6 Tips for Using Twitter to Reach Teens
Rise of the Twitter Teenager
Rise of the Twitter Teenager

As I was sitting at Jason Falls’ SxSW party on a rainy night in Austin, waiting for a friend, I checked Twitter. I was wondering what was trending from SxSW.

The #1 trending topic on Friday night was this: #GetAustin2Philly.
Teenage Trending Topics

What did this mean? Bring SxSW to Philadelphia? I was intrigued, so I checked out the tweets.

Rise of the Twitter Teenager Tweets

The #1 trending topic on the Friday night of SxSW Interactive was about … a bunch of teenagers trying to get Austin Mahone, a 15 year old YouTube singing sensation, to appear in Philadelphia.

Number One!

Wow. That’s a lot of teenagers tweeting a lot of tweets.

But wait – wasn’t the common wisdom that teenagers aren’t tweeting? That they prefer texting and Facebook over everything else, and Twitter was never going to catch on with them?


Teens are increasingly turning to Twitter to follow artists and pop culture icons, take part in (or create) memes and trends, and express their innermost thoughts. More and more, teens are also using Twitter as a way to escape their parents’ prying eyes, as parents are far more likely to have a Facebook account than Twitter; it seems many parents don’t realize that their kids are even tweeting, and kids are keeping their accounts private, away from their parents and sometimes also from those who might bully them online. Twitter also allows for anonymity, so teens can take on new (or multiple) personalities, and further isolate themselves from parents or unwanted peers.

According to Pew, teen use of digital media is growing overall; 80% of teens use online social networks. An interesting Pew statistic which may have led to the #GetAustin2Philly trending topic is that more than 2x the number of girls use Twitter: 22% of girls vs. 10% of boys. For teenagers, Twitter is an outlet for fandom, gossip, and chatter; get @mentioned by a celebrity or teen idol and your popularity is sure to rise. Twitter is now a digital autograph book.

Along with the rise of teens on Twitter, marketers who need to reach teens must change their tactics. It’s no longer wise to assume this demographic is not on Twitter, so for brands who were hedging their bets against Twitter or only dipping their toe in the water, it’s time to go full-force.

Marketing to teens is always a delicate balance, as teens are turned off by overt marketing and notoriously brand fickle. Here are some thoughts on using Twitter to market to the 13-19 set.

  1. Have a voice. Increasingly, customers are looking for brands to be interesting, human and personable. Building a brand voice that is clever, creative and sustainable will appeal to teenagers as well as adults.
  2. Be real. Teens have their bullshit alert on high, and they’re becoming increasingly savvy consumers, so don’t assume you can pull anything over on them. Be honest, transparent and open with them and they’ll show you their power to rally friends (and frenemies) to your cause.
  3. Be conversational. Broadcasting never works well on Twitter, but even less so for teens. Go for a high ratio of @replies to regular tweets, jumping in to existing conversations and creating your own. Ask questions. Ask for advice and input. Look for questions to answer. And make it about everything but your product. If you do conversation well, you’ll get plenty of product love as a result.
  4. Learn what’s cool. But don’t overdo it. It’s hard for an adult marketer to admit that we really don’t know what’s cool anymore. But in order to win over this group, we have to figure it out. Enlist appropriately-aged kids, cousins and neighbors to throw concepts at and get feedback. Be careful not to go too far, or you could see a backlash.
  5. Make them feel special. Teens don’t want to just be another follower, they want to be followed and recognized. If you haven’t had a policy of following everyone who follows you, it may be time to rethink that strategy (avoid obvious webcam girls and spammers, of course). Tweet @ your teen followers when you can: thank them for following, RT them, mention them on #FollowFriday.
  6. Use promotions, but sparingly. Teens are quick to jump on demo-appropriate “tweet this to win” promos (they’ll do it even for a t-shirt, unlike jaded adults) but the potential for promo fatigue is high. Teens who have protected accounts or are tweeting anonymously are also less likely to ask followers to “please RT.”

I’ve been studying this demographic quite a bit lately, as I’m creating the first-of-its-kind conference for tween and teen bloggers and their families this summer, the Digital Family Summit (and it happens to be in Philly). If you’re someone who knows a lot about marketing to teens, raising digital kids, or you know tweens/teens who blog, I encourage you to consider applying, or ask them to apply, to speak at the conference. And if you’re the parent of a kid who blogs, vlogs or creates other forms of digital media, I hope to see you and your teen blogger there!




About the Author

Stephanie Schwab
Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at CrackerjackMarketing.com, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.
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  • Baratundew

    Interesting to say the least. Great read! Thanks for the information.

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  • Lauren

    I find this article to be very interesting.  Targeting teenagers is a difficult thing to do and we talk about it a lot in my advertising classes, I think it is interesting to use twitter to reach them.  So many companies only use twitter as a PR tool but using it for advertising looks to be the next step for twitter.

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  • Sarah Bauer

    Twitter and Facebook are becoming valuable channels for high school education purposes. Teachers are facing classrooms of young people who have not experienced a time before the Internet connection. Integrating Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube into school curriculums has become a fascinating discourse. A grade 8 teacher could have students create Twitter accounts as characters in “The Outsiders” or create a Facebook timeline of the Civil War. It’s about adapting to current modes of learning ( Google, Wikipedia, etc) and recognizing that the Internet influence isn’t going away anytime soon.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking article.
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  • I understand the main concept of this post, but I think citing trending topics is something to be treacherous of when making the argument about the volume of Twitter teens out there. Yes the Pew study does explain that the amount of teens on Twitter has doubled, but that does not explain the phenomena that occurred during SXSW. 

    I think for that, teens trending, you need to understand the habits of how teens are using social networking, and how their habits impact how trending topics occur. Trending topics are not only caused by shear volume alone; for something to trend it also has to do with the spike in conversation seen in common word clusters. When you account for that, it makes more sense why so many teen memes trend on Twitter; because, as you might see at any Austin Mahone concert, teens (and yes, teenage girls more specifically) are more likely to make declarations impulsively, and usually with common language/diction choices. This goes for the common high pitched scream heard at music venues around the world, and for their Twitter usage habits online. 

    This means that teens can cause that spike in conversation on Twitter, because they are speaking in unison, which doesn’t necessarily have to do with the volume of teens on Twitter, but often is noticed by Twitter as an emerging trending topic. This is an important distinction for SM marketers/managers to understand, because not only does it change how you would approach targeting (demographics are most likely different that assumed), but it would also change the tactics used (you could be talking all the right ways, but if you are speaking in a content space that teens trended one day, you may be talking to no one the next day). 

  • Chris G

    This post is about two years late to the point.

    • Care to expand on why Chris? Would be more productive than just criticizing. ;-)

  • Cool post, Stephanie! Interesting to learn about the shifting tide in use patterns. My radar doesn’t encompass teen/family issues the way yours does, but it did strike me noteworthy when my 9th grader told me each student in one of her classes (I forget which!) had to set up and maintain a Twitter account for the trimester. 

    Funny side note – I remember her commenting, “There are some stupid people that just tweet about going to bed or what they ate – what’s the point in that? Tweet something I care about.”

    • @heatherrast:disqus I’m fascinated that your 9th grader is tweeting for class. How do you, as a parent, react to that?


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