Sunday, June 14, 2009

Twidiots: The Fact and Fiction of Social Media Demographics

I'm surprised by the amount of ignorance that exists today about Social Media demographics. Considering how easily accessible statistics and studies are, there is no excuse for marketers and those interested in communications to hold incorrect beliefs, make erroneous statements, or base decisions upon outdated assumptions. But whether due to laziness, fear, or bias, some people are saying awfully dumb things about Social Media.

First Twidiot: In an article about Michelob's use of Twitter, George Hacker, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said, "Twitter is for kids, and this is a way to put these brand names in their faces." (Full disclosure: I do not work with Michelob, but I am involved with the marketing of beer brands; my client has an unwavering commitment and takes constant and proactive steps to target their marketing messages to the appropriate adult audience.)

Whether Hacker is simply misinformed or allowed his passion to get in the way of the truth, his contention about Twitter is demonstrably and thoroughly incorrect. I expect better from a guy who is a director at an organization with "science" in its name.

Quantcast's data cannot tell us specifically about the 21+ audience on Twitter because they divide age groups at 18 and not 21, the legal drinking age, but quantcast's data still paints a conclusive picture. Just 6% of Twitter site visitors are under 18. More than half are over 35 years old.

Other data reinforces the facts about Twitter's adult audience composition: According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the median Twitter user is 31, compared to 26 for Facebook and 40 for LinkedIn. And comScore reveals that adults 25 to 54 over-index on Twitter compared to the general Internet population. Children 12 to 17 under-index at just 59%.

Not only isn't "Twitter for kids," but we can confidently conclude the demographics of Twitter fit the conditions of the Beer Institute Advertising and Marketing Code, which requires that beer advertisements be placed only in media where at least 70 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be at or above the legal drinking age. Mr. Hacker is simply wrong, and his statement is of the type that reinforces incorrect assumptions about Social Media participants.

While researching this blog post, I ran across twidiot number two: J.R. Davis, who writes for, the site for Arkansas radio station KNWA. Perhaps I shouldn't get bent out of shape about something said on an Arkansas news site--it's not as if a significant number of brand marketers visit this site--but I expect more care and attentiveness to detail from journalists. Plus, Davis' error is one common among many marketers--a failure to recognize how rapidly Social Media demographics are changing.

Davis wrote the article "Internet Fatigue," which states, "Here's the kicker... The 14-24 year old demographic represents over 65 percent of users (of MySpace and Facebook)." Davis' fact isn't so much wrong as it is terribly dated and thus not accurate or appropriate for an article published in June 2009. The statistic cited came from a Rapleaf study performed a year ago. Has anything changed in the period from June 10, 2008 (the date of the study) to June 11, 2009 (the date of the article)?

In January 2009, wrote that the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook was the 35-54 year old demo, with a 276.4% growth rate the past 6 months. The same report notes that the 55+ demo had a 194.3% growth rate and that users 21+ represent 66.3% of all Facebook users. Had Davis cared to do any up-to-date fact checking at all rather than repeat a statistic from the dark ages of Social Media--and yes, a year matters quite a lot when referencing Social Networking data--he or she might have visited quantcast and found that while teens 12-17 are the largest demographic, those over 18 account for almost three-quarters of's traffic. Over two-thirds of MySpace's traffic comes from those 18 or older.

With facts and information so easy to come by, it's frustrating to see comments like this, from Philadelphia 76ers’ communications director, Michael Preston: “We are not yet convinced that our target demographics for season ticket [buyers] and partial plans are totally dialed into the social networking scene.” Why not ask, find out where your consumers are engaged in Social Media, and become convinced?

The implications of incorrect assumptions and outdated information can be substantial to brand health. The failure to recognize the growth and changes in Social Media is resulting in a lack of urgency around this channel. For example, while “time spent watching TV is virtually unchanged" and "time spent social networking has grown 93% since 2006," marketers seem to be slow to increase Social Media in their marketing mix. According to one recent report, marketers still consider Social Media experimental and are said to be budgeting less than $100,000 for social media efforts over the next year.

While companies like Dell are creating revenue and positively impacting their brand in Social Media, most others have barely gotten started. As noted in an April 2009 article on
"Thousands of brands from large, medium and small companies... crossed that hurdle a few years ago of making a Web site. But they are not yet waking up to the fact that the Internet is not just about parking your information somewhere and hoping people stumble across it somehow. You have to be active for anyone to notice.... Companies obviously know Twitter and blogs and Facebook. They just don't know how they fit in. "
The facts are out there. There is no longer any excuse to be a Twidiot. The time has passed when being unsure of where Social Media fits for your audience was merely a casual problem to be solved as priorities permit. In late 2009, failing to understand how our increasingly social world challenges and benefits brands has become an act of shortsightedness or deliberate ignorance that threatens consumer perception, brand value, market share, and the bottom line.


Jeff said...

Great data. I don't think it will take as long for twitter to take hold as other sites, especially once people really learn how to use it for something other than the stated "what are you doing right now" purpose. I think users are eventually going to come up with a better use for the technology through digital evolution.

Kara Martens said...

Great post. Good social media strategy is based on research, and you're shooting yourself in the foot if the very facts you're relying on are incorrect.

Augie Ray said...

Jeff and Kara,

Thanks for the comments!

For as many headlines as I've seen about Social Media demographics broadening and about how Twitter skews old, I am absolutely appalled at how many times I keep hearing "that isn't my market." Just this past week, I've heard TWICE from a marketing professional who's said Social Media appeals to people who are too young for their brands, and in both cases they are absolutely incorrect.

The need for education will never go away, I suppose.