Twitter is not a Social Network

April 2, 2009

Twitter, while certainly developing an identity of its own, is usually lumped in with other social media such as MySpace and Facebook. Twitter is an entirely other animal, however. True social media derives its value from the real-life relationships between the users. Twitter, on the other hand gives value to the users because of the desired social connections that become public. There is no notion of a “friend” on Twitter, just followers. This is an objective term that is appropriate in this circumstance. The term “friend” should be reserved for relationships that truly exist outside of the internet. LinkedIn does a great job of enforcing this and reinforcing the concept.

Twitter, in my opinion, would be better described as a “Personality Web“. There are three pillars of equal standing that define an individual (or other entity) on Twitter: Tweets, Followers, and Follows.

The first point, tweets, seems obvious. You are what you say. This is how most people try to leave their mark, and impart their style. There are other aspects of the tweet that define public perception as well. This could be frequency of tweets, frequency of @ replies, re-tweets, content of posted links, etc. There’s no right answer on what the correct ratios or content should be. Twitterers should just be aware that in addition to what you say, your overall patterns of tweets serve to define you.

The second point, followers, is also fairly obvious. I would venture to say that most users of Twitter are putting themselves out in the open in the hope that the rest of the Twitterverse will find them interesting in some way and add them to their follow list. I am impressed by those with leagues of followers who are not the everyday name celebrities of the real world. I would conclude that these people have found the sweet spot on point number one.

The third point is probably the most overlooked. Who you choose to follow defines your personality as much as what you say. The meaning of this is clearer with a small number of followers. If you see the list of celebrities and companies a person follows, then you get a good sense of their interests. In a way, Twitter might be seen as a Create Your Own Reality Show device. The ratio and volume of types of followers has an effect as well. My opinion, but a real example of this effect, is that my impression of those who follow an extremely large number of users (I don’t know what the critical mass is) is that they can’t possible be that interested in any particular set of users. Sure, there are tools that one can use to filter the tweet streams, but it seems like the point has been missed.

A fourth pillar, which maybe isn’t as meaningful but still has an effect, is the Twitter username itself. I think the creators of Twitter understand this because twitter is one of the few applications I’ve seen where the user can change their own username. It seems the norm is trending towards Twitterers using some form of their own name instead of the historically popular “handle” approach. In my case, I noticed a big uptick in my own presence on Twitter once I changed my username from yankeehoo to JimSchweitzer. This again reinforces the notion that Twitter is about personality first an foremost.

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2 Responses to “Twitter is not a Social Network”

  1. croakingtoad Says:

    hmm, I think I’ll have to agree AND disagree with you on one point. I think Twitter can be either a social media outlet or a “personality web” and maybe both.

    I use Twitter regularly to interact and consult with other search professionals outside of conferences, etc., so for me, it’s very social.

  2. Bill Hanifin Says:

    Jim,
    I heard last night that Ashton Kutcher has challenged CNN in a race to 1MM followers on Twitter. All those who fall into the category of gathering numbers for the sake of numbers are probably not going to add to your business or mine. I have met some interesting people, made contacts within my industry, and gained access to good material and articles from Twitter. That has to do more with why I’m there and how I use the tool.
    Thanks for your thoughts and the link.
    Bill


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