Social Media’s Young ‘Uns, Nobody’s Newbies

Young people don’t use Twitter. That seems to be the consensus among many communications folk, and a point driven home over the weekend by a friend who works on a college campus and manages communications for a major department. Young people, aka high schoolers through college students, use Facebook. A lot. But they’re not tweeting. Furthermore, they’re using Facebook, but not in the way you’d think. As my friend put it, the web traffic report suggests that the students check out her department’s Facebook page several times a day, but they won’t “like” it.

I’m sure there are formal studies – oh yes – on why this is the case, but here is my theory on why youngsters (a term I can now safely use, sigh….) won’t hit the like button on a Facebook business page and don’t tweet as much as you’d think they might.

young male student working at a laptop

Digital Native At Work (Image courtesy of taliesin)

First, people age 15 through 22 are second generation digital natives. Not only has this group of people always been around email, those in college used Facebook well before they left home. Think about it, if you’re graduating college now at 22, you’ve probably known about Facebook and possibly used it as well since 17, by which point you might already have soured on MySpace. And had possibly already never heard of Friendster. All of which means that this group has seen the strangeness and privacy issues of social media play out well before their older classmates. Many of them found out the hard way a couple of years ago, that yes, your Facebook profile can factor into your potential employer’s due diligence during your job search.

Second, I don’t remember the last generation that didn’t know from a mile away when they were being pitched, but this one? Even more so. They’re not going to “like” anything. They’d rather just check on your offerings on their terms, even more than any social media makes it possible for them to do so, thanks very much. And can you blame them? It’s how I felt when I was 20, when no one had thought of social media.

Third, twitter is limited. Which is precisely why seasoned and established communications and marketing professionals are so great at it. Those of us who write and market for a living have learned to use as few words as possible and/or needed. And in some cases … ahem, mea culpa … we’re still working on it. Limits, especially those that kill spontaneity while you edit and re-edit to fit into those precious 140 characters, are an unappealing buzz kill when you’re young. They sure were to me. I’d have been incredibly frustrated at a medium that cut me off when I’d barely gotten a thought started. And if you’re using social media for fun, with no professional aspirations whatsoever, why on earth would you bother with a medium like twitter? News? Sure, but there are a billion other ways to get news. And although I’ve always been a news nut, and I live to know something about the Arab Spring now-now-now! I don’t think not hearing something as it happened from an Andy Carvin would have made a difference to me when I was a sophomore.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think!