While everyone is simply giddy with the notion of Twitter going public, I thought I might, in what I hope is true entrepreneurial fashion, pose the question no one is asking:
What happens when Twitter becomes irrelevant?
That noise you just heard is the cumulative shriek of thousands of social media marketing ninjas. I’m not saying they’re reading this article, they just feel a disturbance in the Twitterverse, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and suddenly stopped posting things like: “Totally pumped and excited for [insert some bullshit business thing here] #motivated #neverstopdreaming #bieber”
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a Twitter slacker. I don’t follow a lot of people, and 90% of the time I look at my feed, it’s full of garbage. I have other accounts, because you can, and those are a bit more varied in terms of topic, but it’s still a lot of noise for a little bit of signal.
I use hashtags at conferences when I know what I’m posting will be relevant to those following the hashtag within the next 90 minutes or so. I’ve followed hashtags on breaking news, which is where I think Twitter’s value is (near real-time information), but never on television shows or movies I happen to be watching. Same for sporting events. If I want the opinion on a blown call from thousands of know-it-all douchebags, I’ll just go to the game.
I can’t tell you how much hashtagging a slogan bugs me. Every time you do that, Satan gets a nickel.
My point is, I like Twitter, I use it, but I’ve never really worked hard at it, whether it’s personal (@jproco – there, that took 5 seconds) or for a brand (@ExitEvent). I’m not a 140-character guy, I’m a 500-word guy. And I don’t know the art of 140 characters because I don’t believe there is one. I’ve never said the words: “Dude, classic tweet.” Even the tweets from Steve Martin or whatever that are supposed to be funny seem like mumbled comments from the peanut gallery.
The next thing I start probably won’t have a Twitter account.
A common misconception of Twitter is that it’s a social network. It’s not. But a common misconception of a social network is that it’s a good communication medium for brands. It is not. Twitter is a good communication medium for brands. I don’t follow brands, but when I communicate to them via Twitter, they respond.
This is because of the one-to-many format of Twitter. Brands don’t like to be seen as unresponsive when people are watching, even though most of them remain highly unresponsive when no one is watching. It’s the digital equivalent of going a little wack-job when complaining about a slight in product or service. Start yelling a little at the poor customer service rep and things happen.
Somewhere along the way, too many brands decided that Twitter was a way to PUSH their products and services to new customers as well as give added benefit to existing loyal customers. Again, maybe Wendy’s or Oreo broke some ground and their coffers instantly filled, and I’m sure there are a jillion startups that measure that sort of thing now.
But mostly, what I can remember from brand tweets that made news are negative, in the “sorry about that natural disaster, 35% off all makeup for area residents” vein.
And then there’s Twitter with pictures (Instagram), Twitter with crafts (Pinterest), Twitter with video (Vine), and Twitter with porn (Tumblr).
What gets overlooked is that Twitter is just a communication medium. For all of its popping up on your favorite episode of Glee (I don’t know, do people still watch Glee?), there is no art or science or ninja code to Twitter. The message is what matters, no matter how few characters or how many followers one crams it into.
So all these brands (and let’s face it, if you’re following a celebrity, which is the fools gold of Twitter, you’re not following them, you’re following their brand, and a lot of the time what you’re actually following is their agency’s social media marketing ninja), have devoted all this time and money and energy into building Twitter followers. People pay for Twitter followers.
That probably needs to stop at this point.
As Twitter approaches their public offering, you can expect the noise to get noisier, fueled by monetization and the quest for ubiquity. There are already a (nother) jillion startups who are trying to make signal out of all the Twitter data. Most of that effort is bunk.
There will be something after Twitter — the next big communication medium — something more robust, more data-driven, and more compact. We’re already starting to talk about Twitter for devices (the Twitterverse of Things), and that already seems ill-fitted to the one-to-many communication paradigm.
So the next time you check your Twitter follower count, remember this: Turns out it was just a reflection of you the whole time (kind of like Facebook, where it’s my theory that if you’re constantly bitching about Facebook, your definition of “friends” probably needs an adjustment). You might start thinking of what kind of following to collect next.
Because it’s coming.