Monday, April 20, 2009

How Oprah and Ashton have forever changed Twitter

Clay Shirky got it right, here comes everybody.

Celebrities and mainstream media have been gradually becoming more aware of Twitter over the last few months. But that awareness just got launched into the stratosphere (statusphere?) last week when Oprah joined Twitter. Oprah had Ashton Kutcher on her show last Friday to discuss his 'race' to be the first to 1 million followers with CNN. It seems Oprah joined Twitter last Thursday, and already has close to 400K followers.

Those of us that have been active on Twitter knew it was only a matter of time before 'everyone else' found out our favorite lil social tool. But now that celebrities have found Twitter, what will change?

First, Twitter is already feeling the 'Oprah affect'. I saw that Pistachio tweeted last night that almost 2 million people had signed up for Twitter since Oprah's show last Friday. I believe it, as the service was having constant problems yesterday.

Second, expect to see Twitter featured more prominently at social media conferences, and see celebrities being offered more speaking invitations. Beth Harte has a great debate at her blog over what role celebrities such as Oprah play in social media, so I'm not going to rehash it here. Bottom line is that celebrities bring more attention to whatever they touch, and Twitter will be no exception.

Third, celebrities will use Twitter as a broadcast tool. And to be fair, many of their fans won't have a problem with this at all. It's silly to expect Oprah to be able to effectively 'connect' with 400K people. Right now, she's using Twitter to give 'behind the scenes' updates on her show, and to many of her fans, that will be gold. I find it interesting as well.

But the problem is, I think this will stunt the effective use of social media by companies. Because what's going to happen (and is already happening), is that how these celebrities use Twitter is going to get a LOT of mainstream media attention. And companies are going to see how they have hundreds of thousands of followers, and only follow 5 people. Companies will see how celebrities are using Twitter as a broadcast tool, and that will influence how they do as well. And besides, most companies are more comfortable pushing messages out, rather than communicating anyway. This will be a way to 'validate' a method of 'communicating' that's more comfortable to them to begin with.

Fourth, some early Twitter adopters will move elsewhere. I think Jeremiah is partly right here. But for me, I won't stop using Twitter simply because celebs have found the tool. Still, that does mean that we'll be looking for better and more efficient ways to filter information, and stay in touch with close contacts. I think this does open the door for competitors in the microblogging space, especially new ones. For a while last summer, it seemed like a new 'Twitter killer' was popping up every week or so, but there's been little movement for months. That could soon change if the crush of new users continues to make Twitter more unstable.

BTW I snapped the above picture of the Ashton Kutcher Twitter billboard the other day as I was driving down the highway. I posted it to Twitpic with the caption 'The shark has officially been jumped'. What do you think? How will celebrities joining Twitter change it, and will it be for the good, or bad?


Jason Hill (@Scanty) said...

Great post as always Mack. I think it's really too early to tell what the celeb phenom is going to do to Twitter. I think the most important point of all is #3, and the most to the point response is how many clients/companies really think they have that celebrity appeal.

I think we will see another shift in social media here, and one that is ok. That is, while the medium is designed for two way communication, it's ok for certain demographic to use it as a broadcast platform. And if the content they are broadcasting is indeed appealing, it can only benefit social media in the long run.

Danny Brown said...

It doesn't change the approach consultants take. Clients wary of conversations over broadcast need reasons why broadcast doesn't always work.

And if businesses can't see that there's a big difference between their company and a multi-million dollar empire, they probably wouldn't be open to new ideas anyway.

Either that, or the consultant isn't doing their job explaining the difference.

Besides, did people stop buying their newspaper when they originally included celebrity sections?

No, they just perhaps didn't read the celeb section. Same with Twitter and other tools. It doesn't matter who uses them; it's how you use them.

Dina Santorelli said...

I don't know... I'm okay with all the hype. It's fun. The deluge of celebrities (and their legions of fans) doesn't really affect my social media world unless I choose to follow them -- and I do follow a few. For me, the sluggishness of Twitter over the past few days aside, Twitter's benefits remain unblemished.

Stuart Foster said...

