All Tweet, No Trick – Interesting Twitter Stories & Incidents
In the past three and a half years, Twitter has successfully left behind its humble beginning as a micro-blogging platform to evolve into a social media phenomenon that has captured the imagination of almost half the world’s population. I don’t know who is more surprised at the turn of events, the Twitter creators, Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams (who, it appears, are still a little clueless as to how to milk this cash cow of theirs) or the social media experts who wrote it off as a passing fad. Last year, Twitter’s rise was so meteoric that it caused the reigning social-media darling that is Facebook to break the tenth Commandment – “Thou shall not covet”, because, Facebook coveted Twitter. Big time! But that’s a post for another time.
Today, I’d like to talk about how practically the whole world is cashing in on the popularity of Twitter, though the site itself is yet to monetize the ginormous amount of traffic it receives – according to Compete, over 23 million unique visitors in September 09! (No, I can’t get over it.) Though I’d like to, it would be quite a challenge to cite all the different ways in which the world is using Twitter and still write a 1000 words post. So, I have found seven very illuminating instances I must share with you. They are not necessarily about people making money off Twitter, though there are a couple about that as well, what they have in common is the way they all illustrate how powerful a resonance Twitter has found with the Everyman. Okay, I’ll amend that to the net-surfing Everyman.
1. The first story has Demi Moore in it. Before you get any ideas, no, it’s not about Ashton Kutcher! Honestly, it’s a little scary and sad, but also a little amazing at the same time. Last April, Demi Moore a.k.a @mrskutcher was instrumental in saving the life of a suicidal woman. The woman, @sandieguy, tweeted her suicide note, with one particular tweet directed at @mrskutcher. It said, “@mrskutcher getting a knife, a big one that is sharp. Going to cut my arm down the whole arm so it doesn’t waste time”. Moore happened to catch the tweet and her timely retweet set off a flurry of retweets amongst her followers and caused the police to track down the woman, who was, thank god, found unharmed. Talk about saved in the nick of time!
2. Next, let’s learn how we can generate traffic (and possibly revenue) via Twitter, let’s take a page out of BBGeeks.com’s site – where you can find information on all things BlackBerry and buy apps and accessories for the smartphone. Like any self-respecting site, they wanted to explore new avenues to drive traffic to their site, and Twitter was as new an avenue as it got. So, they decided to set up a Twitter account in the hope of capitalizing on the new Twitter wave that the cybersphere was (and has been) experiencing. Though initially they weren’t very successful in finding many followers, a well-guided change in their approach rectified that. In their second attempt, they had one of their staff dedicated to the management of their Twitter profile and positioned him as a ‘BlackBerry troubleshooter’ who could actually help their followers and not merely push (their) links. The second time is the charm, because in less than two years they have gone from having just 100 followers to having over 23000 followers and according to a recent case study (the numbers were kept confidential), their Twitter traffic converts are higher than that of any other social network they have tracked. The occasional “Twitter only” discounts at their software and accessories store must have nicely contributed to that. Nice work, BBGeeks, that’s all I can say.
3. To hear me say it, you’d think Twitter possibly has super powers – what with the whole saving lives and helping sites get more traffic business; lest you be persuaded to uphold such a notion, I have a cautionary-Twitter-tale for you. Yes, you heard me – even superhero-like social media tools have bad days. Amanda Bonnen, a Chicago resident, was recently sued by Horizon Realty over an alleged tweet she made about the moldy condition of her apartment. On 12th May of this year, Ms. Bonnen, then a tenant of Horizon Realty, had tweeted: “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon Realty thinks it’s okay.” Nearly two months later, a month after she’d moved out from the apartment, she was slapped with a libel suit for publishing her tweet “throughout the world” and causing severe damage to the company’s goodwill. Though @abonnen has been MIA (missing in action) from Twitter since then, the Google cache of her now-deleted-account revealed she had just 22 followers (that’s hardly the world! That’s barely a family!). A $50,000 lawsuit for airing your grievance, apparently freedom of speech is dangerous, or libelous. So, as they say around here, watch what you tweet, tweeples!
