twitter account out of my hands (Admissions) to the PR office – tough to justify my time with Twitter in terms of recruiting traditional-aged students.

If PR lets the Twitter account languish, I can’t lose much sleep over it. An individual or office needs to prioritize their own efforts and can’t do everything.

The demographics/marketshare were also the reason we strategically went the route of a single “official” Twitter account so far vs. various accounts for various offices. For us, the marketshare didn’t justify the time spent on various accounts. Niche accounts could get more overall followers, but at what cost in terms of time spent feeding the various mouths?

We also recycle the tweets we do in other mediums to make the effort more worthwhile. and other tools make this very easy to accomplish.

I was chatting with a prospective student on instant messenger last week, and she informed me she has a Twitter account for following celebrities and companies (“but not Ashton” she was quick to point out), but she doesn’t tweet much herself. I wonder how many teens fit her profile.

Instant messenger… seems like less teens use it than a few years ago, but certainly not dead yet for us. Other schools have largely abandoned IM, though, so once again using IM stands out in the student’s mind.

The idea of doing research or trying things out to see what works for your own institution is the key.

And if the effort is even marginally worthwhile, figure out how to build and expand on the idea to make it more worthwhile. Recycle content. Appropriately promote communication channels. Etc.

I have to say I am pretty indifferent to the research that has been presented on this topic thus far, however, the author of the post did bring up one good point. One of Twitter’s main draws for marketing is that it allows organizations to get messages and news out to their audiences in real-time. Teenagers, for the most part, are not the rabid consumers of news the way most people who use Twitter are. They are way more interested in what is going on with their friends which is why Facebook is so much more attractive to them.

Does that mean I think Twitter is a weaker tool in higher ed? Absolutely not. The best part about Twitter is how easy it is to present your feed in a multitude of ways. From cell phone to Facebook Fan Page integration there are many different ways to present your feed to your audience so they can access it ON THEIR OWN TERMS. Why are we putting so much stock into whether teens actually use Twitter? These reports one way or the other do not change the fact that Twitter is one of the best communication tools available today for push marketing at least, if not complete interactive marketing.

The key is making your Twitter presence accessible where your audience is already, instead of relying so much on them to have an account. Whether teens are actually users or not, Twitter is one of the most malleable tools we have in social media, so customizing your presentation of it and putting it up where you know they go makes it more accessible and targeted.

Let everyone else duke it out over whether teens are on Twitter or not. Your organization should know where you have your marketing message successes, and Twitter can be an effective addition to those channels. Heck, if your worried your audience thinks Twitter is lame, you can customize it and not even tell them it’s Twitter. :)

I also encourage everyone to do their own research. My experience has been that the social media channels of choice varies considerably across college campuses.

I would also recommend understanding goals and objectives. It’s not about a specific technology, it’s about solving real business problems.

Nice post, Brad! Actual research — what a concept!

The problem with teens on Twitter is that Twitter is where you go to meet new people. Parents and teens alike generally aren’t that interested in teens meeting strangers. Parents of teens who are on MySpace and FB (if they allow them there at all) like the fact that the account holder has a measure of control over who can see their information. While Twitter can be used in that kind of “opt-in” mode, that mode makes it far less interesting and useful, IMO, and leads to rapid tweetfade.

My own anecdotal experience as a father of two teen daughters and as a middle-school youth volunteer tells me that teens aren’t tweeting. No kids I know have a Twitter account. They’re still on MySpace and Facebook. However, with more and more of their parents now on FB, I see them actively seeking out somewhere else to go.

My own pet theory is that teens are migrating to mobile in-game social networks more and more, such as those being built by

Here is one area I dont think has been approached on this subject. How much influence do parents have on where their children attend school or what products are purchased. If parents follow a school on Twitter etc are they more apt to mention that school to their son/daughter and more willing to go for a site visit due to that school being fresh in their minds. Same goes for a product. Just because the teens you may be targeting arent on a social site you are doesnt mean their parents that buy presents or take kids to the mall dont know about your product and approve or disapprove based on what the product stands for and posts on social media sites. Most teens dont have autonomy and rely on their parents who may follow or friend you.

Mark has a very good point. I’m teaching a web technology class in Journalism and was surprised to find that almost none of the students used Twitter and, in fact, were bogged down with the notion that it’s a platform for inane chatter and celebrity musings.

Also, there is a difference between being “on” these platforms and actively using them. Technically, I’m on MySpace but I only log in when I’m directly contacted through that service.

I’m also curious to know how Quantcast measures views with regards to Facebook and Twitter. I would imagine that many people use an application to interact with Twitter which may or may not be measured as a “visit” by Quantcast.

