Here is an interesting dilemma: if 99 percent of Generation Y consumers have an active social networking profile, why do only 22 percent of them use Twitter? Could it be that celebrities are killing the micro-blogging service?
A newly published study by the Participatory Marketing Network and Pace University reveals that while Twitter has undoubtedly caught the attention of many, including the media, the 18 to 24 year old age group just do not get it.
Interestingly, 89 percent of the same group have downloaded at least one app to the social networking profile page, with photos, games, entertainment and news being the most popular. 38 percent of these young consumers own an iPhone or iTouch, and for them mobile social networking has become an important part of their lives with games, entertainment and lifestyle applications topping the usage list.
So if Generation Y is into social networking, and loves participating via a mobile device such as the iPhone, what on earth is holding them back from simply loving Twitter which would appear, on face value, to be purpose built for them? Worryingly for Twitter this is not an isolated bit of research, another study from Pew six months ago concluded pretty much the same with 19 per cent of 18-24 year olds using Twitter back then.
What is the problem with micro-blogging? "Could it be that between texting and social networking there is little need?" asks Michael Della Penna, PMN co-founder? Given the number of applications to play with on the likes of Facebook the 'Twitter is not simple nor complicated enough' argument comes to the fore. Texting is the bread and butter of Generation Y communication and when they need a richer route to social interaction they head for Facebook and the like. Penna agrees, saying "if Twitter is to have any real staying power, then Gen Y needs to be convinced of its advantages over texting and leading social networks."
So what are those advantages? This got me to thinking just why it was that an old fart such as myself, a forty-something grandfather with full sleeve tattoos and an unhealthy interest in rock music, has pretty much jumped ship in the other direction. I hardly ever login to Facebook anymore, and texting is limited mainly to close family communication. Most of my other digital social interaction is fed by Twitter.
I appreciate the SMS-alike character limit for messages, it forces me away from my usual verbal diarrhea (I get paid by the word folks!) and makes me concentrate more on the message meat than the inconsequential potatoes. But if that were all there were to it then Twitter would just be an online text messaging service and it sure is a lot more than that. I appreciate the social networking aspects of the site, and have got back in touch with long lost colleagues and friends from over the decades as a result. I love the information discovery it enables, with click through links being retweeted across networks. I even like the odd bit of scientific experimentation it allows. Chatting to a 104 year old might not be high on my list of things to do on Twitter, but it sure shows how appealing micro-blogging can be to the most unlikely of age groups.
However, another bit of newly published research, this time from the Harvard Business School, reckons that Twitter usage patterns are very different from other social networks. "Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one" it says "This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days." Yet at the same time the top 10 percent of Twitter users, in terms of activity, account for some 90 percent of all Tweets! Compare that to a typical social networking scenario where that same top 10 percent would account for just 30 percent of postings. Now look to see who the top ten percent of users are, and as far as Twitter is concerned a simple trend becomes obvious: celebrities.
What I don't have a great deal of time for is the celebrity mindset aspect of Twitter, and think that this is something of a double-edged sword in terms of both positively driving publicity and possibly driving away Generation Y. Maybe what they don't want is to discover what Stephen Fry had for breakfast or find out what Demi Moore thought about Susan Boyle. Maybe this influential group of people, and no I am not talking about Twitter Celebs but rather the 18-24 year olds themselves, want something with more substance.
Could it be that the very culture of the Twittering celebrity which has propelled the system into the media spotlight and been responsible for a truly astonishing rate of growth could also be killing it?