Are teens the canary in Twitter’s coal mine?

August 26, 2009

Are teens the canary in Twitter's coal mine? Twitter’s rise to success has been accomplished largely without support from teen users who are coveted as early adopters. But can Twitter maintain its growth without becoming a part of teens’ lives?

“The traditional early-adopter model would say that teenagers or college students are really important to adoption,” says Andrew Lipsman of Comscore. However this model hasn’t borne out for Twitter.

In fact, teenagers only account for 11 percent of Twitter users. Some might say that this proves that Web sites can make it to the mainstream without first courting the younger demographic.

However the lack of teens on Twitter may point to an underlying problem that could spell trouble for the micro-blogging service in the long haul. And it may be a fundamental issue with how the next generation of Internet users chooses to communicate.

The problem is that Twitter isn’t about connecting with people. On Twitter everyone is a blogger, social media expert or consultant and they’re all there to self-promote.

This makes Twitter more broadcast media than social media. And if Twitter is replacing commercials and not emails or text messages, it’s not going to replace these fundamental ways of communicating.

In fact, younger users are increasingly choosing to communicate with one another through text messages over any form of social media. It could be because they don’t want to broadcast their lives or they’re hiding from parental scrutiny.

Either way, long term trends in how we communicate online stem from personal connections and not marketing campaigns. No matter how friendly and interactive Twitter may seem, everyone on the service is selling something.

Nobody wakes up in the morning feeling sad that they aren’t feeling more connected to a brand. People communicate to feel closer to friends and family.

Without a real sense of self and community, Twitter is just a hype machine. And much like any other hype, Twitter may be looking at a mighty short shelf life.

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