5 Ways Twitter is changing the world (despite what the critics say)

twitter is changing the world

I was recently interviewed by CNN about how Twitter is shaping the world. Of course the newscast was only able to use a small portion of the entire interview but the topic is interesting enough that I thought I would share my thoughts on this important subject.

Despite the gloomy projections of analysts and the cries of the purists who long for the “old days” on Twitter, this is a media channel that has profoundly changed our world … and continues to do so.

1. Re-defining news 

Largely due to the public, real-time nature of Twitter, the news cycle is no longer a day or even an hour. It’s immediate. Today, news breaks on Twitter.

twitter is changing the world

Twitter has re-defined what it means to be a journalist. Who can ever forget the first images that emerged from the Hudson River plane crash or any number of natural disasters around the world. Most of the time, even mainstream news channels are carrying photos posted on Twitter as the news is happening. Today a journalist is anybody who is capturing an event when you are not … even from the surface of Mars.

twitter is changing the world

2. The value of viral

I continue to be astounded when I read news accounts like this:

“Today, the Ukrainian government announced on Twitter that new military conflicts …”

“Through a tweet, ISIS claimed responsibility for the latest bombing in …”

“His candidacy for president of the United States was announced today through his Twitter account …”

Why do powerful people, celebrities, and even governments turn to Twitter at these critical events? Because there is no media channel on earth with the reach and opportunity for a viral response than Twitter. It is public, unfiltered, intimate, real-time, and rapid … the perfect channel for provocative news.

Of course sometimes even a casual tweet has unintended consequences. In fact, a viral tweet can ruin your life.

twitter is changing the world


3. Power of the people

One of the most remarkable things about Twitter is that its greatest power comes from the people, rather than the company itself. While the functionality of other platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are tightly controlled by the executive office, the most popular use cases for Twitter never came from Twitter at all.

Twitter chats, the ubiquitous hashtag, and even the ability to shorten links to promote content were all user-generated ideas. The most creative and useful applications for Twitter will probably always come from the very people using the platform. One of the reasons Twitter has had some difficulty monetizing its service is that they really don’t own a lot of the value that has been created.

4. Hashtag activism

Twitter has the unique ability to rapidly unify a group of people, usually through an idea or cause expressed in a hashtag. There is no question that the Arab Spring movement was organized through hashtags. It unified a disparate group of strangers and propeled revolutionary activities that always seemed to be one step ahead of the government.

The ALS ice bucket challenge could have only happened through the free and public power of Twitter hashtags. A chilling New York Times article recently recountedhow ISIS is using Twitter as a primary recruiting tool.

Twitter has become a powerful channel for authority, digital diplomacy, statecraft … and scandal. It has become a new global engine for how we connect, discover, and learn.

5. Twitter is the wind

Politicians have always been criticized when their opinions seem to shift with the wind. In some respects, Twitter is now the wind.

Pollsters and strategists have become obsessed with real-time opinions and sentiment on Twitter. Twitter reactions are being used to create platforms, policies and products. Twitter reinforces groupthink — since everyone in the Washington D.C. bubble is following everyone else on Twitter; it’s an electronic echo chamber.

Sentiment analysis on Twitter has even determined what will happen next to characters on television shows.

Twitter, the hashtag, and tweets have become part of our culture, a thread that binds people in many places around the globe. Twitter is changing the world.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Bernard Goldbauch

Tao of Twitter

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  • Indeed Mark, Twitter is changing the world. Despite everything it´s been said about the platform, it still is the number one place where people read the news or connect with others.

  • Still unlimited potential!

  • Garrett Newberger

    I agree with a lot of points in this article. I think hashtags have become one of the most powerful tools available, when it comes to drawing awareness. I also know that I, personally, tend to get a lot of news updates from my twitter feed.

  • John Trader

    Great article Mark. To add an additional point to your article, as an international marketer I can’t tell you how many more doors Twitter has opened for us when it comes to interacting with our overseas customer base. We have managed to turn Twitter into one of our top lead gen platforms for international expansion and growth. I don’t think any other social platform would have provided us with the reach and amplification of our messaging more than Twitter has. Onward!

  • In my opionion, the hashtag is the second-most important innovation in the history of social media. First would be the shortened link.

  • Absolutely. It is not too bold to state that Twitter has changed my business and my life. Thanks for commenting John!

