Despite Oprah, Twitter Is Not like Studio 54 Gone to Seed

So, the data is in and it turns out that, at least in terms of traffic, Oprah has been good for Twitter. According to Hitwise, traffic increased by 24% from Friday, April 10th to Friday, April 17th, which will hereafter be known as The Day of Oprah's First TweetTM.

But, despite this good news, by the end of last week, I thought the old-timers on Twitter were going to have a nervous breakdown. Bad enough that Oprah should open, embarrassingly enough, with an all-caps tweet that called everyone on the service, "TWITTERS," but then there was that cringeworthy race to a million followers between cult leaders @aplusk (that's Ashton Kutcher in case you didn't know ... sniff!), and @cnnbrk (CNN's breaking news feed).

But you knew that already, because many among us were also those who were having a nervous breakdown. Some "Twitters," who shall remain @nameless, began to act as though we were in the year 1979 and someone had suddenly let riff-raff like Oprah and Ashton and Larry King into Studio 54, due to some lazy bouncer who was sleeping on the job. The club is ruined, I tell you! Ruined! I am never setting foot in there again!



Enough already. The Oprah and Ashton-i-zation of Twitter is good, if you believe, as I know many of you do, that the more universal Twitter becomes, the more indicative it is of what is really going on out there. And the data from that stream, whether it is used to form a real-time search ad model upon which Twitter can make oodles of money, or simply serves as a powerful database for brands, or as a way for people to tap into the zeitgeist, is all good.

My Studio 54 analogy aside, I wonder if another reason there was so much antipathy toward Twitter's sudden transformation into a supermarket tabloid last week is that all of this new activity seems to hijack it, to make it less representative. If you've checked out the flood of direct messages directed at @aplusk, you'll see what I mean. Suddenly, not only do we have people tweeting endless pleas to Kutcher to have a nice Earth Day, but a raft of stumbling newbies are now on the service ... and they don't even know what RT stands for! God forbid!

But that will die down. Ashton and Demi and Oprah and Shaq will always have more followers than most of us who've been on Twitter for awhile -- but they have more followers than us in the real world as well. As newer celebs get on, like Beyonce and Bono and Rihanna, that fascination will ebb, reverting back to the natural (albeit high) level of celebrity worship that is in the culture already. In fact, it's impossible to really ruin Twitter, because each of us makes it our own. Follow who you want to and don't follow who you don't want to. Making your own club is what Twitter has always been about.

I've been even more flip than usual in this column, but it's because what I saw on Twitter last week is indicative of an ongoing problem with technology culture. We are all guilty of being on a constant hunt for cool, just as though we were trying to find the next great club after Studio 54 started to let the riff-raff in. But sometimes the old clubs, like Twitter, have undeniable value. If Twitter ever does go to seed, I hope it's not because Oprah sent out a few tweets.


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12 comments about "Despite Oprah, Twitter Is Not like Studio 54 Gone to Seed".
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  1. Bonnie Sashin from Boston Bar Association, April 23, 2009 at 10:02 a.m.

    Good point. Twitter should not be the sole preserve of cool kids. I'm all for inclusion and variety. Having Oprah on Twitter will encourage more people to join the social media conversation, and that's all for the good.

  2. Mike Spring from Voice Coaches, April 23, 2009 at 10:04 a.m.

    A great commentary on Twitter! I use it religiously, and while I'd love to be able to instantly get 100,000 followers like Oprah did, I always remind myself that Twitter is what I make it. I only have to follow people I'm interested in, and usually that doesn't include celebrities, even if they're ones I like. I'm much more interested in what regular people like me have to say than what Paris (or Perez) Hilton's dog is wearing.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 23, 2009 at 10:06 a.m.

    Amen. There's a word for early adopters who resist change: contrarians. You'll find them whining about every revision to Facebook. They get apoplectic when the wrong people use their favorite toy the wrong way.

    Change happens. Get over it, contrarians.

  4. Maggie Fox from Social Media Group, April 23, 2009 at 10:31 a.m.

    I can't help but wondering if some of the grumbling has to do with social media superstars being completely obliterated in seconds by REAL superstars. Watching what was considerable influence on a platform (25k followers, let's say, accumulated over two years) diluted within just hours by the megastar who gets 100k followers by simply mentioning the word "Twitter" on-air.

    It's gotta sting, no?

  5. Lisbeth Kramer from Identities, April 23, 2009 at 10:34 a.m.

    Catherine, BRAVO! "Making your own club is what Twitter has always been about." This expression of yours captures so much in and of itself, and from the professional side, I think it bodes well for marketers too to truly see what opportunities like with TWITTER if used with the proper strategic connect in a higly targeted manner.That a great brand defines and connects to its own club(s)and that is the cache of the belong to a defineable "tribe."

