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Idea: Why Twitter Is the Most Powerful Medium in History—and a Failure

By Rex Hammock

No matter your beliefs regarding politics, investment strategy or marketing technology, the past few months have been a lesson in why it is impossible to understand Twitter. I’ll admit that I’ve been saying the same thing since the earliest days of the Twitter era.* On my personal blog, I once wrote more than 10,000 words over the course of a year on why understanding Twitter is impossible. (Yes, the post was partially satire to explain why it can’t be explained.)

Lately, a perfect storm of circumstances has made Twitter more impossible to understand than ever.

  1. Investors have hammered Twitter’s stock because it hasn’t met their expectation for user growth. Despite its growth in revenues and profitability, Wall Street is focused on a metric it can compare to other social media benchmarks.
  2. Twitter has become the most important channel of instant and sourced news in history. It not only is being mentioned in every news story about the presidential nomination process (or any world event), but it’s typically mentioned in the first few paragraphs.
  3. Far into the future, historians will be analyzing the tweets of Donald Trump to attempt to understand how his unfiltered use of Twitter as a direct-to-voter messaging channel has dictated six months of the news cycle while crushing millions of dollars of TV advertising aimed at him.

Twitter is at an inflection point where it is failing in the eyes of Wall Street at the precise moment it’s proving its importance not just as a bullhorn for mouthy musical artists but also as a tool to influence elections, bring down terrorists and even control those in positions of power.

Sometimes, success can’t be measured in business model metrics. Perhaps Twitter is more like oxygen than a publicly traded company. It’s over my head. It’s over everyone’s.

Lesson for marketers: You are the only expert in determining the potential effectiveness of Twitter for your company. Experiment with its new formats. But don’t expect any expert to know what’s right for you without spending time making sure that it’s not based simply on what’s right for others. But one thing’s for sure: Get your company on Twitter and keep the tweets fresh. One day, you’ll need a podium for speaking to your world, and Twitter is the first place people will go to hear your side of the story.

*My account, @R, was set up December 21, 2006. My account is #146,733th out of 650 million. But still, after a decade and 18,000 tweets to 44,000 followers, I’ve never understood it.

(Photo: Adam via Flicker. CC by 2.0)