Its Not Just For Celebrities & Narcissists
We continue our ongoing blog series on the basics of social media this week by taking a look at Twitter.


How Did Twitter Become So Popular?
Twitter first launched onto the social media scene in 2006 and gained significant traction and popularity at the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. That same year, Twitter saw an average of 5000 tweets per day.  Four years later, Twitter’s current daily usage tops 155 million tweets per day, and that doesn’t count those who are only listening and not tweeting, nor does it count the viral nature of tweets that get re-posted on blogs and Facebook pages.  With statistics like that, it would be a mistake to write-off such a powerful (FREE) communication tool.


Functionally, Twitter is a combination of the first two social networking tools we learned about in our series: RSS feeds and Blogging. Twitter is a form of microblogging limiting each post to 140 characters or less.  These messages are broadcast and followed by others using RSS technology.  When you create an account on Twitter, you are basically setting up an RSS feed that you can use to broadcast your messages in 140 characters or less. The creators of Twitter have made it easy for their users to “follow” and “be followed” using their web-based social networking platform.  To learn more about the basics of Twitter, visit the ABOUT page on their website.
Twitter’s popularity soared largely due to its ease of use and zero cost. As more and more people bought into the concept of sharing information in this way, the value of the content and credibility of the sources grew, too.


Who Uses Twitter?
You may be wondering how in the world do that many people find short bursts of information helpful, least of all informative.  At first glance, a limited communication vehicle like Twitter may seem like a useless waste of time.  However, the power behind Twitter messages (henceforth Tweets) lies first and foremost in a Tweet’s ability to go viral and the ability to include a short link within the 140 characters of your Tweet.  A Tweet with a compelling headline and a link to more information can sweep the entire globe in mere seconds, specifically when users are tracking events or breaking news, real time.  Following are three examples of how Twitter users (unintentionally) beat official news outlets in breaking news.


Examples of Twitter’s Communications Power
An hour before the official White House press conference confirming the death of Osama Bin Laden, word (speculation) leaked out on Twitter leaving a conservative republican aid to a former Defense Secretary to break the news rather than the President himself.
Within an hour after the March 2011 earthquake in Japan, the seventh most powerful earthquake in world history, Twitter was the go-to source for news on the ground.  Phone lines were out, but people with charged cellphones were Tweeting real time to the tune of 1200 Tweets per minute.  In fact, predictions and warnings of when a potential Tsunami would hit U.S. shores swirled on Twitter before an official government warning even went into effect.
No one will soon forget the impact of social media, specifically Twitter, on the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.  People like you and me who would have never otherwise had the opportunity to see the revolution on the ground with our own two eyes now had the opportunity to see what was happening for ourselves, through the instantaneous dissemination of links to photos and videos straight from the streets of Cairo.
While these examples pertain to breaking news and real-time events, there are also examples of how businesses are using Twitter to build their brands.  In our next blog we will explore how businesses are using Twitter both successfully and unsuccessfully.


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