I do think that to some extent Twitter is never going to be the same. The tough part for early adopters seeking a return to "the good old days" will need to figure out some genius way to get everyone to jump at the same time. Otherwise...I expect to be on Twitter for a while.

Ike said...

Ashton asked for the billboards.

@govtrust did this with no prompting on my part:

Who has the more rabid evangelists? ;)

Tim Jahn said...

Your third point is what worries me the most. Companies are going to get the wrong impression of the potential of social media based on the behavior of celebrities.

Broadcasting works but communication works more. I think it's going to be a bit harder now to show that to companies with Oprah and friends broadcasting their every move all day long.

Eric Brown said...

Hey Mack,
I find this whole charade fascinating, as well as entertaining. In our family, my wife recently started with twitter and ONLY follows (except for me:) celebrates and she thinks it is a hoot. I just laugh about it, however she actually really does follow them, and remarks about it and has fun with it.

It is an extension of entertainment for her. It is an extension of their Brand for them. I think there is whole market of folks like her.

The real eye opener for Social Media will be when the first celebrity fires their PR/Marketing Agency because they are now doing it themselves via twitter and facebook, or at least there are significant scope reductions.

You see, this new space we are playing in that we refer to as Social Media is much different, It is Permission Based, you can accurately track how many and who your audience is, and ah, its free, and lastly, no instructions are required, it is pretty simple to execute a followers plan.

hdbbstephen on Twitter said...

Eric Brown makes an excellent point. My wife is similar in that she watches all those reality shows on TV, so her interest in Twitter would follow the same pattern. She is one of the people that will use Twitter the same way she uses a TV.
The key point for marketers is that there are some products that fit this model better than a conversational or engagement model.
Like Danny Brown said "It doesn't matter who uses them; it's how *you* use them"

Robyn McIntyre said...

I agree with Danny; it's how you use Twitter. I have a mix of people with whom I interact and others I follow (w/o followback) because I find their tweets interesting/useful. My use hasn't changed because of @aplusk or @oprah, though even I have gotten a steadily rising follower count that could be related. So the real impact of celebrities may lie in the increase in numbers of new Twitter accounts in the short term, which may put a strain on Twitter's already strained resources. A number of those will turn into casual users and then fall into dis-use. Business brands may get the wrong idea about how to use Twitter, but the smarter ones will eventually catch on to how much better Zappos or Dell use it and change. IMO, we're on a swelling wave, but when the horizon re-appears, I don't expect it will look THAT much different. At least not for me.

Marc Meyer said...

Mack, I have to agree and I said it last week as well too, the shark has def been jumped. But I have to think(hope) that it will bode well for those of us who have been using twitter for quite some time. Just be sure to hang your Purists hat at the door, I already have; and tell Beth to do the same as well..:)

Gavin Heaton said...

The good thing is that Twitter is opt-in. You choose where you get value and vote with your allegiance.

Oprah and Ashton may have forever changed Twitter by bringing it into the lives of a few million more people, but as with any technology, you only get out what you put in. The power of Twitter rests with the users - in who you choose to follow and what you decide to share - and if this flock of new users don't find and and then begin to contribute value, then their interest will wane and they will simply stop using the site.

I am sure @Ev and co hope that they have ironed out enough of the bugs and reliability issues to keep interest high. I guess time will tell.

Joseph Hunkins said...

Although this is a thoughtful post I pretty much totally disagree that the celebrity connection is bad for Twitter or for the social media ecosystem.

Twitter's doing for the online public square what Google did for online search - bring a simple, intuitive, friendly face with a quality experience.

As with websites companies that adopt Twitter early will benefit far more than the later arrivals, but that's fine.

Jay and Gar said...

Great comments here!

I agree that it's ok for celebtrities to use Twitter to broadcast. In this insracne, they are giving their audience what they want.

However, if companies use Twitter in the same way, it will not only be useless to them, it will hurt them. A good example of a company using Twitter well is @RootsCanada. Roots is going above and beyond to communicate with followers.

Having said this, I must admit that I'm starting as an intern with Roots in a couple of weeks but part of the reason that I was attracted to them was for this reason.

gswd said...

