How teenagers really consume media
With all the talk of teenagers’ online habits in the news, we got our most knowledgeable man in to blog on the matter. 17 year old Adam Bernstein is an A-level student currently on work experience with We Are Social, and here are his thoughts.
It’s been the buzz of the social media sphere this week: how Matthew Robson, a 15 year-old intern at Morgan Stanley, had written a report which had shocked and dazzled city bosses in equal measure.
The trouble is, as another teenager – admittedly a slightly older one – Robson’s arguments do not hold true. There is much value in Robson’s report – it does provide an interesting insight into how one particular teenager consumes media. But there is a danger in taking isolated examples and extrapolating them to be indicative of society.
Robson’s report is supposed to be focussed on the teen market, yet too often he ignores important economic & social factors. For example, the argument that teenagers don’t buy newspapers because they’re too expensive is an interesting one. But this argument is based on one assumption which underscores Robson’s entire report: teenagers are independent of their parents. But this simply isn’t the case – most people I know who do read a newspaper read it because it’s in the house. Teenagers probably wouldn’t pay 80p a day for a newspaper but it’s not an issue because in many cases they don’t have to.
If Robson wanted to know the real reason teenagers don’t read newspapers, it is more about content. Teenagers will consistently have their lifestyle treated with derision in the papers; but how often will a viable alternative be offered? With the continual damning of teens in the papers, it’s no wonder teenagers don’t read them.
But it was Robson’s claims about Twitter which were the most ignorant: “Twitter is pointless to teens” screamed the headlines. It’s true to say that teens (on the whole) don’t use Twitter but his fixation on the costs of texting missed a crucial point: only 5% of Tweets are made via SMS – the success of applications such as Tweetdeck and Twitterfox show how it is really used.
The reality is that teens don’t use Twitter because of demographics: to make a broad – and somewhat unfair – generalisation, teenagers use Facebook, whereas Twitter is used by older people. Essentially, teens follow other teens so it’s inevitable that most of the age-group stays away from Twitter. Twitter’s relevance to the younger market is diminished because many perceive a ‘tweet’ as being the same as a Facebook Status Update – they don’t see the need for both.
Robson’s report is useful for the many truths it does contain: Teenagers doing all they can to avoid advertising is an important point which the ad companies will be trying hard to counteract. But Robson’s suggestion that teenagers are motivated above all by cost is a spurious one: teenage consumption of media probably does have something to do with money; but most teens don’t have a full-time job, many are in full-time education and are supported by their parents – it is they who pay for everything so his argument that costs are the most important thing to teens is wrong.
But, as Suw Charman-Anderson notes, the main problem with Robson’s report is that he thinks his experiences are emblematic of teenagers as a whole. The reality is that there is much greater diversity in the teen market than Robson suggests. Teenagers are an eclectic bunch – and Robson would do well to remember this.
Update: I’ve just come across an interesting report by Forrester about this exact topic (for those interested in US rather than UK data, there’s also a good presentation from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Nielsen’s recent How Teens Use Media report). Robson’s argument that all teenagers are always listening to music, particularly free online music, is kicked into touch:
With its findings suggesting socio-economic factors are unimportant in how teenagers consume media, Robson’s arguments that costs are the primary factor in deciding what teens do is shown to be false.
But what is most interesting for companies is that teenagers are using social media for the same reasons as the population as a whole. Possibly this means they don’t need tailored advertising; more probably, it means that in time teenagers will drift over to Twitter – Facebook was originally intended for Harvard University students yet is now used worldwide.
Having said all of this, the accuracy of the report does have to be considered – speaking to 261 13-19 year olds and making assumptions that this data covers society as a whole is questionable. But at least it’s more accurate than Robson’s report which was simply the findings of one person.
Update 2: Dubit have also added some stats into the mix with their How UK Youth Really Consume Media Report: Newspapers & Magazines and Twitter