Monday, June 29, 2009

New study on teens' media habits

Nielsen has just released a new research report entitled "How Teens Use Media." It's a must-read for anyone who clings to the notion that teens are abandoning traditional media to spend time on Facebook and Twitter.

The report busts a number of myths:
  • Teens use media 10 screens at a time. Not true.
  • Teens are abandoning TV for new online media. Not true.
  • Teens are driving the growth of online media. Not true.
  • Teens are the most avid Internet users. Not true.
  • Teens' online habits are different from adults'. Not true.
  • Teens don't listen to radio or read newspapers. Not true.
  • Traditional advertising doesn't work with teens. Not true.
So, this got me thinking. Why is it that there's a new book written, seemingly every day, on the death of traditional media and the notion that the only way to reach teens is through non-traditional means? Several theories come to mind.

First, we don't really understand this market. We think we do, based on our own perceptions, but not on facts. (My youngest son, who's just a little past his teen years, dropped his Facebook account a few weeks ago. I quizzed him about this, because I thought at the time, "This is strange. He's supposed to be really into Facebook. That's what young people do, right?" He dropped it because he felt he was spending too much time with it and it wasn't offering him much meaningful information. Hmm.)

Second, we tend to use projection to decide what the trends are rather than analyzing what's actually happening. In other words, "I'm really into Twitter, all my friends are really into Twitter, most of the business books I see in the bookstore are about Twitter, therefore Twitter is taking over the world."

Third, as I noted in my last post, it's fashionable to latch onto what seems like a trend, write a hot book about it, go on a speaking circuit claiming something outrageous like the death of the newspaper industry at the hands of online media, sell lots of books, then take the money and build a 15,000 square foot home in Aspen. A lot of gullible and not-too-careful marketing practitioners get swept up in this hype, then unwittingly promote the myths themselves.

Fourth, it may have something to do with parenting itself. Today's parents are far more involved in their kids' lives than was true a generation ago. And as these "helicopter kids" become the early adopters of media like Twitter, Facebook, texting, and so forth, moms and dads are right there, trying to make sense of it and attach some profound meaning to what's going on. (When I was a kid, I don't think most parents were aware that a social revolution had happened until a decade or so after it had happened!)

The lesson, quite possibly, is that the real revolution now taking place is happening more on the business shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble, rather than in the media habits of Americans.

Friday, June 26, 2009

On social networks vs. traditional media

This is not a technology blog, but technology has always factored into media. (If you question this, read up on Johannes Gutenberg. He was a technology guy!) The current fashion among some communication writers these days is to write books and articles about how the new social media are replacing traditional media. Television is dead! Radio is a thing of the past! Newspapers are no longer efficient! They're all being replaced by Facebook and Twitter and MySpace. It's because people now demand interaction, the pundits claim, and the old media just don't offer interactive communication. Blah, blah, blah.

Let's review some communication history:
  • Television was to replace the cinema shortly after WWII.
  • FM radio was to replace AM radio in the early 1970s.
  • Cable TV was to replace broadcast television in the late 1970s. Later, the threat was from video cassettes.
  • Personal computers were to replace all this stuff toward the end of the last century.
Do you see a recognizable pattern here?

The fact is that throughout communication history, media have adapted rather than been replaced as technology advances the way we communicate. Sure, things change. But claiming that TV, radio, print, or other communication forms are now irrelevant because people are using Twitter is simply narrow-minded.

One reason I'm certain that the so-called traditional media are going to be around for a while is this: People's reasons for using social networks are different than their reasons for using traditional media. Television, radio, film, and print all serve a sort-of town crier function, reporting information and offering entertainment that have mass appeal.

That's not what Twitter and Facebook try to do. The social media are used to connect individuals and unique groups together. They play a social interaction function. They help people have conversations with one another. The fact is, media consumers want and use BOTH types of media.

If we want to talk about where the true impact of social networks will be, we should consider the U.S. Postal System or the telephone rather than TV, radio, magazines and newspapers. That's where the train wreck will happen.