4. From Chicago, let’s move to New York; in July, this year, Annamarie Dooling a.k.a @TravelingAnna, a web producer in Manhattan, joined the ranks of those special few who can claim to have achieved a Twitter first (New Yorkers have all the fun, I say!). She now has the (dubious?) distinction of being the first person to tweet about a bank robbery, minutes after it happened. This is what her first tweet said: “My bank was just held up — with me in it. HSBC 34 and 8”. She then continued with a torrent of tweets, keeping her followers abreast of the happenings. As much as I’d like to tell you that Ms Dooling’s brave move was helpful in thwarting a major bank heist, I am afraid I can’t. Because, a) it was not a major bank heist, the thief made off with no more than $500, and b) the tweets were made after the thief had fled from the premises. All the same, her effort should not be pooh-poohed (the way it was in the wake of this incident).
5. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that her action reflects the true spirit of the times we live in. Like anyone with a fully functioning reflex system would have responded during a crisis, she reached out to her family and friends, she just happened to do it through Twitter (being the girl of her age that she is). When you think about it, tweeting the messages was no stranger than picking up the telephone and calling them. What? You don’t call anymore, you text? Well, then you know what I mean!
Since its launch, people have found increasingly creative ways to use Twitter, and I’ve seen my share of such profiles, all extremely interesting – some tweet only in haikus, some pretend to be their pets or celebrated fictional characters and give us their unique world-view through their hilarious tweets and then there are some who tweet über pithy 140-character stories (how do they do that? really?). I recently chanced upon @peterurpeth, Peter Urpeth to non-tweeples, yet another Twitter-user who is determined to think out of the Twitter-box. He is a Scottish author who recently began writing his new novel, ‘MacKenzie’s Issue’ in tweets. He commenced his tweet-adventure on the 21st of October 09 and has so far completed two ‘tweet pages’. He hasn’t set any limit on the number of tweets he’ll make per day; he appears to tweet as inspiration strikes. This is not an entirely novel idea (no pun intended), there are other Twitter novels that have already been published; Urpeth says he has undertaken this task (despite the non-novelty factor) because it’s an “exploration of digital marketing for writers, and maybe a new way of reading or experiencing fiction, too.” As someone with (humble) literary aspirations of her own, I can’t wait to see what this effort does to his literary career.
6. I have another story that will illustrate how businesses are making use of Twitter. I find Southwest Airlines a.k.a @SouthwestAir’s way very ingenious, even if not totally original; they use their Twitter profile to promote their time sensitive special fares. Yes, tweeting is definitely faster and cheaper than getting an ad out there. With the 800000 odd followers they have, they don’t even have to worry about their messages not reaching people. I can only wonder how they manage all the traffic their Twitter profile must be generating.
7. On a totally different note, earlier this year, when the whole farce of Iran’s ‘democratic’ election was being played out, Twitter found itself in the limelight, once again. As riots broke out, protesting the election results, various Iranian government regulations made foreign news coverage almost impossible. Twitter played a huge role in getting information out of the country and in involving the huge Iranian Diaspora in the action, so much so that the U.S State Department contacted Twitter to have them postpone a scheduled upgrade that would have closed one of the few communication channels available to the protesters, both inside and outside Iran. Like someone aptly put it, Twitter gave their voices a chance to be heard.
I sure am impressed by the tweet-power of Twitter- changing lives and trying to make the world a better place, one tweet at a time. If another social media tool has had such a tremendous socio-political and economic impact, I am yet to learn about it (do feel free to educate me with your comments, if you know of others).
I don’t know what the future holds for Twitter and for how long it’s current popularity will be sustained (you can never tell with most social media tools). I just know we’ve been presented with a great opportunity to make ourselves heard and we should use it the best we can.