The news this morning is full of a report from Morgan Stanley on teenage media habits – written by a 15-year-old intern, it dismisses Twitter and describes online advertising as pointless. Morgan Stanley seem to be promoting the report heavily, although I’m not entirely clear whether this is from the viewpoint of it being a lucid piece of analysis or more of “look! a little person! how quaint!”
The report has turned up on the Guardian website, and while it might be a fairly impressive piece of work for a 15 year old, most of the conclusions are not overwhelmingly suprising. Teenagers don’t read newspapers, they’re “very reluctant” to pay for music and they see adverts as annoying distractions. This is hardly earth-shattering, and wouldn’t have been earth-shattering at any point since the word “teenager” was invented. It’s a long time since I was that age, but me and my contemporaries were hardly huge newspaper consumers and were the generation that was allegedly killing music with home taping.
The more suprising conclusion was about Twitter. “Teenagers do not use Twitter,” Robson wrote. “Most have signed up to the service, but then just leave it as they realise that they are not going to update it (mostly because texting Twitter uses up credit, and they would rather text friends with that credit). They realise that no one is viewing their profile, so their tweets are pointless.”
This directly contradicts my experience of teenagers using Twitter. The teens of my aquaintance are voracious Twitter users – a quick random sample of 5 taken this morning show them having produced over 20,000 tweets between them in a 3-month period, and far from using texts to update the service, they’re using the web on both browsers and phones as well as API-based clients like Tweetdeck. In fact, their use is more akin to public IM – there’s a huge amount of direct conversation between individuals going on, which suprised me given that the asynchronous nature of Twitter doesn’t lend itself to that kind of usage particularly. They’re also sophisticated enough to be integrating Twitter into other services such as Facebook and Tumblr – which is where you need to look if you *really* want to see the kind of content-creating behaviour that this demographic gets up to.
Where Morgan Stanley’s “analysis” falls short from my point of view is that they’re taking the experience of one particular individual, and extrapolating from that. It would be an interesting starting point for future research, but these aren’t evidential findings any more than my anecdote above is. And in any case, I suspect that a 15-year-old who spends the summer writing reports for Morgan Stanley is far from a representative sample of typical teenagers – so while there’s some interesting anecdotal findings here, I’m not sure it fully-deserves the breathless praise that’s been showered on it. Full marks to Morgan Stanley’s PR people, though – there’s been acres of free publicity which is ultimately worth far more than the 15 minutes of fame that’s come Matthew Robson’s way.