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‘Teens Don’t Tweet’

Is your college Twittering to reach potential students?

They’re not listening.

That, anyway, is one conclusion you could be tempted to draw from the headline on a new piece of research. “Teens Don’t Tweet; Twitter’s Growth Not Fueled By Youth,” the Nielsen Company reported in a finding picked up by Mashable.

The figures fit with what Tanya M. Joosten, a lecturer in the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s department of communication who tweeted about the new numbers, found in a survey of her own students.

“I think most of the students don’t even know what Twitter is, under the age of 25,” Ms. Joosten said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s been no reason for them to be introduced to it.”

Nielsen based its claim on data from a panel of 250,000 U.S. Internet users. People under 25 make up “nearly one quarter of the active U.S. Internet universe,” but in June of 2009 that age bracket accounted for just 16 percent of Twitter.com Web-site users, the market-research firm reported.

Also, more than 90 percent of the audience for TweetDeck, a popular application for browsing the micro-blogging service, is over 25.

The numbers could be sobering news for the bevy of higher-ed admissions and marketing types tipsy with promotional tweets.

Or not.

Teens rallied online to demonstrate their Twitter-fides. Don’t tweet? Oh yeah?

“Then how are the Teen Choice Awards the top trending topic?” pointed out one of many incredulous Twitterers. “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

From a more analytical perspective, Danah Boyd, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, deconstructed the teens-don’t-tweet finding in a thoughtful blog post. Her take: The methodology is questionable. The data presentation is “misleading.”

Still, when Ms. Joosten surveyed students in an upper-level undergraduate communication course at Milwaukee, her tiny snapshot found that over 80 percent of them didn’t Twitter.

Traditional-age college students or high-school students are focused on staying connected with friends, said Ms. Joosten, who is also a learning-technology consultant at Milwaukee. They do that through text messaging and Facebook, which allows them to find people based on schools.

Who needs Twitter?

“Twitter is definitely about having a broadcast medium to the general population,” she said. “I don’t think that’s Facebook. And I don’t think people under the age of 25 have any interest in broadcasting beyond their friends. But I think once you get older, beyond 25, I think people’s social circles become limited, and they reach out to things like Twitter to stay connected to the world and meet new people with similar interests.”

She added, “A lot of campuses are reaching out to communication technologies that are Web 2.0 just to sort of jump on that bandwagon, without too much data about how effective the medium is.”

So are all those marketing and admissions tweets for naught?

Not necessarily.

“We’re attracting older students these days that are looking for a place to connect,” Ms. Joosten said. “So if campuses are trying to connect with, let’s say, the 25-and-older crowd, then yes, Twitter is a very good marketing tool.”

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