  • Mark,

    I’ve had a love it, leave it, and love it again relationship with Twitter and I’ve been through that cycle of emotions several times over the past five years. A few of the things I’m not loving include; 1) authentic direct messages get lost in an ocean of spammy messages and auto responses. 2) There’s no way I’ve found to manage contacts even with lists (search, sort, etc.) especially retroactively. I still love twitter though. I’ve met many professional contacts through twitter and a good number of those online connections have translated to project collaborations and friendships (including @markwschaefer). And I’ve learned a ton from the network of marketing professionals I follow on twitter. That’s my tribe. I am trying to relearn how to enjoy twitter. It’s different that it was but what isn’t? I’ve definitely noticed I get way more “Favorites” than “Retweets” since that option was introduced. I really like the ability to add an image to a tweet. And I like not having anything about my twitter account automated. There’s one more thing I love about Twitter. My oldest son launched his comedy writing career on twitter. He built a loyal following and platformed from that to job writing for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. As amazing as that sounds, it’s true. And it’s my favorite Twitter success story.

  • Hi Mark, I “intuitively” agree with everything you are saying and so do those commenting. I’ve personally had many “successes” through Twitter (not the least of which has been engaging with you). But, the popular statistics are not showing the engagement we all seem to be finding. Their user count and engagement stats are flat and in the Social Media world, that indicates dying. So, is the problem the results or the measurement standard? Certainly, negligible user growth is concerning but perhaps the real problem is that Twitter is not your everyday social network and shouldn’t be treated, thought of or measured as such. Even Twitter itself seems to be striving to follow the same path as others (Facebook, Linkedin, Google). Why? It’s none of those.

    Unfortunately, other than the billionaires it made, going public was the worst thing Twitter did. That single event has forced it into quick monetization approaches and taken it’s focus off the development / evolution of the platform. It was (and is) far too immature to be ‘Wall
    Streeted”, IMO.

    I believe that Twitter did change the world! Past Tense! Changing? I don’t think so. I personally feel as though it has lost it’s way. One example I can personally provide is that many (nearly most) of the people who follow me and I then follow back immediately DM to ask me to join them elsewhere (Facebook, Linkedin, their blog and even G+). In other words, they are using Twitter to find followers for other platforms where they believe they are providing more informative value.

    To me (and I know I’m weird) Twitter is my window to the world. It points me to places and information curated by those I follow (those who I’ve chosen to pay attention to). But, instead of focusing on evolving that core value proposition and providing enhancements to improve that basic value, it’s deviated to try and become something it’s not.

    I’m not smart enough to figure out what it needs to do but can only hope Dorsey can bring back the magic. At this point all I can see is the Myspace effect. A great platform that lost its way, turned into an echo chamber of junk and drove the real users elsewhere.

    I know this is starting to sound very “rantish” but one clear indication of the Myspace effect is that many (if not most) of those promoting Twitter as a commercial vehicle (aka gurus – present company EXCLUDED) promote Twitter for business use but rarely, if ever, actually use the service for anything else. I get nothing from them except more yack about how to leverage twitter for business. But, do they actually follow their own guidance and participate in any meaningful way, unfortunately not.

  • I’ve had some of those same issues, Billy. Twitter has certainly changed and is perhaps less human-driven than in the past. Maybe Twitter need to encourage people to fall in love with Twitter again : )

  • You bring up a host of great points here Steve and i would like to focus on the idea of going public and monetization. There is a tremendous amount of sentiment about Twitter being a “failure.” It’s kind of like this to me — if a company made a drug that cured cancer but never made any money at it, is the drug successful?

    The answer of course is yes, although Wall Street would have a different take on it. I’m not close enough to the situation to know if it was the right thing to do to go public or not. I do remember seeing an interview with the company execs before they went public and thinking “they really have no idea how they are going to monetize this company.”

    I had no idea how they were going to keep up with the relentless demands of the street. Nevertheless, that move really changed the trajectory for the company. Thanks for your comment, as always!

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  • I would probably have eased out of Twitter a long time ago if not for you. I think I shared this before, but was contacted to do a free campaign. It was interesting and the associate walked me through it. He thought it was very successful, but I didn’t see real results from it. I DO see real results from Twitter for my business, however. But engagement is not the only metric I use (which seemed to be what the associate focused on). It was very interesting but not something I’d pay for. And in the end, I just like Twitter. lol

  • It’d be great to see your list of top 5 innovations in the history of social media! Another post perhaps? 😀

    I too get a lot of my news updates and longreads from my Twitter feed, and its cascade effect onto other social networks is undeniable. Many huge stories have started off as tweets.

  • Interesting idea. I’ll work on it for you.:)

  • Aww. Love that comment. Thank you my dear.

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