Why Online Marketers Might Be Wrong About Collegiate Consumers: Twitter is for Fun, Not Business!

I recently received this press release from the PRSSA chapter at my alma mater, and found the results interesting enough that I wanted to share with you.  Basically, a research team found out that social media marketing might not be as hard-hitting in the college crowd as we thought.  Granted, the sample size is a bit on the small side, but I do think the concept behind the research is worth noting: many college students only use these sites to interact with their friends, not with companies and brands.  It’s hard for me to imagine this since it’s what I spend the majority of my day doing, but I’m really interested to see what you all have to say after reading the press release:

A recent survey conducted by a research team from the Walter E. Griscti chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America at the University of South Florida reveals that this generation does not understand the business applications of new social media sites like Twitter.

Of the 250 Florida college students surveyed, 99 percent use social networking sites. However, only 15 percent have an account with Twitter and 34 percent have never even heard of the site.Some 58 percent of the students who have Twitter accounts never use the service or rarely log-on.

“There is a stereotype that because students are always plugged in that they understand the strategic uses of social media sites,” said Kelli Burns, professor at the University of South Florida and author of the forthcoming Celeb 2.0: How Social Media Foster our Fascination with Popular Culture. “Businesses have a misconception that students know how to use Twitter; these findings prove otherwise.”

The research team survey results reveal two distinct findings. First, college students are not active Twitter users. More importantly, they are not interested in interacting with brands through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

A common misconception is that sites like Twitter offer an innovative way for advertisers and companies to interact with the young demographic. However, 75 percent of students say they would be “not at all interested in” or “don’t care about” following brands, companies, or organizations on Twitter.

Many companies assume that social media enables college students to be smarter consumers. Sites like Twitter, social media analysts claim, act as a medium for the new two-way communication between brands and consumers. Given the media chatter about the importance of social networking for corporations, there is a disconnect between the promise of social media and reality.

Results reveal that a mere 6 percent of college students follow companies and only 4 percent follow brands on social media sites. These findings suggest that if corporations and communicators continue to bet on college students using social media sites effectively, they may come up empty handed.

The fact is that college students use social media sites primarily for keeping in touch with friends, not for networking or brand interaction. Until Millennials become less weary of this interaction, the gap between what business professionals expect and what college students actually know will continue to widen.

Do you think this report is accurate? Do brands communicating online miss the mark when attempting to engage with collegiate consumers?


11 thoughts on “Why Online Marketers Might Be Wrong About Collegiate Consumers: Twitter is for Fun, Not Business!

  1. Just kidding Meg, here is my response:

    In my opinion, social media/networking sites can make us smarter consumers but only if we choose to use them to be as such. Our generation is almost numb to ads on internet sites; it’s simple for us to ignore them and use the internet for what we want – exactly what the article says – keeping in touch with friends. I definitely think to a certain extent, social media/marketing companies think there is serious substance in Facebook/Twitter as awesome marketing tools, I’m not saying there is none but in reality, it’s not the gold mine they believe it to be.

    I don’t know about you but a good old fashioned Bud Light blimp over a baseball game gets me every time.

    The trick is how do social media marketing sites get us to want to follow brands and companies? Answer – free stuff!!

  2. I think it is too early to say for sure, but the results from this survey seem very different than the demographics published elsewhere. I have a feeling the small sample size really limited this survey. In my experience, it isn’t an overwhelming majority using these sites and interacting with brands, but to say 75 percent are “not interested at all,” throws the results into question in my book.

  3. As a college student myself, and knowing my peers, both at the University and outside, this is extremely true. I disagree with blueinamerica. 25% interested in social media is pretty accurate. I’m 22 and I’m facebook friends with almost everyone I went to high school with. Everyone has one. However, outside of that, a very small minority use other social media tools. Twitter has been very uncommon until recently I’ve seen some people adding it. However, I probably only know 5 people my age that use twitter on a daily basis. I find these results very true from my experiences.

