To Tweet, Or Not To Tweet? Maybe That's NOT The Question
Something tells me I’m not alone in this: but, lately, I haven’t been thinking about Twitter all that much, even though I use it every day.
Maybe it’s the constant buzz about the advertising potential of Facebook, drowning out everything else. Or maybe it’s that Twitter, even though it is building an advertising-based revenue model, continues to do so at such a slow pace that it’s like watching paint dry. It’s been a long time since brands being on Twitter -- and using it as a customer-service platform, or as a promotional one -- was news.
But the most likely reason I haven’t been thinking about Twitter that much lately probably has to do with something I’ve written about in this space before: that virtually no one from my personal life is using it, a huge contrast to the mass adoption of people from all walks of life to Facebook. If the non-geeks in my life haven’t flocked to Twitter yet, I’ve begun to doubt that they ever will.
Which is why I found Bill Gurley’s analysis this week of what Twitter is -- and what it is not -- such a cogent, thought-provoking read. Gurley admits, straight from the top, that as a general partner in major investor Benchmark Capital, he’s not exactly impartial. Still, he struck straight at the heart of the Facebook vs. Twitter debate -- by pointing out how inaccurate it is to talk about the two in the same breath. He said: “The only way magic happens on Facebook is through reciprocity: I friend you and you friend me back – then information flows. But on Twitter, I can get something out of following Shaquile O’Neil [sic] who has no social obligation to follow me back., when they both are vastly different from one another.”
OK, you knew that already. But he gets airborne with what he views as the second misperception of Twitter, which is really a corollary to the first: “ … that you need to tweet, to have something to say and broadcast, for the service to be meaningful to you. “ As he points out, this misperception scares off just about anyone -- and that’s most of us -- who thinks that the act of joining Twitter is a one-way ticket to cringe-worthy oversharing of the “Boy that hotdog tasted funny. Might throw up” variety.
OK, you knew that too. But when you think about this a little harder, therein lies Twitter’s long-term growth strategy, -- if not in revenue, then in users, but probably in both. If you run around thinking that Twitter is what Gurley calls a “symmetric” social network like Facebook, only where the sharing is in a much more public domain, well, yecch. For all of the adoption of Facebook, at least most of us can write banal status updates all day long without ever really worrying about whether they will make it into the broader sphere. It’s one thing to say really boring things to your friends; it’s entirely another to say it to a broadcast universe that also includes Lady Gaga and John Hodgman. (You can guess which one I think is wittier.)
However, if you look at Twitter as a news resource – yes, Gurley did refer to it as a “broadcast network” – it becomes more useful and less intimidating. Sure, it’s a more passive experience to follow various Twitter play-ahs then to be an active tweeter, but there are enough prolific, high-profile tweeters to let most of us take on a less active role.
To date, however, that way of thinking about Twitter is lost on most people. As Gurley says, they look at it almost entirely from the perspective of whether they would have anything to tweet, as opposed to whether it would be useful to follow their local Congressman, or their favorite musician, or their favorite actor. Interestingly, as I was gathering links for this column, I noticed that the description of Twitter that comes up when you Google it is: “Twitter is a rich source of instantly updated information. It's easy to stay updated on an incredibly wide variety of topics.” I don’t know when that change was made, but it’s certainly not how Twitter was describing itself a few months ago.
Gurley’s post also made me start to rethink whether the people in my personal life really are using Twitter -- and I just don’t know about it. If the Twitter-as-news-resource model holds, than maybe they are there somewhere, but don’t find anything I tweet about particularly newsworthy. Guess I’ll have to work on that.