As youthful intellectuals diving into the world of social media we are often asked to answer the question: “What’s the deal with Twitter?” Trying to explain this to an older generation is quite a task, especially since Twitter is in many ways the same thing as blogging, facebook, myspace, email, or maybe even using a telephone or sending a letter. It is, at heart, just another way to communicate. So what makes it so important? What is Twitter doing that all the previous mediums couldn’t do?
Skeptics, (and there are many of them,) often characterize Twitter as a way of sharing useless information. Why do you need to tell people what you are doing all day long? How much substance could you possibly convey in 140 characters? Or, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd put it when she interviewed the founders of twitter: “Do you ever think ‘I don’t care that my friend is having a hamburger?‘”
These are valid arguments, and yes, there is a lot of clutter on Twitter. But there is also a lot of junk mail in our inboxes (and mailboxes), and we all have those friends who won’t shut up when you’re on the phone with them. The point being that useless information is hardly a new phenomenon. So what else does Twitter have to offer? Here are three of its more interesting qualities. Who knows… you might not be such a Twitter-hater after all.
Twitter lets you feel the pulse of any community. Where else do you have instant access to what a whole bunch of people are thinking about any given subject? And, no, I’m not talking about a whole bunch of useless thoughts, but important ones. How are people reacting to the economic crisis? What do people really think about your product or service? Other than twitter, the closest tool that gives you this kind of information might be polling, but in case you haven’t noticed, polls aren’t exactly reliable these days (think New Hampshire, 2008). Furthermore, the most discussed polls–telephone polls–seem to be extremely dated since they ignore an entire generation (the one that uses cellphones and doesn’t sit at home all day long). Twitter, especially as it enters the mainstream, has the potential to accurately inform us about what an entire market, audience, community, nation, or world is thinking. Oh and by the way, it doesn’t cost anything.
Twitter breeds authenticity. This is arguably the case with all social media, but Twitter, with its blazing speed, only increases the demand for trustworthy communication. We can all tell when someone is not writing their own tweets (give it a try: obama vs. shaq, it won’t take you long to figure out who’s real and who’s not). The fact is, the structure of Twitter makes it a lot more difficult to lie, spin, or in any other way alter the truth. Whether you are a celebrity, politician, corporation, or any other person, you just don’t have time to mask your true self while effectively communicating. This may sound naive, but compare Twitter to the more traditional mediums with this in mind. A corporation communicating through newspapers, radio, or television, (with advertising or public relations), spends lots of time shaping its message. Naturally, they want to control the message to make a purely beneficial one. In this scenario authenticity is not the primary objective. When communicating through Twitter, however, there is little time for such deliberation. Twitter, because of its speed and interconnectedness demands a more authentic conversation, and if you can’t live up to it you won’t get very far.
As with other social media, Twitter amplifies the power of “word-of-mouth,” which ultimately strengthens democratic ideals. Since Twitter connects you to anyone who finds you interesting enough to follow, it explodes your influence as someone who repeats, recommends, shares, and creates content. If you think Apple makes the most reliable computer in the world, Twitter lets you share that with a ton of people in a short period of time. Why does this matter? Because, in our times, “word-of-mouth” rules the day. We trust eachother more than we trust corporations or politicians. An advertisement is rarely more effective than what your friend has to say. Twitter, in ways like never before, is feeding the power of the individual communicator. It is also changing the game for corporate and political communicators who–more than ever–will have to understand the changing landscape in order to succeed.Blogger – Ideations Consulting