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Twitter Is Not A “Mainstream Technology”…Yet

By Colin Ryan

Guides & Tips

Out Of Proportion, Not Out Of The Question

Yesterday, Henry Blodget from Business Insider wrote a post suggesting that  Twitter is not a mainstream technology. To this, I’d add one important word: yet.

Let me start with a disclaimer: I’m not a Twitter fanatic. Yes, I have an account, and yes, I could be considered an “active user”—but not that active. I probably look at my feed once every couple days and tweet once every couple weeks.

I say this because Blodget suggests that Twitter addicts are the ones blowing Twitter’s ubiquity out of proportion, and I think he’s right. Say all you want about how Twitter will soon challenge Facebook as the biggest social network—when less than 15 percent of Americans are using it actively, it’s hard to make a convincing case.

Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the Pew Research study from which Blodget draws his conclusion doesn’t provide any data on people younger than 18—and this is where Twitter’s biggest growth is happening. According to a separate Pew study, the number of teenage Twitter users doubled between 2009 and 2011 from 8 to 16 percent. Though 2012 data isn’t yet available, Pew’s own researchers predict that proportion is likely even higher now.

Furthermore, Twitter is growing even more quickly among certain demographics within this age group: 22 percent of girls are active Twitter users, as well as 34 percent of black teens.

The Power of Cool

There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence out there to suggest a surge for Twitter in the coming years. Public opinion about Facebook has waned recently, a trend that’s visible in the continuing slide of the company’s stock. But while we’re casting doubts on Facebook’s revenue stream and business decisions, teens are simply tired of it. For them, Facebook has begun to feel more functional than exciting.

Even if this attitude shift doesn’t convince teens to leave Facebook, it will likely change their habits. In a given month, teens are less likely than their parents to browse Facebook—a trend that has huge ramifications for anyone in the marketing business.

In this regard, Facebook’s loss is Twitter’s gain. Unlike Facebook, Twitter still has some of that cool factor that teens are looking for. Twitter is also likely to win young converts by offering a degree of anonymity that teens desperately want. Indeed, 62 percent of teens make their social media accounts private. On Twitter, they can take refuge behind a handle; on Facebook, they’re exposed.

Furthermore, Twitter’s smaller size is actually its strength for teens, giving them an air of exclusivity and a refuge away from their parents. How could exclusivity spur the huge growth Twitter is looking for? Just ask Facebook, which started out as a college-only social network.

Finally, if you’re wondering how such a small segment of the population can drive a technology mainstream, remember: teens do grow up.

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