Miley Quits Twitter - Tweetfree Tweens And The Future of Social Media

Ian Rhett speaking at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference
Ian Rhett

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October 9, 2009

Miley Quits Twitter - Tweetfree Tweens And The Future of Social Media

Miley Cyrus closed her account and quit Twitter with an apparent DIY Youtube rap video called "Goodbye Twitter," wherein she oh-so-eloquently extolls the value of quality in-person time over endlessly updating a stream of personal trivia as the reason for leaving the service. Does Miley's move foreshadow the complete abandonment of social media for tweens and teens?

Well, despite evidence that suggest that tweens aren't really using Twiitter in the first place, Miley's maneuver might just be another step in a brilliant series of steps to keep her in the public conversation.  Indeed, her trending stats have doubled since the announcement, and it's a fresh round of mentions and articles in blogs, newspapers and magazines.

There's another side to this story, too, though. Given that pop culture celebrity is as much a reflection of culture as much as it is an influence, it's worth thinking about how (young) people these days use technology. 

It's a brazen move to kiss Twitter goodbye so abruptly, especially with over 2 million followers.  According to reports, her dad's pleading with her to return to Twitter. His heart must be achey and breakeying again, this time over his daughter's dismissal of a direct line of communication to literally MILLIONS of fans, which Cyrus Family Industries has been busily building through online, shopping, and of course, the media. Certainly he, of all people, understands the value of that connection and can sense the possibility inherent in it. But Miley doesn't. 

Apparently, neither do the vast majority of her fans - a generation that has never known a world without instant messaging. A notable outlier in Twitter's demographics, tweens haven't really picked up the lifestream fad. They text, not tweet.

And not insignificantly, the generation just ahead of Miley's - 18-24 year olds, the typical "early adopter" generation. doesn't appear to be driving Twitter's growth, either.

So what does this mean for the future of social media technology?  Without going crosseyed gazing too deeply into a crystal ball (not one person had ever heard of Twitter four years ago), it's worth noting that kids these days are opting for direct connections with texts rather than a public stream of updates. Miley's message to her masses underscores the idea that real connections are important to today's young people. And she chose a much more "personal" format her audience is particularly used to - video - to do it. Tweens appear to prefer many 1-to-1 conversations over 1 big giant many-to-many conversation.  It's certainly encouraging to think that young people are growing up valuing human relationship.

It's implicitly too early to tell how the next round of communication innovation will change the landscape (yet again), but it's certain that it will, and Tweenagers today will be weighing new alternatives against their current communication modalities. So far, Twitter hasn't cut their mustard. 

I think there's another implication, here, too, for world-changers. When you consider the influence a 7 year old can have on an adult (as anyone with an adorable 7 year old niece or daughter can tell you), the idea that speaking directly to young people is an important consideration for anyone wanting to create sustainable positive change in the world.  You just aren't gonna be able to do that on Twitter.  If your mission is reaching young people, a social media strategy will have to consider alternatives to micro-blogging.  (Hint: half of all children play a video game daily).

The children aren't just "our future" - we also need to find ways to enroll them in changing the world today. It's theirs, too.  In another blogpost, I'll share the story of a 5 year old in my neighborhood who runs (with his dad's help) a glass recycyling service.  The "thank you" card we got for subscribing moved me to tears and is on my refrigerator as a hand-drawn reminder of grace.

One of the reasons cited for young people not being more engaged politically isn't because of disinterest, rather it's a belief that their voice isn't listened to.  It's hard not to notice a child saying "please take care of the earth," and to not be moved by it. 

Certainly, young people are finding their own ways in a networked world to express themselves.  The reviled "Obama as the Joker" image that found its way to the cover of Time magazine was a 20 year old who abstained from voting for Kucinich because he didn't think his vote would have mattered.  A young Alabama girl held a peace vigil on the capital steps in Montgomery, Alabama for her 16th birthday and got national media attention for it. She also happens to run a website, Peace Takes Courage that gets 10's of thousands of visitors a month.

I wouldn't be surprised as more kids find ways to share their voice.  The means are certainly more accessible to their generation than ever.  And it's interesting to note that something like Twitter is not one of them.  Will they Wave?  Stay tuned to something other than Twitter to find out.

What's your opinion on kids as political influencers inside or outside the home? And what do you think are the ethics of communicating to/with/through them? Discuss in the comments, please.  I'm interested in hearing other's thoughts.

 

 

 

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Ian, This post reminded me of one of my favourite songs, What kind of amazing grace? by you!  So I listened to it again while I read this.

I'd love to hear more about the bottle-recycling programme and the card from the 5 year-old.