Fed up with parents budding into their Facebook conversations, posting embarrassing photos on their walls, and just plain cramping their social-networking style, many teenagers are migrating to Twitter to regain some privacy.
About 16% of people ages 12 to 17 now use the mini-blogging service, according to a survey conducted last year by the nonprofit Pew Internet & American Life Project. That’s double the percentage of teens that used the service two years ago. When Twitter, which lets users send and receive messages of up to 140 characters, was launched in 2006, less than 1% of teens were said to be using it, mainly because they preferred Facebook.
That was good for Facebook, whose upcoming IPO is expected to raise $10 billion. Facebook accumulated more than 800 million active members and became the most influential social networking platform ever. With a direct line to so many consumers and enough information about each to help advertisers tailor their messages to specific groups via advertising banners and individual fan pages, Facebook has amassed nearly 28% of the online display-advertising market. With 11% of the Internet banner-adverting market, Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) is Facebook’s closest advertising competitor, followed by Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), each with 5%.
A taste for anonymity
Facebook’s position as the dominant social network certainly isn’t about to crumble anytime soon, but the growing number of teens migrating to Twitter shows that Facebook’s hold on this particular demographic isn’t ironclad. Teens say they are turning to Twitter because it allows them to send text to a select group of people rather than broadcast it on Facebook, where most people in their community of Facebook “friends” can see it.
Teens also like that they can set up multiple Twitter accounts using a name that helps hide their identity, making it harder for parents or anyone outside of their chosen social circle to invade the conversation. Another bonus: Twitter comments shared in frustration are less likely to come back and haunt them during, say, a job search—so long as their Twitter followers don’t make them public.
While many investors view Google’s new social network, Google+, as the biggest threat to Facebook and LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) as the place to be for professional networking, Twitter may be providing what the emerging generation most wants now – some privacy, ease of use, and convenience of the sort offered by Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iMessage, a service integrated into the iOS platform that allows iPhone users to text each other for free.
With about $139.5 million in revenue in 2011, Twitter is a long way from generating the $4 billion in sales that Facebook is said have taken in last year. Still, Twitter’s growing popularity among teens can’t be good for Facebook. Teens helped make Facebook popular by using it as a way to express themselves and reach friends when parents took away their mobile phones. Then parents and grandparents joined Facebook, perhaps initially to keep their kids safe from predators and learn things about their kids that they might not immediately or freely share. Too, the online community became fertile ground for advertisers.
So if teens start having most of their social networking discussions elsewhere, or fewer of them on Facebook, will parents and other adults who friend them become less active members? Will that make the information that Facebook provides less valuable to advertisers?
Marketers who target this fickle age group may be among the first to find out.