Authors should blog. Authors should get on Facebook and set up fan pages. Authors should tweet. And many YA authors do, setting up themed blogs, tweeting their favorite books, putting up book trailers and extra content. But just who is the content reaching?
According to a recent study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, teen blogging and tweeting are down. Interestingly, the researchers list teens as 12 – 17 years old and young adults as the 18 – 29 set. Key facts from the report:
- Blogging is less popular among teens and young adults now than it was 4 years ago. Think kids are still reading and commenting? Maybe, maybe not – teen blog commenting stats have also dropped.
- 14% of online teens now say they blog, down from 28% in 2006.
- In December 2007, 24% of online 18-29 year olds reported blogging, compared with 7% of those thirty and older.
- By 2009, just 15% of internet users ages 18-29 maintain a blog–a nine percentage point drop in two years.
- 73% of wired American teens now use social networking websites, a significant increase from previous surveys. Just over half of online teens (55%) used social networking sites in November 2006 and 65% did so in February 2008.
- 72% of online 18-29 year olds use social networking websites, nearly identical to the rate among teens.
- The specific sites on which young adults maintain their profiles are different from those used by older adults: Young profile owners are much more likely to maintain a profile on MySpace (66% of young profile owners do so, compared with just 36% of those thirty and older) but less likely to have a profile on LinkedIn (7% vs. 19%).
- 8% of internet users ages 12-17 use Twitter. far less common than sending or receiving text messages as 66% of teens do, or going online for news and political information, done by 62% of online teens.
- Older teens are more likely to use Twitter than their younger counterparts; 10% of online teens ages 14-17 do so, compared with 5% of those ages 12-13.
- High school age girls are particularly likely to use Twitter. Thirteen percent of online girls ages 14-17 use Twitter, compared with 7% of boys that age.
- Young adults lead the way when it comes to using Twitter or status updating. One-third of online 18-29 year olds post or read status updates.
While the report is good news for authors with older adult audiences (blogging, social networking, and twitter usage are up for internet users 30+ ) it poses an interesting question for YA authors – if teens aren’t using the same services as their favorite authors, how can we connect with them?
Last year, Matthew Robson, a 15 year old intern at Morgan Stanley, wrote a report about trending technology and teens. While the report is largely based on Robson’s own observations and anecdotal evidence, it provides some insight into teenage tech habits. According to Robson, Facebook beats Twitter in the teen market because,
Facebook is about connecting people, and sharing information with each other. The way my friends and I see it, Facebook is a closed network. It’s a network of people and friends that you trust to be connected to, and to share information like your email address, AIM screen name, and phone number. You know who’s getting your status messages, because you either approved or added each person to your network.
Twitter, he points out, is the opposite,
It’s a completely open network that makes teenagers feel “unsafe” about posting their content there, because who knows who will read it. Sure, you get emails notifying you when you have new followers, but that doesn’t compare to the level of detail you get when someone on Facebook adds you, and you get their information.
Robson makes a valid point – our kids are clever, web-savvy individuals. In recent years, teens have been inundated with warnings about online friendships and web-stalking and it’s great to see they’ve taken it on board. But what if the teen resistance to Twitter is more basic than that? Adolescence is all about belonging, finding a niche, expressing individuality, and forming friendships–key components to the Facebook experience. Twitter, on the other hand, makes it hard to form meaningful connections, especially as a large percentage of tweeple are out solely to promote their own content (Get your free credit report now! Learn how I made millions with this simple tool developed by a stay at home mom in just 93 days!). Finding followers can also be difficult–and why post regular updates if no one is following you? While it’s possible some teens still use Twitter as a way to keep with their favorite actors, musicians (and hopefully authors) it’s unlikely. There are easier ways–gossip magazines, tabloids, online news services, and personal/professional sites–which don’t require attention 24/7.
Why spend so much time thinking about why teens prefer Facebook over Twitter? (And if teens don’t tweet, then who’s following Ashton Kutcher?) Teen reactions to both services provide insight into what teens do want, even crave – connection and community. This seems like a big ask – what’s a YA author to do? (Aside from writing excellent, readable, relevant books, that is.)
Start by seeing what’s out there. Google the popular stuff and see what fans are producing themselves. Harry Potter and Twilight spawned huge online forums and communities–and while you mightn’t have such a big fan base you can still learn from their sites. Google yourself, too–you may be surprised by what’s out there.
If you’re web-savvy (or have a friend/spouse/liger who is) encourage readers to talk about your books by adding a forum to your website–check out the forum on Princess Diaries author Meg Cabot’s site for a few ideas. Answer questions and take time to respond to your readers. Ask questions, too – it’ll help you reach readers and give you some insight into the 2010 teen experience. Love the ‘net but hate the code? Consider signing up for LiveJournal. LJ users are like an out-of-the-box community – give them a little love and they’ll respond in kind.
Make it easy for readers to contact you – make sure blog comments are enabled and set up a site email (you could use your domain name or just set up a free Gmail account) and check it regularly. Respond to everything you get, even if it takes you a few months–after all, someone loved your book enough to write to you about it, or to ask for advice. What if it’s difficult to think of something to say? You’re a writer – you’ll work it out! Don’t forget about more conventional methods of connecting with readers either. Make school visits. Talk to kids at the library and local bookstores. Remember why you’re a YA author (not for money or fame – who are we kidding?) and put yourself out there.
If teens aren’t using Twitter, should YA authors just delete their accounts? Yes. No. Maybe. Twitter is what you make it – everything comes down to the reason you tweet. If your sole objective is to connect with teens, Twitter might not be your best option. But if you want to connect with crossover and new adult readers, go for it–one third of 18 – 29 year olds read or post status updates. Twitter is also an excellent way to connect with other writers, learn from writers, agents, and editors, and establish a web presence (a useful tool in finding an agent and/or editor).
Do you have a Twitter account? Why do you tweet? How do you connect with your readers?