The Value of Twitter

Although things like real-time information, engagement and social networking are key use cases now, I believe that the true power of Twitter may still lie in undiscovered use cases.

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Every morning, I get up, get my coffee, sit down at the breakfast table and open Twitter on my iPad. I have a list set up of all the major tech publications and individuals who regularly say or share relevant technology news, analysis, or other insights I’m interested in. Thanks to Twitter, within a few minutes I am up to speed on any major news or key happenings within the tech realm. For me, Twitter has replaced the morning paper.

In regular discussions I have with industry folks, it seems as though the value of Twitter is still largely misunderstood. I hear often the theory that we are just creating a society of narcissists who feel the need to share every little detail about themselves. There may certainly be some cases where this is true, but the key to understanding Twitter is that it’s not what you post, but what you consume on Twitter that’s truly valuable.

Real-Time Information

There is simply nothing like Twitter that I have ever regularly engaged with. For me, it’s a real-time news service letting me get instant information, news, events and more in near real time. Throughout the history of broadcast mediums, when major events took place, people would turn to radio or TV to get a sense of all that was happening. I feel that we are in a shift and that Twitter is setting itself up to be the next major broadcast mechanism.

Years ago I recall having many discussions with news publishers, broadcasters and brands who were all hesitant to join and use Twitter. They simply didn’t see the value. Now in discussions with the same folks, they can’t imagine not using Twitter. In fact, they wondered how they ever lived without it. For people who are in the business of getting some sort of message out, Twitter provides an instant and near real-time connection to their target audiences. The power and potential of this cannot be underestimated. It all goes back to the underlying point of real-time information, but it even goes one step further by also providing real-time interaction.

In what medium can you not only consume information, but also have the ability to interact with the source of that information in real time? Brands, publishers and news outlets don’t just have a way to broadcast information effectively, they also have a way to engage with their audiences in real time. This was demonstrated incredibly effectively during the U.S. presidential elections last November. Twitter was not just a way to broadcast key information in real time; it also provided a platform where people could engage with the candidates and reporters or even ask questions during the debates. This is one example in a pool of many where Twitter is at the core of changing how we consume information and interact with the sources of that information.

I’ve had dialogues with celebrities, musicians, politicians, sports figures and many of those who follow me for tech news and analysis, all through Twitter. What other platform could offer those with a message a medium to broadcast and engage in real time?

Can Twitter Kill Facebook?

Aside from all the interesting ways I see Twitter being used, there is one other thing I could see potential with: Twitter’s role as a social network.

I did an informal survey of my Facebook timeline over the past few days. Only 28% of my timeline posts from Facebook friends contained messages that were over 140 characters. Most posts were short or were images or were links to articles: all things that would work on Twitter. Personally, I hate Facebook more than I like it. It’s a terrible experience more often than I find it valuable. Many of my close personal friends no longer use it and the few who do rarely post anything of substance. In fact, the only reason I am still on Facebook is for a handful of close friends who don’t live in the United States. They don’t post often but when they do, I like to keep up. I often joke to people that my life would be better if all my friends were on Twitter.

In fact, because of how much I engage and dialogue with Twitter followers of mine, I have met some great people who I feel I know better than many that I am keep up with on Facebook.

Do I actually think Twitter could kill Facebook? I’m not sure. Do many people have better experiences with Facebook than me? I’m sure they do. But I’ve also done enough market research to know that among the Facebook users who have been on the service for more than three years, there is a growing dislike of the service, the ads and the sponsored wall posts. In fact, during the same time period in which I tracked the amount of characters in the updates from people on my timeline, I also tracked sponsored or suggested posts Facebook inserted into my timeline. On average, and depending how many times I visited each day, roughly 10-15% of the content on my wall contained sponsored posts. I’ll be honest: I’m concerned about the long-term viability of Facebook, despite the continued staggering statistics it promotes.

I do fundamentally believe that my desires to keep up with friends and even engage in better relationships with them would be better fulfilled by using Twitter. Will they shift? I doubt it. But I’d love to see Twitter exploited as a social network for the masses more than it is today.

Twitter is shaping up to be one of the most disruptive new mediums to develop lately. Although things like real-time information, engagement and social networking are key use cases now, I believe that the true power of Twitter may still lie in undiscovered use cases. Twitter is one service I’m confident is going to be around for a long time.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.