Twitter, Tweepeople, Twitback, ReTweet, RepeatTweet, Facebook Killer, Follow, UnFollow, @me, @you, #FollowFriday, search.twitter.com are probably just a few of the terms you have had randomly thrown at you.
With all the talk about twitter hitting mainstream, I am sure there are still many out there who have heard some of the phrases above and are wondering what this Twitter phenomenon is all about.
This post seeks to give the first time Twitterer and also the experienced Tweepeople a low down on everything you ever wanted to know about Twitter but were afraid to ask.
What is Twitter
Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.
This has often led to people terming Twitter as the sms of the internet. This forced brevity in communication is one of the reasons that Twitter is fascinating in a time constrained world.
It is built on the "What are you doing now" status update that you are now familiar with on so many social networks, instant messengers etc. The update can be a personal self expression tool, an interesting link, a joke, a video you are watching, a stock market update, world news - anything under 140 characters.
The updates can be sent from your mobile as well as using the computer. This dual model makes twitter as close to really describing what you are doing right now.
Status Updates - Does anyone read them?
Interesting question, in an age where it is increasingly uncommon to find people following 1000+ users I really wonder if even 10% of the updates get their due.
Technically though anyone who follows you can read your updates and you can read updates of anyone that you choose to follow.
There is an option to restrict updates to just your friend network, but to my limited knowledge is rarely used. The charm in twitter, at least at the moment is the race to gain more followers from around the world.
Twitter - Yet another Social network?
Though Twitter can operate as a typical network for you and your friends, this will not give most sufficient reason to use it. After all we have enough networks to catch up with our friends right...
Twitter has on and off been compared a lot with Facebook and some have gone as far as saying it is a Facebook killer. Comparing Twitter with Facebook is so wrong. Facebook is like your inner circle while Twitter is like a public social party.
The value in the network, like in a social party with celebs, is that you suddenly have access to the Big Boys even if it is just for a few seconds or a couple of sentences in conversation. You can make an impression or extract some valuable information.
If nothing you get your moment in the sun. The Big Boys are also happy being courted. So its a win win of sorts.
Twitter is like email?
There have been similarities drawn to email and Twitter has been termed as the poor man's email. I never understood that statement considering both are free. Since twitter is a subscribe model where you receive messages only if you choose to, we will compare it with a subscribe only model of email and not an unsolicited email model.
Email is meant to be a one on one communication. Even bulk emailers try to personalise every communication. The email intrudes your inbox and can make you feel real guilty when you see the number of unread messages.
Twitter on the other hand is always one to many, non intrusive and free of guilt. You read if you have the time.
So What's the Fuss About?
The status message is fundamental in its ability to be a conversation starter and I am sure you hardly see wall posts or scraps which say "Wazzup" anymore. The reason being that the question is most probably answered in the status message. So why raise a redundant question, a meaningful reply to the status update will do.
To develop a service around this one concept is indeed a fantastic thought
Of course the 140 character limit is supposed to help in a time constrained world. Though as you will see users don't really use its brevity in its true sense. Most times you see links which lead to blog posts.
How is Twitter Being Used
Personal Branding: The reason why bloggers have backed Twitter so much is that they stand to gain if they have loyal fan base who subscribe to their thoughts. This directly impacts and measures the influence a blogger wields on the internet.
The more followers you have, the more influential you are. Bloggers love this metric and have hence used this platform for microblogging and sharing interesting links from around the web.
This realization has caused a huge race to gain followership, and most twitfolks follow the "you scratch my back and I scratch yours" model. Hence influencer status will progressively be measured by not just the number of followers but will in addition measure the ratio of Followers to following. The bigger that number, the more influential you are.
News & Content Distribution: News and Content Portals have another free means to distribute their content and engage with consumers. Breaking News especially travels quicker on Twitter. In fact there have been numerous cases where citizen journalism has ensured that breaking news travels faster on twitter than through popular news channels.
Polls and Q&A: Great tool to reach out to your followers for feedback, research, queries, help etc. This can especially be used by brands and websites who want to take a quick poll amongst their fan base. When you have over 1000 people following you can expect a fraction to respond to your query.
Content Aggregation: By simply attaching a ‘#’ to the subject (#facebook, #marketing etc.), you categorize/tag your post and inherently make it searchable, so one needn’t follow a thought leader on Twitter, you could also follow a tag or a category of posts and get updates from different people across the world.