I’d also be interested to know how views are measured. We are embedding Twitter on institutional pages and someone doesn’t have to have a Twitter account to receive this information.

I have a question: this weekend when we had the TV on I noticed that a lot of mobile phone companies are referencing Twitter in their commericals… as in with their phone it makes it easier to update your Facebook, Twitter, etc. They make it seem like all the cool kids with their phones are all using those networks- so do you think that this advertising for products that would be Twitter-friendly will have an effect on more teens feeling like they “need” a Twitter account too?

As a teen, I see the biggest divide in that of security. Teens are reluctant to try Twitter, much like many other social media networking outlets, because of the risk of unknown people having access to their information. With Twitter comes the plausible aspect of a virtual stalker, much past knowing who they are and their personal information, and into the realm of knowing what they are doing and where they are. While this is an issue in all ages, the older generations are grasping onto the benefits of networking as a valuable skill outside of Twitter much better. With said understanding of benefits, they see how Twitter has taken a unique approach to networking with both peers and corporate entities, and have plunged into the world of Twitter with a view that it will a valuable tool. Teens are still viewing it as a way that the world will have open access to their lives, and not seeing it as a networking tool. This is making the common person shy away, and those looking for networking to flock.

To gain confidence, when an organization wants an individual to follow them they would explain the purpose of their Twitter, the user would not just think someone is stalking them. For example, Pivotal Labs that created Tweed, a Twitter client for the Palm Pre, uses Twitter to gain knowledge about glitches in the programing, and to announce update progress. A simple “We’re here if you have any issues” would suffice in establishing a personable connection and also explain what their Twitter’s purpose is. If organizations would become more personable and explain themselves with said introduction either via direct message or in advertising their Twitter, comfort would be established, and possibly encourage more teens to use Twitter.

[...] Are Teens on Twitter? My 2 Cents. (tags: twitter teens research statistics generations socialmedia socialnetworking web2.0 trends myspace metrics demographics) [...]

The thing that bothered me most about the latest round of teens-on-twitter research was the way in which the TechCrunch “more teens on twitter than facebook” headline was retweeted so quickly, and so indiscriminately, by so many. It seems that few of the RTers bothered to even read the post or vet the disingenuous headline. Maybe it’s cooler to RT a TechCrunch post than to actually read one.

But anyway. Thanks for this post and for digging into it more than the average higher ed marketing twitterer.

Brad, great points by you, I appreciate you sharing this information to help shed some light on the topic. I will share this with my colleagues who work in Student Affairs offices across colleges in the US. Your perspective, as a Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Specialist is valuable and important.

In response to Karine Joly’s comment, thanks for reading the post, but I must correct you. My post was about an interaction with an 18 year old college student, not a teen. Although ironically, she shared with me thoughts that her own circle of friends find Twitter more useful than Facebook, beyond following celebrities. :-)

Thanks to everyone else’s posts as well. I agree that we should move beyond the “Twitter and Teens” stuff and get back to talking about how our departments in Higher Ed use social media to make meaningful connections with our potential and current students, staff, and faculty.

Greetings! It’s a great article, Brad, and I completely agree in doing your own research. I’m in Communications and Marketing at my institution and I can tell anecdotally that those who interact with Ohio University are current students – thus not teenagers, thus not the target audience for recruiting.

But I asked everyone on our staff to start a twitter account because it is a good jumping off place for full-time employees to learn about social networking (by creating plans, building audiences, etc). So I think it has a place in a strategy, just kind of an indirect one.

If it turns out that more teens will be seeing the use of Twitter, we’ll be there.

Great thoughts everyone, thanks for chiming in AND for your retweets. A couple of quick thoughts:

Jill – “We’ll be there.” Great strategy. No one ever got ahead by always playing catch up.

Andrew – Totally agree, and was the primary driver behind compiling this blog post. Influence and knowledge don’t always go together.

Nikki – It’s interesting to see how traditional advertising still affects students. We’ll see what happens, I guess!

Mark and Bruce – I’m not sure how Quantcast measures, though I assume it’s just hits on the site. I believe both the Mashable and TechCrunch stories mentioned that mobile/API traffic was not considered.

Chris – GREAT thought and consideration. I think people forget that we’re selling to the parents as well. This study might be of interest to you:
82% of the time, parents are involved in the college decision.

Devin – good point on customizing Twitter so they don’t even know they are using it. I talked about that around a year ago on this post ( and we started doing it at Butler nearly 18 months ago. I believe we were the first to integrate Twitter in that way, not just slapping a badge on the site. Make it relevant from them and easy to use, and you’ll succeed every time.

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