    But what you express about "celebrity" in and of itself...well, i think if one is "transparent," certainly a little of that lies in each one of us, but as we can define our own club we too can individually define what celebrity in our own world, stands for...

    I am even curious to see how many if truly know the DNA of "Studio 54".....maybe we should get the former nightclub now hotel guru, Ian Schraeger on the phone and see if he has any ideas of how to re-invent it 21st century terms......

    And above all I think its very cool that a woman who knows the 54 essence, and speaks to the lifeblood of how we live 2009, that is the very cool factor of connection my "club/world" anyway......

    great piece!

  6. Jeff Webster from Self-Employed, April 23, 2009 at 11:43 a.m.

    Excellent points, Catherine. Twitter truly is what each of us as individuals want to make it.

  7. Jesse Dienstag from Leo Burnett, April 23, 2009 at 12:48 p.m.

    Great points one and all. I think like everything else that started out as free and with a promise to "democratize" a medium, Twitter will take a while to find its footing. Remember when you started getting spam text messages and were outraged? There will be some of that, celebrities will use and abuse, there will be scandals...but as we've already seen, it will be used for good. You're right, if it was only for the cool kids, then it wouldn't be great.

  8. Dave Lafontaine from Artesian Media, April 23, 2009 at 1:17 p.m.

    Interesting. Now that Twitter has become so white-hot trendy, will it implode under the weight of the "Nobody goes there anymore - it's too crowded" paradigm? I.e., the noise-to-signal ratio just jumped exponentially, and for marketers trying to reach the vital 5% of influencers, that spells doom. Like the comments sections under Yahoo News stories, the next wave is all the spammers, trolls & nitwits clogging up our Tweetdeck with endless "@v1@gr@" and "F.U. Libtard" replies. Already happening - look for it to increase.

    It's not the change that's the problem. The problem is the same one that is the bane of every community manager out there - that is, once your site hits the ignition point and starts to take off, how do you police it enough so that the user experience is maintained - without having to blow so much $$ on monitors that it cripples your fragile biz plan?

    The cure might be some kind of micro-commerce charging plan for Tweeting. Trolls & spammers operate because there is no charge for them to dump all over the rest of us. If they had to pay something for the right to insult/harass us, that might actually enforce some kind of behavioral norm.

  9. Les Blatt from Freelance New Media Person, April 23, 2009 at 2:16 p.m.

    Excellent points throughout. I don't follow Oprah, nor does she follow me. Nor should she. I don't use Twitter to follow celebrities; if someone else wants to use it that way, hey, why not? Perhaps Twitter can figure out a good way to make a buck off that kind of thing. But it's irrelevant to my use of the service - and, I suspect, irrelevant to most of the people I do follow and who follow me.

  10. Langston Richardson from Cisco, April 23, 2009 at 7:21 p.m.

    While the phenomena of interaction between people with "media status" and people who are "status chasers" will tend to turn off the smaller sub-cultures and groups who cultivated any certain activity to broad acceptance popular media saturation, Twitter's rise in popularity with the early tech-centric adopters... it's subsequent adoption by those in the interactive community connected to technology... and the interactive marketers who tap into both pop culture and clients and business and news/pr are all the same factors that led the early adopters to connect to it.

    Furthermore, the trend of micro-blogging touches on the modern world's yearning to connect in a human way: gaining information and communicating information. Many of us have an easy point of entry to Twittering as are lives have become increasingly busy with work and other activities that find us having less time of things. Twitter isn't intrusive. It offers a felling of connection from those in-crowds who started using it several years ago to share information to their friends to those celebrities, brands and corporations seeks to deepen relationships to consumers.

    Langston Richardson
    twitter: @MATSNL65

  11. David Thurman from Aussie Rescue of Illinois, April 24, 2009 at 7:51 a.m.

    What noise? Don't know how some use it but I use Twitter to connect with Animal Rescue groups that I do volunteer work for and to be honest, I don't see any of the "Oprah I am cool now I use Twitter", "Ashton I am starving for Attention" or "CNN Just Doesn't Get IT" tweets, I am working within a network of people that doesn't get crowded out or drowned from the masses. I gain followers from a #FollowFriday or #WoofWednesdays or RT important posts or fun stories.

    I doubt Oprah will use twitter in the spirit it was meant and will keep her TV following hoping for a 10 second notice from the great Oprah's ghost-twitter.

    But cool she got the avg person to notice twitter.

  12. Garry Mendez, April 27, 2009 at 6:33 p.m.

    The nice thing about Twitter is that you can control who you follow and how you use it. It can serve as the scoreboard in a big celebrity popularity contest or it can help you stay involved with important causes (or both).

    As a marketer I'm always trying to learn what's on people's minds and what they care about. Twitter provides that for a large chunk of the population. I'm looking for insights and Twitter serves as a great tool for confirming, or disconfirming, insights.

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