The Mainstreamification of Twitter

oprahThe big discussion lately has been the recent “mainstreamification” of Twitter as more celebrities start to use the application and are bringing their fan base with them.  Some people are welcoming of these new trends, others are worried/irritated.  The question isn’t “is twitter changing?”, its “how is it changing and will it be for better or worse?” Jeremiah Owyang provides some very interesting predictions worth checking out. Here’s what I think…

First off, twitter isn’t going to change very much on an individual level.  Twitter is opt in so you connect with who you want to connect with, you follow who you want to follow.  It doesn’t matter if there’s a million people or 100 million people, how old they are or what they’re interested in.  The only people that will be affected on an individual level are the big names that are used to being the “who’s who” of twitter.  The internet celebrities that rank as the most popular twitter users have, and will continue to give up their popularity titles to mainstream celebrities like Ashton.

The real changes will be found on a macro level. The service itself will change as Twitter attempts to appeal to this mainstream market and creates a monetization plan.  As the user base gets bigger, so does the range of features that people and businesses require.  We’ve already seen this happen with Myspace and Facebook.  Many once loyal users are unhappy with how “busy” these sites have become as they continue to lose focus on their original purpose.

Another issue has been the disapproval of how celebrities are using social media.  Some view Ashton’s race with CNN to 1 million followers as a publicity stunt that created a lot of buzz for himself and for twitter, and will be quickly forgotten.  Oprah built up 40 thousand followers before even posting a tweet.  In a community that values conversation and community, these are hardly the type practices that create real, valuable relationships. The issue is that many of these people are holding celebrities to the same accountability standards that we hold businesses on Twitter. While celebrities and business might seek similar benefits from social media, celebrities can’t (because of scale) and just don’t need to connect with their followers in the same way we expect businesses to.  If you’re interested in reading more on this issue, there’s a great conversation going on at Beth Harte’s blog.

Twitter is going through a time of change.  That is for sure.  When people see celebrities using Twitter, they stop thinking “I don’t get the point of Twitter” and start thinking “Am I missing out by not being on Twitter?”  More people are going to continue to give Twitter a chance and the Twitter team will try to convert them into regular users.  How that will change the twitter user experience is to be seen.  Regardless, people and businesses will continue to connect and communicate wherever their communities exist.

Edit: Just remembered an additional point.  One positive change for businesses is that as Twitter becomes more popular, the chance that their audience is present on Twitter increases, creating more opportunities.  At the same time, users aren’t going to follow your company just because you were the first/only one in your industry to join twitter anymore.  The mere fact that your business is using Twitter will become less interesting and you’re really going to have to provide value and connect on Twitter if you’d like your audience to follow you.

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6 thoughts on “The Mainstreamification of Twitter

  1. David,

    Thanks for adding one of the more common-sense approaches to this whole “debate”.

    As you say, who cares who uses what? It’s how you use it that defines the experience and that will never change.

    1. Danny,

      The only thing that will change in how we use these tools are the features that are given to us. Just because there are more bubbles, doesn’t mean yours will change. I think some people just get upset because they’re not the only bubble anymore.

  2. Excellent points. The “mainstreamification” isn’t really an issue to most of us. We’ll just get thrown in a hype cycle…everyone will love or hate it and either join or not join. The only real issue I have is with whether or not Twitter can handle that kind of volume (I’m guessing no).

    1. True. Well hopefully with this increase of popularity, and the initiation of some sort of monetization plan (hopefully) Twitter will be able to invest some funds into beefing up its servers. I don’t think the mainstream audience will be so forgiving of the fail whale.

  3. What I believe will happen is similar to what happened with MySpace. As celebs converge to Twitter, which on a pure marketing standpoint is brilliant, more and more “regular folks” will follow. As Americans, we have this sensation for celebrity and those who conceive as “famous.” So as the Ashton’s and Oprah’s begin to join Twitter, more regular folks will. However, Twitter won’t sustain the mass appeal that Facebook has been able to maintain. As gawkers, we like to see ourselves and are ego-driven. Twitter doesn’t allow this. We like pictures, constant updates, etc. One people realize this, they’ll get bored with Twitter.

    Us who use it for business and use it to build communities will continue to use it. It’ll just get harder to navigate, which is fine – that’s why we get paid to do what we do.

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