I recently read an article on USA Today about a survey from Pew Internet & American Life Project that revealed that teens in the U.S. are not as interested in using Twitter as most people expected: only 8% of 800 American teens ages 12 to 17 who took the survey reported using Twitter, while social networks like Facebook have penetrated this demographic with a 73% high rate. These results seemed counterintuitive to me since common sense tells me that teens are usually the first adopters of new technology trends, especially in social media.
While reading about the perception of Twitter by teens in the report, who described it as “lame” and “feeding the beast”, I think this phenomena of teens preferring social networks could be explained by the entry cost, exit cost and voice theory discussed in Professor William’s class last week. The theory states that the higher the entry cost and exit cost is to participate in a community, either online or offline, and the more a participant feels their voice is being heard, the stickier the community is.
For the Twittersphere itself as a community, the entry cost to this community is definitely very low, it only takes a simple registration process that has been simplified to just a user name, email address and password, especially compared to Facebook’s more established profiles that rely on your pre-existing real-life social network to join online. Once you join Twitter, because everybody’s tweets seem to flood at you with little organization, it is so hard to manage any real conversations. Your own voice may be difficult to hear by followers, even if you have hundred followers, they might each be following another hundred people. The exit cost for Twitter is also very low. Twitter is simply providing a venue for public speaking, and people do not leave much information like personal photos and conversations with friends like they would on social networks like Facebook. Twitter’s genes of low entry cost, difficulty in being heard, and low exit cost mean Twitter as a platform can not achieve the same penetration rate as social networks have among teenagers, who prefer tighter, more controlled communication. Twitter does not seem to be as sticky in people’s lives as social networks are, not just for teenagers’ group. It is undeniable Twitter has its own unique advantages; But without addressing these shortcomings, it is not impossible that one day Twitter may be replaced by other newcomers in the real time communication field like Google Buzz or its old foes like Facebook and other social network sites which continue to strengthen this “Twitter”-like function on their sites.