by C.G. Lynch

Surprise: Twitter’s Full of Grown-Ups, Not Tweens

Aug 26, 2009
Enterprise Applications

If young people are more cautious about Twitter than Facebook, what does that mean for Twitter's future role in the workplace?

The emergence of Twitter has been driven by an older demographic, The New York Times reported today. What I wonder is, how will that affect the way we consume information in the future and, more importantly, the way we work?

The article points out that “just 11 percent of [Twitter’s] users are aged 12 to 17, according to comScore. Instead, Twitter’s unparalleled explosion in popularity has been driven by a decidedly older group.”

What struck me as interesting about this story is that it challenged some common assumptions. First, it departed from the notion that young people are always uber-sharers. Sometimes, in fact, they don’t want people “to know what they are doing.”

Secondly, as it concerns work, social media and Web 2.0 evangleists have used the younger age group to insist that the future of the workplace depends on what types of technology they adopt. If these youngsters like Facebook, you ought to have a social network internally. If they hate e-mail, you better enable instant messaging. CIOs and IT groups that fail to get in line should get out.

Many (myself included) have argued that streaming, real time technologies like Twitter represent the future of work and information consumption. Rather than put information into folders and e-mail around attachments, web-based links should flow down the page for you to click on and edit.

So if the younger age group balks at Twitter as a form of communication, should we be rethinking that notion?

I don’t think so. While I’m glad that this story has been written, I believe Twitter will see an uptick in the younger generation just as Facebook experienced one in the elder. For one, the early marketing slogan of “what are you doing?” really limited the service’s potential because it sold it short, and many (apparently younger folks) took it literally.

“I just think it’s weird and I don’t feel like everyone needs to know what I’m doing every second of my life,” Kristen Nagy, an 18-year-old from Sparta, N.J., told the Times.

Obviously, Ms. Nagy doesn’t understand what people use Twitter for, and that might explain the low participation by her demographic. It’s no longer a glorified status message as we’re used to on instant messenger or Facebook (well, at its worst it can be). But at its best, Twitter is an intellectual medium where people trade ideas on the day’s most important topics. Once these young people get into the working world, they may see that reality just as so many of us already have.