Thursday, 11 June 2009

Twitter – where talk is cheap, ideology is free and banality rules

By Darren E Laws

Twitter is a brilliant tool which if used correctly can elevate the profile of the sharpest marketer, generate interest in a brand, or even build a passionate army of followers and fans awaiting your every tweet. Sadly though much of what exists is truly banal and the very fact that a celebrity such as Ashton Kutcher – a genuine ‘D’ list actor and husband to Demi Moore – is the most popular person in Twit world, tells us more about the rise of this popular culture tool among the masses than almost anything else. So, will the burning bright light that is Twitter begin to fade soon or does it have genuine longevity and use in terms of social media and social marketing. Many think so and are placing faith usually only seen by religious zealots into the tool.

Popularity is one thing and maybe Twitter’s current explosion is due to a number of social trends current faced by the media; downturns in traditional revenue streams, declining free time and attention spans, plus an increase in reality celebrity culture have all no doubt paid a apart in its success. While many bloggers see Twitter as a natural extension of their art and the chance to refine their message into short and concise paragraphs, the majority of users see it more as an evolution from texting, and maybe it is this point which sticks in the craw of social media entrepreneurs. I recently heard one bright young thing in the world of PR/journalism saying that he now only accepts proposals through Twitter. The rush to look trendy and embrace Twitter is amusing and one can’t help but cast a cynical eye over the way media wishes to manipulate the tool.

The challenge for many has been trying to utilise the service and even make money from it; and these two elements go pretty much against the grain of the bulk of its users caught up with telling the minutiae of their lives in 140 characters or less.

It is possible to build an army of followers, most of whom are only interested in having you reciprocate allegiance. If this happens then is it worth having a couple of thousand ‘twitters’ as your ‘friends’?; in fact how do you being to differentiate between those truly interested in hearing your short missives and those who do not. And even if you can, how do you keep their attention without resorting to a blow by blow account of your oh so trivial life.

The art of a good tweet is obviously judged in the end by the rapture in which you hold the audience. Twitter’s strength and weakness both lay within the limitations of the service in terms of what it allows us to say and more importantly, how we say it. There are some excellent tools or apps being devised to broaden Twitter’s appeal but what we must never forget is that Twitter is another form of communication and as such companies see this as a media channel and thus a revenue stream. If this proves too difficult to excavate the interest of the rich, the famous and the powerful will also soon dwindle.

People love Twitter because they think that Ashton Kutcher (feel free to replace this celebrity with any celebrity of your choice) is talking to them and as such the proletariat are playing their part in the world’s largest and possibly ultimate reality celebrity experience. There is nothing wrong with this but unless we understand why people are using Twitter we could be wasting a lot of time and energy trying to influence an audience who really choose not to care. I dare say the return at the box office on Mr Kutcher’s next movie may be of as much interest to sociologists as it is to movie producers and business in general.

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