When I discovered Twitter in 2008 I was a freelance writer and fledgling business owner working from the third bedroom of our home. I was also a new-ish mum looking for different ways to connect with others in the same situation.
I had been blogging for two years already and was an active member of a few online communities for women in business and mums in business. It was one of these online friends who suggested I look at Twitter in 2008, and once I did I saw a whole world open up.
Physically, more than socially, isolated, I set up an account and dived into a few conversations with people I vaguely knew with the aim of building a bigger social network. For the next few years I was a huge fan of everything Twitter because I could have amazing, funny and inspirational conversations with so many people. I followed all my IRL friends, everyone I met at networking events and anyone who wrote or presented anything I was interested in. My #followfriday (or #ff if there were lots of names) list grew week by week until I became overwhelmed by it. The point is, Twitter was the place to be for someone like me.
Then slowly, so slowly it was almost imperceptible, Twitter stopped being the place where I had conversations. I was thinking about the point I switched to other platforms for the conversations I used to have when this was discussed in an online course I recently completed via Futurelearn on Social Media Analytics. Of course I’ve had the same conversation with many friends on and offline in the past five years, with all of us lamenting the loss of the Twitter of 2008-9, but the comments from my online course cohort showed this experience replicated all over the world.
Twitter moved from the place of conversation, sharing interesting links and bits of your life to be more of a broadcast medium – and a way to legitimately follow celebrities without being labelled a stalker. Sure, many of those things still happen on Twitter, but the norm is now a mix of article links, news updates, read my book/vote for me/buy my product tweets and lots of retweets (for my feed anyway).
Some of the material covered during the analytics course made me wonder if Twitter’s evolution to being more of a news-like platform where users broadcast information was inevitable. The platform’s founder, Jack Dorsey, explained it to David Sarno like this: “The important consideration [is] that on Twitter, you’re not watching the person, you’re watching what they produce…you’re not dealing with them personally, you’re dealing with what they’ve put out there”. Indeed, Twitter was founded with the idea that it was somewhere to share and consume information, not as somewhere to find friends.
To give you an illustration of what I mean, I used the terms “#journalism” and “#socialmedia” to search my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds. I wanted to see how the use of the terms differed across the three different platforms, which are also the three I use most. Here’s what I found:
When I searched Twitter using #journalism I found links to articles in a number of publications such as New York Daily News and Journalism Buzz, an opinion piece about journalists’ code of ethics, conversations about what political journalists should be covering re the US election and a cartoon about journalism in Pakistan. Some of these tweets included other hashtags to identify the communities they were relevant for and/or the topics the tweet covered, such as #Pakistan, #media, #journo, #DNCleak.
For #socialmedia I found tweets about social media marketing, a link to an opinion piece about where social media experts are wrong and tips on using different platforms. Additional tags were used to highlight the specific area of marketing, such as #SEO, #marketing, #LinkedIn, #ThoughtLeadership.
I searched Facebook using the #journalism tag and found posts about the US election, journalists being killed (via Al Jazeera) and a woman posting about how she loved her job in journalism. Searching with #socialmedia I found a post about internet trolls, another from someone asking for followers and advice about how hashtags don’t work if your account is private.
For #journalism I found posts with videos of newsreaders, a post by a sports journalist about the Olympic Games and a photo of a newspaper front page. My #socialmedia search found an inspirational quote, several selfies and a social media campaign for #firedepartment #drones.
Looking at how these two search terms differed across platforms I can see Twitter was used more for broadcasting and newsy updates, Facebook posts were more business/corporate and advice driven, while Instagram posts personal, rather than covering current affairs. So it seems Instagram has become the more social of platforms – for me anyway.
Do you use Twitter? If so, how do you use it and what has your experience been?