jump-tweeting to conclusions.

I’m repeatedly amazed how, when the subject is Twitter, writers and readers will jump to all kinds of conclusions from any scrap of information, however suspicious or specious.

The latest came in the form of a Wall Street Journal blog entry titled Is Gen Y Tweeting?, which immediately was linked and retweeted throughout the Twittersphere. But looking at this article about the most fictionalized modern generation shows there’s less than meets the eye, and makes one question the common sense of serial RTers.

The headline conclusion found the oversimplified group known as Gen Y just isn’t that into tweeting, as only 22% of 18- to 24-year-olds used Twitter. Well, sort of. According to one study. And one with a laughably small sample size. A marketing firm partnered with Pace University’s business school on the study, and polled the 200 Generation Y-ers — mostly Pace students — on their social-media habits, according to the story.

Hang on. Is 200 a sufficient sample size to categorize the habits of millions? Moreover, such a homogeneous group mostly at one college? (Not to get too deep into statistics, but the margin of error for such a small, uniform sample would provide a very low confidence level of interpolating the result to such a large population.)

Remember that Twitter, like any social-media manifestation, is viral in nature. Most of us start using it because others we know use it. Malcolm Gladwell, in his much-read The Tipping Point, notes that for anything to go viral, you need mavens — who discover and share information — to interact with connectors, who spread the word to others. This cultivation of any movement, including Twitter, varies by location and introductory forces.

Example: Until I showed a Music Business class on our campus about Twitter, I knew of no students who tweeted. Some of those students started using Twitter, told friends, who told their friends and now I see a lot of our students on Twitter. It’s quite possible colleges with more mavens and connectors have double the Pace user base, while others may be well lower. But to draw conclusions on one isolated geographical population is to ignore what we should know about social media and how actions spread.

In a related development, I discovered the Wall Street Journal is on Twitter, so I can confidently interpolate that 100% of print publications have Twitter accounts. Seems just as valid a conclusion.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “jump-tweeting to conclusions.

  1. Your final theory seems to be right on. :)

    In regard to your promotion of your schools Twitter feed, did you find that students are actually engaging, or are they just signing up for Twitter so they can check it out?

    An interesting note from my personal experience promoting Plattsburgh’s twitter account is that many people in our internal audience have signed up, yet they are not engaging with the service.

    This, in turn, has made me wonder if Twitter is better used for Gen-Y as a channel to push content through to various other channels (our website, Facebook, etc.), as opposed to the way I use it personally, for conversations.

    Thoughts?

  2. jesskry

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I just had an article forwarded to me about this and I’m going to counter with your blog post.

    I’m tired of this Gen Y / Web 2.0 struggle. When are people – read: those who do not use social media on a regular basis – going to understand this? Its not a typecast, its a personality.

    I need to go calm down now. Per us’, bravo on this post, Tim.

  3. insidetimshead

    DEVIN: Engagement with @sunyoswego is rare. By comparison, our Fans page routinely gets 3-5 wall questions a day. Obviously, we have a lot more fans than followers, just as Facebook’s overall use is much higher among college students than whatever the true figure for Twitter is.

    But I also wonder if there’s an engagement curve with Twitter; I think many people still look at it as broadcasting (one of my alma maters just uses its account as an RSS) as opposed to interaction. But then I personally am much more likely to interact with people than brands on Twitter. And I always say I still haven’t figured out the best way for us to promote/use the college Twitter account.

    JESS: Hey, always happy to help. I saw how much the original story was RTed and it really shows how even weak information can spread so quickly. Maybe cuz of the whole thirst for knowledge about Twitter thing. And the whole Gen Y stereotype (like the Gen X stereotype before it) is a personal pet peeve … but so many aspects of our society want a lazy, easy answer, so it persists. Sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness.

  4. There’s probably some grains of truth to the article, other studies come up with the same info. They should have presented that there’s methods outside of Twitter, a lot of it in fact,

    iPhone’s sales, from a study, didn’t skew lower to kids of the wealthier set (stupid parents spoiling their kids with iPhones) because the iPhone doesn’t MMS the right way [sic] like other phones. Kids use phones to text other friends and most phones can do multiple texts, and kids are still doing this.

