Teens Use Sites to Expand Offline Relationships, Avoid Twitter

In the past couple years, Twitter has radically changed the face of online communication. This year alone, usage has grown by 900 percent, the company was awarded the “Breakout Company of the Year” web award, and Twitter has spread awareness of such major international events as post-election protests in Iran. Amid this surge in publicity for and excitement about the site, a few reports released surprising findings: teens, by in large, don’t use Twitter.
Based on our findings in Children and Electronic Media issue, this does not surprise us. As the article “Online Communication and Adolescent Relationships” demonstrates, most adolescents use social networking sites to reinforce existing relationships, rather than make new friends. This is contrary to how people use Twitter; much like in the chat rooms of old, they create new networks of friends and acquaintances based on common interests.
Instant messaging, Facebook, and MySpace, on the other hand, allow teens to share personal information and communicate with their friends and existing social networks (in addition to contacting strangers and building new relationships with them). It makes sense, then, that teenagers and young adults seeking ways to reach out to friends helped these communication tools gain enormous popularity.
A study from 2007 found that that 91 percent of teens use social networking sites to keep in touch with friends they see frequently. Although teens may contact strangers and vice versa, this is not the norm for teenage internet use. Rather, teens often use online communication to strengthen existing friendships or gain acceptance in offline peer groups, both of which depend on interacting with the same groups on-and offline and receiving feedback through mechanisms such as “Wall” postings and return messages. In a Dutch study, adolescents who felt they received positive feedback from social networking sites reported higher self-esteem, and the reverse was true as well.
This is not to say that teens do not communicate with strangers. Indeed, many do – but not in the dangerous ways we suppose. Rather, when teens seek out contact with people they don’t know, it is usually for information (on health issues, for example) found at self-help sites or internet forums. Twitter, however, is usually a single-sided conversation used to share news or promote companies and organizations. As the 15-year-old intern behind Morgan Stanley’s report noted, teens often must decide how to allocate a limited texting capacity. They can send targeted text messages to friends. Or they can post updates on Twitter, which in all likelihood will not be seen by those in their social network and may get lost to the internet at large. Adolescents concerned with their social position at school or among a group of friends choose to focus on messages targeted directly to their peers, making Twitter the latest fad of an older crowd.

6 thoughts on “Teens Use Sites to Expand Offline Relationships, Avoid Twitter

  1. Anonymous

    @Toronto: You’re right.. it’s amazing how fast social sites are catching on. Even the older generations are getting on board. This will no doubt because an area of study for sociologist in the digital field. The impacts of such use will be interesting to see for years to come.

  2. Toronto

    I found this information amazing : “A study from 2007 found that that 91 percent of teens use social networking sites to keep in touch with friends they see frequently.” I guess I am too old to realize 100% the social networking sites revolution 🙂 Thank you, Melanie for sharing this.

  3. Alison

    None of my friends use twitter, which is why I don’t use it either. I guess if a few teens started tweeting others would catch on.


  4. Masters Commission

    You are absolutely right. Our Master’s Commission team works with Teenagers up and down the east coast and we find the same thing… Younger teens are on My Space. Older Teens are on Facebook. No-one is on twitter. It just doesn’t appeal to their interest because it’s too one sided, and too ambigous. When teens post on facebook that they are having a bad day, they do it because they WANT their friends to respond and encourage them and either give them pitty or give them help. It’s too complicated to do that on Twitter with the @ commands. Teens just want hit comment, and start a dialog, not copy down an obscure username. Facebook also includes the chat/IM feature and picture posting which are so huge in the current generation of teenagers. Our Masters Commission leadership development team is working to find ways to effectively reach out to today’s teens and help them make possitive choices and we are finding that interacting with students on FaceBook is one way we can get into their worlds. Twitter is useless with teens.

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