Try #marketing for example on search.twitter.com. The results can be taken as an rss feed for automatic updation
Accessing Quality Content in a time constrained world: Most successful users of Twitter have been people and not brands, their reputation is at stake everytime they post an update. They are also trying to gain followers remember.
Hence quality of posts tends to be high. You have to follow the right people though. Thinking that this is a substitute for Facebook where you can catch up with your friends will probably result in you not getting the point of Twitter.
Viral Marketing, Consumer engagement, Brand Building, advertising low cost promotions: Marketers will continuously seek to leverage this open network for sharing viral content, engaging with their consumers, giving Twitter only promotions and building a long term brand.
Virality especially can be gained very quickly if the influencers endorse it with a Tweet and their followers ReTweet this content to their follower base thus causing a massive trickle down effect.
The Reason Behind Twitters Phenomenol Growth
This may not be a case study of Twitter's growth but should serve as reasonably good explanation for what many have given up trying to understand
Bloggers Loved it: The key to Twitter growth has been rampant blogger adoption. They recognised how twitter could help grow their influencer & consequent celebrity status on the web. Bloggers find immense badge value in the number of followers they have. It directly impacts their influencer status on the web.As a result every blogger has done his/her bit to promote Twitter.
Bloggers being early adopters jumped onto the Twitter bandwagon, and then invited all their readers to follow them on this network. Blog readers were bombarded from all ends about twitter until they were forced to check it out.
Now real world celebrities are jumping in - the big bands, movie stars, presidents, brands etc.
Those who jumped on to interact with their real world friends found the going pointless, many quit Twitting. Those who have stuck around have recognised the potential of interacting with their favourite celebs or the benefits of having 1000's of followers.
What happened to competition
There were several services like Jaiku, pownce and Tumblr that looked cooler and had certainly less downtime than Twitter, but could never really catch up with Twitter. These services were inferior in no way, but bloggers had too much to lose by advocating another microblogging service.
To advocate competition would mean not just migrating themselves, but getting all of their followers to move too. The switching costs were just too high.
Till date the noise on Twitter only gets louder (People like me still write about it). Bloggers still support it like it is the next big thing.
Is Twitter making Money?
Nope not at all, zilch, squat !! They are living on VC money. a few months ago, facebook offered to buy Twitter for a sum of $500 million which twitter rejected. Some think that this is the most money they could have made of this network.
Some models for making money are described here. Interesting thoughts include
1) Every 50th or 100th tweet to be a system generated Ad
2) Charge for analytics. Consumer sentiment, trend analysis etc. Most probably a market research agency will develop this using their open API's so there is no hope here
3) Charge brands and celebrities to have an official presence on Twitter - practical for sure
3) But maybe most practical of them all - Just sell it to Facebook
If they choose to do none of this, lets hope they really pull of a miraculous revenue model.
Is it a fad, the next big thing or Is it Superman!!!
There are many contradicting views on this one. Most posts around the world will lead you to believe that Twitter is certainly the next Superman.
But just like the man of steel, it has its own Kryptonite. A couple of the reasons why Twitter will fail is below. Just take a look at your twitter stream and see how many of the Tweets have links to external sites. My guess stands at least 50%.
Hence brevity, the foundation on which Twitter is built is actually failing. The Tweet is not self sufficient to communicate a thought to your followers and time invested in reading links can be significant. At many points Twitter resembles a social bookmarking service (without the vote up option)
Reverse Network Effect: Additionally once Twitter reaches a tipping point and attaines mass adoption, the reverse network effect kicks in. This is no longer a fancy place for the knowledgeable few, but every Tom, Dick and you know who... is on this network.
Whats more unlike Facebook, the early adopters are bound to come across the masses, the stalkers, the crude, and the abusive. Suddenly it doesn't seem like such a great network.
That is the problem with open networks - A single message like "You are pretty, can we be friends" or a message to a celeb saying "You suck!!" can so destroy your perception of the network. The network is only as strong as the people on it.
On the contrary the key reason for Twitters success will lie in its interactivity with Celebrities, connecting with brands and real time updates about almost anything. Twitter gives the common man a power he never had earlier. The power to speak his mind and a hope to be heard by celebrities, brands and the like.
P.S - Noticed an interesting report on Twitter users from Hubspot. Check it out