As Facebook Ages, Gen Y Turns to Twitter

Facebook is getting old. No, people aren’t getting tired of it, it’s actually getting old, as in its population is aging. In May of 2008, the median age for Facebook was 26. Today, it’s 33, a good seven years older. That’s an interesting turn of events for a site once built for the exclusive use of college students. So where are today’s college students hanging out now? Well, to some extent, they’re still on Facebook, despite having to share the space with moms, dads, grandparents, and bosses. Surprisingly though, they’re also headed to another network you may have heard of: Twitter.

As it turns out, Gen Y likes Twitter…Well, maybe not, but they are using it

Over the course of the year, there have been countless reports – some more substantial than others – but all with the same message: Generation Y is just not interested in Twitter. The reports generally cited members of this demographic as saying Twitter was “pointless” and “narcissistic.”

Apparently, that’s beginning to change. Well, maybe not their perception of Twitter, but certainly their use of it. Today, Twitter is now the second-youngest of the top four social networking sites. Its median age is 31. MySpace’s is 26, LinkedIn is 39, and, as noted above, Facebook is 33.

When looking at specific younger demographic segments, and not just Gen Y, you can see strong Twitter uptake over the past year. For example, 37% of those 18-24 now use Twitter when only 19% did back in December 2008. And in the slightly older 25-34 bracket, a portion of which could still be considered Gen Y, 31% are now using the service compared to only 20% in December of last year. Combined, these two groups account for more than half of Twitter’s network.

Why is Gen Y Now Flocking to Twitter?

So what gives? Why has Gen Y seemingly changed their minds about the social microblogging network that only months ago they avoided? A recent AP article offered up some ideas including the influx of celebrity tweeters, pressure from teachers or bosses, and it even hinted that Gen Y’ers entering the workplace have found value in the network for business-related purposes. That same sentiment was shared by Meredith Sires of Gen Y trend-watching site, YPulse. She theorizes that the rapid growth in the 18-24 demographic has to do more with the recent college graduates segment of that group finding ways to build entirely new online contact lists and create new identities more closely tied to information-sharing.

However, there have not been any in-depth studies that detail all the various reasons that Gen Y has chosen to adopt the microblogging network. To date, everything cited consists of just theories and speculations based on anecdotal evidence. But while all the ideas have merit, the theory that rings truest to our ears is the one put forth by Craig Watkins, a University of Texas professor and author of the book “The Young and the Digital.” He says that what we’re seeing is “…a kind of closing of that generational gap as it relates to technology.” In other words, young and old alike are joining the same networks and socializing in the same spaces.

At this point, we would have to agree. After all, Gen Y (or Gen Z for that matter), hasn’t all of a sudden flocked to some new social networking site where the majority of the online user base mostly consists of their peers. Although some niche sites like FML, Failblog, TextsFromLastNight, and Sporcle have apparently attracted this young crowd, their numbers are dwarfed by those of Facebook, Twitter, and the like. It seems as if Gen Y is simply content to join the older adults on the top social networks of today and not strike out on their own…and vice versa. The older social networking users, in turn, never really set up shop on networks designed just for them like the (now “hibernating”) Boomj, a social network for baby boomers, or the online old folks home eons.com. They, too, have gravitated towards Facebook and Twitter.

Will this ever change? Will there ever be another network dominated by the digital youth? Of course no one can know for sure, but odds are that unless it’s a closed-off network where entry is barred to those over a certain age, any new social network will have trouble keeping the grown-ups out these days. And even if some such network ever sprang into existence, it may struggle to attract the Gen Y members it desires – especially since they’re so content to socialize on the sites they already use. And now that they’ve added Twitter to that list, the challenge to draw them away to yet another social networking site may prove even more difficult than before.

Note: statistics in this article are from Pew Internet’s Recent Report on Twitter for Fall 2009

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