The aspect of the celebrity and/or marketing is not new to Twitter. I remember one of my first follows was for Chuck Bartowski (aka the TV show Chuck). They kept it up for the first season, but nothing since. I recently came across the Twitter page for Dr. Gregory House (aka the TV show House), and no updates there since June of 2007. It seems that boredom come quickly for some marketing angles.

Ann Handley said...

Great post, Mack, as always. Maybe I'm an optimist, but I'm hopeful that the Oprah/Ashton result will legitimize Twitter. But, as usual, the companies who want to rise above the (broadcast) fray will figure out a truly creative way to leverage it. There are plenty of *those* kinds of examples, too. (And we all know who they are... I'm talking about YOU Zappos, Dell, Cirque du Soleil, FlyingDog, RedCross, etc. etc. etc....)

Mack Collier said...

"Same with Twitter and other tools. It doesn't matter who uses them; it's how you use them."

Danny I think this is a slightly different situation. Mainly because Twitter has always has stability issues, and a crush of celebs to Twitter will only spike membership, which will further strain an already shaky infrastructure. And to hear Ev tell it, Twitter has been scrambling to figure out their stability issues for years now.

If Twitter has widespread outages like it did last summer, that will prompt many users to explore other options, as they did last summer. This time, they might not come back.

Mack Collier said...

"I am sure @Ev and co hope that they have ironed out enough of the bugs and reliability issues to keep interest high. I guess time will tell."

Chris Thilk had an interesting point on Twitter today, that the increased interest from celebs for the service could make it easier for Twitter to raise additional funds to address stability issues. Then again, I wonder if it's a matter of them needing more money, or simply running down the problems they have now?

Ann I agree that the smart companies will continue to thrive on Twitter, and this will only extend their advantage over competitors that adopt the 'broadcaster' mindset.

David Holliday said...

In the short term having more celebs around Twitter will make no difference to me at all.

I have no interest in these people and I have no idea who this 1 mil follower guy is - never heard of him until this week. The only "celebrity" I follow is Trent from NIN. Not a fan of his music but he totally "gets" SM and I'm interested in what he says.

My hope is that some of the people that come to Twitter (and other kinds of SM) because they are lured by celebs, will stick around and actually become active community members.

One of the nice things with Twitter is that people use it in many different ways. Want to use to stalk your favorite celebs? Fine with me. Promoting your get more followers or get rich schemes? Great - spam away, I won't be following!

Regarding stability of the site, it seems to have been an issue for all the short time I've been here. I'm hoping that it is either fixed or a larger internet company with much better data centers and quality engineering takes it all over.

Sally_K said...

The one thing that the celebs are going to bring with them are the teenagers. Up until now the teens weren't getting it but now they are intrigued.

I think what's important now more than ever is to pay attention to who you are following and to use something like TweetDeck to sort out the noise.

I also like to continually remind people what Twitter is about (to me at least): building relationships, not trying to sell stuff.

My personal pet peeve is an autoDM trying to sell me something before the person even introduces themselves to me. Drives me crazy and usually is an instant unfollow for me.

By the way, it is thanks to you that I am on Twitter. I joined a years ago when I read a post you wrote about Twitter. - Thanks!

Tracy Marlowe said...

I TOTALLY agree with you, Mack, that businesses will use the "success" that celebrities will have with the approach of having a million followers and following only 10 people as a good excuse to utilize a broadcast strategy for themselves, since they tend to feel most comfortable as broadcasters than participating in two-way communication. It's so much easier, so why not!

I do think that the benefit, at least to businesses, is that celebrities will push Twitter into the mainstream faster than any of us ever could. That'll translate into a much larger playing field and a potential for conversing with a much larger section of your market if you’re a business. If I sell widgets, then instead of 100 people talking about widgets on Twitter, now there will be 1,000 or 10,000 people. Then there’s the added potential for a more in-depth understanding of what makes our markets tick since there will be more people, and thus more conversations, happening. That’s golden. Plus, (and, of course, I'm a marketer) there will be so many more people to reach!

So, while I can definitely see a downside for celebrity social media endorsement, especially Twitter. There is certainly an upside as well. This has been a revolutionary, changing medium from the start so hang on to your hats! Looks like we're in for another fast ascent in the tracks!