  4. I completely agree with Sophia Hyde. I am also a 22 year old college student and while I use Facebook to communicate with friends I do not use any other social media tools. I only know of about 3 friends who currently use twitter.

  5. @Patrick – I think you raise a truly valid point, one that advertisers and marketers face every day, and that is how do we ensure our messages break through the barriers consumers have established. Our main problem used to be trying to break through the noise, but now the noise is easily muted entirely.

    It’s so true that free stuff draws more attention to a product, but I wonder what effect it truly has on the bottom line? For example, that De-friend someone on Facebook and get a free Whopper campaign was an online, viral success – but I haven’t gone to Burger King…

  6. @sophia and @think pink: While Facebook is still the number one social network (by far), I have definitely seen Twitter grow immensely in the past few months. I’ve seen a lot of my friends from college creating accounts, and I’m sure this trend will continue with more and more celebrities (which is a complete fad in my opinion) start jumping on the bandwagon.

    What’ll be really interesting is to see if these new users – the ones who probably aren’t as invested in social media trends in general – will use it the way the early adopters do: as a link-sharing, conversation starting, engagement and professional networking tool that could foster interesting dialogues between companies and consumers, too. Unfortunately, I see it being used as a glorified Facebook status update which really limits the value one can receive from Twitter.

  7. This study is way off, as are most of the businesses trying to leverage Twitter and other social media. These companies are trying to make Facebook and Twitter work like TV instead of changing their methods to work like Facebook and Twitter.

    No, I don’t follow any companies on Twitter, though if certain ones were on there I might. That’s besides the point though. Months ago when I complained to my followers about a purchase from the Rhapsody music store being messed up I was @replied minutes later by one of their reps. I wasn’t following them, but they were following the conversation, and more importantly they were participating in it.

    The same goes for Facebook. The Burger King deal was interesting, but it’s not a sustainable marketing plan for many obvious reasons. I don’t pretend to know the best practices for FB, but the fan pages are great opportunities for truly new kinds of consumer engagement. That may be special deals, sneak peaks at products, or something else that makes good use of the medium.

    The basic idea is that TV will always be better than Twitter for getting the most eyes on a message. Social media enable more depth and personal communication that can turn opinion leaders into loyal customers. They have to think differently.

  8. I love the insight here, Meg. While we marketers often assume people want to interact with brands, we may be overreaching.

    The trouble, I believe, begins with faulty assumptions and fishbowl shortsightedness. It’s a common mistake: Marketers rush to a new medium, listen to other marketer first adopters rave about access to brands, then assume everyone will behave the same way.

    Small, unrepresentative sample + faulty logic = bad conclusion.

    I think the so-called “best practices” of social media are faulty for the same reasons. Those who make the “rules” assume what works for US, what works TODAY, is the way EVERYONE should do it FOREVER. It’s another case of assuming (to a fault) that early adopters are representative of human behavior.

    Thanks for sharing this stuff, Meg.

  9. Interesting survey. The sample size was small and I would love to see a much larger sample. Either way, the survey should also attempt to gauge how many people “religiously” utilize the social networks.

    A perfect example of effective use of a social network can be seen in the world of politics. Avid fans of John McCain follow his twitter account to see the “pork barrel” spending lists he sends out. Politicians everywhere use twitter and facebook to rope in supporters, volunteers, and ensure they have an effective up to date avenue to spread news the way they like to see it. Trust me, social networking has drastically improved turnout and information flows in that area.

    While companies and brands might focus too much on the paid ads in facebook, they could benefit from the viral nature of fan pages and twitter integrated facebook status updates. They require almost no staffing, little upkeep, and they are free [for now]. The technology is growing, improving and becoming much more popular; social networking changes rapidly and could be completely different next year.

  10. As someone who works on a university campus and does marketing to college students, I agree with the results of this study. Aside from a small subset of advertising/marketing/public relations majors, most students do not appear aware of or interested in the strategic uses of Twitter…yet.

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