UPDATED 12:39 EDT / AUGUST 05 2009

Teens WILL Tweet: Give Them a Minute

My old boss Pete Cashmore, and dozens of other sources, have all talked a bit about the new Nielsen study showing that the majority of Twitter’s userbase growth hasn’t occurred in the teen demographic.

Of course, the easy analysis to make is to simply say in your headline: “Teens Don’t Use Twitter,” tap up a few sentences and paste in a graph, and you’re done (as Pete did today):

While we recently questioned the findings of a largely anecdotal report from Morgan Stanley written by a 15 year old, Nielsen has now produced figures that confirm the trend: young people don’t Tweet.

Perhaps the more interesting questions: why are teens Twitter shy? And what does this mean for Twitter’s future?

This, of course, is wrong-headed analysis (you knew it had to be, otherwise I wouldn’t be bringing it up).

The Morgan Stanley report did not constitute a ‘trend,’ it was an anecdotal report made public.  Furthermore, the figures from Nielsen doesn’t confirm that young people don’t Tweet, it confirms that they aren’t the largest demographic on the site.


Take a look at the graph.  Let’s focus first on how misleading it is, if you’re trying to identify the percentages of users of various age ranges in relationship to teens.

The “teen” area of the graph isolates users age ‘2 to 24.’  What reasonable pundit actually thinks there is a preponderance of kids aged two to twelve on any social network?

Therefore we must, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, cut the age range down from a 22-year range to one that’s only 12 years in range.

Then, look at the middle 64% – it’s a wide 29-year swath of users. If you assume that all the ages in the middle 64% are evenly distributed, you’d have almost three blocks of 12 consisting of roughly 21%. That’s a mere 5 percentage points more than the demographic of users that are, according to the pundits, simply not adopting Twitter.

It doesn’t take a statistical genius to realize that there will be more people in any given mainstream crowd when you stack the groupings against one another by a multiple of 2.5x, which is exactly what’s been done here.

Either Tech Pundits are Bad at Math, or Perception of Twitter is Changing

imageI’m not sure why the pundits have developed such a hate-on for the service, but it’s clear to me that most social media and tech business pundits have a loose grasp on statistical analysis, or the regard they all have for Twitter has drastically changed in the last several months. That might perhaps be the bigger story. 

That the distribution of teen users on Twitter isn’t surprising in the least.  It’s pretty much common knowledge that social networks gain their users through viral distribution – and viral spread starts with a core user-base. 

What was the core user jump-start for Twitter? SxSW 2006.

How many individuals aged 12-22 were there, do you imagine? Certainly not the majority.

I don’t have any great insight as to why the pundits have soured on Twitter, but I’d prefer that were the case than assuming that all of my peers in the punditry business have suddenly lost the ability to perform long division.

That perception amongst the punditry is likely to have a far more damaging affect over time than what percentage of users may or may not be teenagers. The full momentum of Twitter has been built on the backs of journalists turning into evangelists.  Clearly, the tech circles are good predictors of what will happen in mainstream media, and when CNN stops plugging Twitter every three minutes, Twitter will most certainly be damaged by that.

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