    It’s a strong paradigm for kids from teens until now, and it’s already in their pocket, doing what Twitter can do, but more personal, giving 140 or less character messages long for Twitter. The “Gen Y” use this, it doesn’t get current press because the press needs to jump on something, like Twitter, but at one time, there were articles along the lines of “all the kids are texting, is this a bad thing?” People like Lynnita’s son Cliff grew up with this, he’s 22 now, still in college, he has a ton of friends (like any handsome smooth young man would) and none of them use Twitter, but they all sure use SMS/MMS messaging for text, images, etc. It’s efficient, and it’s your network, and all phones do it (as will the iPhone with 3.0). So Twitter really IS used more by professionals and older people who didn’t have the same robust upbringing through SMS/MMS.

    Ultimately Twitter is merely a tool, but it’s not the only tool, it’s incredibly easy to argue, for personal communication, it’s not even the best tool. That said, one thing is clear, it’s part of the march for simplifying content and the need to be even faster and more succinct in one’s message (unlike this long comment).

  5. Thanks, Tim!

    As the “voice” behind three different institutional Twitter accounts in addition to my personal one, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use our university account as well, and also have found the same difference in the level of engagement between Facebook and Twitter.

    Interestingly, most of the “conversational” aspects of both tools occur with and among alumni (and on Facebook with prospective students) rather than current students. Maybe since current students are already here, they don’t feel the need to “engage” with their institution in the same way that nostalgic alumni and hopeful aspiring students do?

    Whatever the case, the whole “Gen-Y does this, Gen-X does that” argument always misses the real story (as most over-simplifications do, I suppose).

  6. insidetimshead

    COLIN: And I think that’s important point missed by many. Text-messaging is one-on-one while Twitter has evolved into community-based/crowdsourcing communication. It’s unfortunate so many journalists and commentators have such surface understanding of communicating and just follow the shiniest object.

    LORI: I think you’re right about current students not feeling a need to be engaged with their institution’s social media. But then wouldn’t we prefer our students who are here are instead engaged in their classes, their organizations, their recreation and with their friends? And that those entities represent their network? Sure.

  7. Let me educate you:

    1. SMS/MMS can go out to multiple people, has had this for a very long time without a need for a computer. The most asked for function and the reason the iPhone didn’t sell well to the younger crowd was the lack of SMS/MMS and, had you paid attention to tech blogs, who probably do a better job of keeping tabs on this stuff, the younger set that were buying the iPhone were then hacking them to what? Right, put on a third party app that would allow them SMS/MMS.

    2. Have you talked to a teenager? Clearly the answer is no. Do you know many teens who want their parents or the world to know what they’re up to? Even into their early twenties? If they want to meet up with their friends, the last thing they’re going to do is post it into a public space, i.e. Twitter. SMS/MMS FTW.

    Twitter is a great public (there’s the key word) tool for marketing and communication with friends for people who want to tell other people things in the clear view. You don’t need a small group survey or newspaper article to tell you this. It is not the be-all end-all.

    And, if you listen to the tech blogs/podcasts, Twitter is falling out of favor of late by many. Tech people want to say more than 140 and do better than the profiles and get more info out there. With Facebook coming around that they could easily have a setting where if you wanted to, your status could be seen by all or select or set to private, it’s poising FB to be a 800 lb gorilla. Look, even Evan from Twitter said said Twitter may look to be a bit of a fad. I think he’s exaggerating but Twitter isn’t for everyone, it does some things well and, if you’re younger, some things you really don’t want it to do well, or really, anyone who wants to maintain some level of privacy but still have a social network, whatever and whichever that is to you, it doesn’t do at all. There’s mountains of empirical evidence which, if you step back, it’s very clear where and why many social media and networking sites and systems aren’t for everyone.

    PS You should really be subscribing to tech podcasts or blogs, those are the people in the trenches who know a lot more than writers, reporters, you and I. They tend to see and/or sense things coming (and going) way before the general public does, they’re on the pulse of these things.

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