November 6, 2009

Why today’s Twitter trending topics miss the point

The trending topics side panel on Twitter throws up some oddities from time to time from quirky random stuff to the just plain ridiculous.

Yet, it also leads to interesting insights as well, for example, this afternoon top trending topics included ‘Facebook 33’, ‘Twitter 31’, and ‘MySpace 26’.

What does it all mean? Well, apart from the fact that Twitter can be far too introverted and self-obsessed for its own good at times, the topics all represent the median age of users on each social network.

The results were published in a report published by Pew Internet last month. Why it has only surfaced on Twitter today is something I haven’t quite fathomed yet. This is what it had to say:

“The median age of a Twitter user is 31, which has remained stable over the past year. The median age for MySpace is now 26, down from 27 in May 2008, and the median age for LinkedIn is now 39, down from 40. Facebook, however, is graying a bit: the median age for this social network site is now 33, up from 26 in May 2008.”

As with most data that surveys online behaviour, the report samples trends in the US so it’s at odds with anecdotal evidence in the UK such as Twitter being very popular with older age groups, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

However, what shouldn’t be lost sight of is that while social networks are increasing their reach and the size of their audiences at an impressive rate, what they’re really good at doing is offering brands and agencies opportunities to run highly targeted activity that connects with engaged communities.

If the conversation turns to averages and the weight of an audience, we might lose sight of the real inherent value offered by platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.