Pew Research just released a new study looking at how teens use social media, and the findings point to some major potential shifts coming. Obviously, studying younger generations can often be an indicator of where things are going– for example it was the swift adoption of Facebook by the 18-22 crowd 10 years ago that predicted the later rapid rise of that network across all age groups.
Here are the headlines:
- Twitter use among teens has “grown rapidly”- 24% of online teens now use Twitter, vs 16% in 2011, and 8% in 2009.
- Focus group discussions among teens led Pew to conclude that enthusiasm for Facebook is “waning”. Not surprisingly, as the social network has increasingly become the place where their parents and grandparents hangout, it’s become a little less the cool place for them to be. While most believe you have to be there so as not to “miss out”, there are clear indications that Facebook is vulnerable.
The Growth of Twitter
As Pew points out, the rapid rise of Twitter among Teens is interesting, since it’s been adults who first “colonized” the social media tool, and Teens are relatively late to the party. That said, looking at the adoption rates in the chart below, now that 24% of online teens use Twitter, they are significantly outpacing the overall adult population’s use of the platform- which stands at 16%. The growth rate for Teens is also ramping significantly higher.
Another interesting finding in the research was Pew’s conclusion that many teens do not think of Twitter as a “social networking site”. There is consistently a group of teens who when asked if they use a social network, say “no”, but when asked if they use Twitter, say yes. The reality is Twitter is an unorthodox technology the resists the “box” that many put around when they simply lump it together with “social networks”.
What It All Might Mean…
A lot of the growth of Twitter– versus the seeming dominance of Facebook– feels like a movie I’ve seen before. Prior to the emergence of the web circa 1993, online services like AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy were the way people “went online”. AOL grew rapidly in the 90’s as a “walled garden” for internet users, an easy “training-wheels” way to get online and experience interactive media. The open web via browser also was available during this time, but was much more complex. It was a wild west you had to figure out yourself, and it took a learning curve to master, versus the plain, simple vanilla AOL structure and format (which appealed to the “everybody and their grandmother” crowd who joined). That network’s proprietary format, however, was also highly limiting. While the open web was a place of hyper innovation and endless invention, AOL was controlled and circumscribed.
Flash forward to today, and you have a dominant network– Facebook– that is a highly controlled platform for the masses, versus the much more open upstart Twitter. As Pew noted, many teens don’t even think of Twitter as a social network in the same vein as a Facebook. Twitter has a much bigger learning curve, and is largely a tool you have to figure out in order to make useful. But once you do, its open possibilities make Facebook feel a little like your grandmother’s AOL.
Viewed years from now over the larger span of digital media history, it may be that Facebook’s ultimate role will be as training wheels for more versatile and open technologies like Twitter. And like AOL, we’ll wonder who exactly uses it anymore….