And so, Twitter will shortly turn five years old.
From a niche club to an estimated 190 million users today; in-depth, double-page spreads in The Observer and a social media platform replete with tales illustrating the positive and negative power of communication.
No doubt, it has changed lives. Sometimes – as in the case of the Robin Hood Airport tweeter and whoever made monumental misjudgements for Habitat and, latterly, Kenneth Cole – probably for the worse.
But for every life changed, how many are still waiting for something to “happen” for them on Twitter? Has it changed my life? Well, yes and no. I certainly haven’t “monetised” Twitter in any way my wallet’s aware of (then I’m not sure Twitter has either, despite the fortune it’s supposedly worth) and there hasn’t been a singular, life-changing tweet I can claim.
What it has been is a vast, virtual lending library in which people are, perpetually, throwing books at me; some of which I manage to read and learn from. But what it’s been more significantly is a great repository of humanity in which I’ve found, befriended, shared laughs with, helped and been helped by people I’ve never met in person. I can’t think of another environment where that’s ever happened. And it’s proven to me that the once derided concept of the “online chatroom”, with all its shady connotations, can be so much more than that.
To get a sense of what Twitter means to people I follow, I asked a selection of them whether they could live without it and, if not, why not? This is what they said:
David Edmundson-Bird, director of executive programmes and principal lecturer (Digital Marketing Communications) at Manchester Metropolitan University: @groovegenerator
“Couldn’t live without it professionally. 1st source of expertise, trusted community, biz dvpt opps. Live and asynchronous method of support for students and great networking opps. I refer to true Tweeters wearing their whole heart on their sleeves. The truth will out. Still needs greater critical mass, but keeps fighting off alternatives.”
Louise Bolotin, freelance journalist and co-founder of InsidetheM60: @louisebolotin
“An essential working tool for me, from shoutouts for contacts to plugging my work, plus I use it to network and socialise.”
Adrian Slatcher, digital development office – innovation, Manchester Digital Development Agency: @adrianslatcher
“If Twitter finished tomorrow (or you had to pay for it) I’d probably wait for the next, not quite as good, thing. What I wouldn’t want to do is spend an age building up my network again on another platform – so that’s the value.”
Hamish Thompson, MD at Twelve Thirty Eight: @Suburbman
“I couldn’t live without it. I’d pay. People underestimate significance. Great provider/democratiser – a human right.”
Adrian Johnson, Umpf: @adrian_johnson
“Could NOT live without it – it’s my news filter. I check Twitter first rather than direct news channels.
Tim Difford, social media consultant: @timdifford
“The answer is yes. I did before and could do again. Most people live without it now. Would I want to? Definitely not. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that it has enriched many aspects of my life… from heightened productivity through to enhanced engagement and greater awareness. What’s more, I’m better connected, better informed and better looking.”
Georgia Brown, Digital Account Manager Connect Group and Director PhoneFromHere.com @GeorgiaBrown
“Twitter as a tool facilitates simple, effective, useful interaction with a like minded community of often geographically dispersed experts. But I am sure we would cope without! Nothing beats networking in person at conferences/events, but this isn’t feasible on a daily basis!!”
Nigel Barlow, co-founder and writer for InsidetheM60: @NigelBarlow
“Yes,of course I could live without it,but it provides an invaluable tool for collecting,contacting and broadcasting information at little or no cost apart from time. But, as with any technology, one day it could be redundant-look what happened to MySpace for example. I also worry as a society that it has narrowed our attention span and further eroded our social skills as has a lot of technological advancements and continued a trend towards materiality at the expense of substance.But could I live without it? At the moment No.”
Thanks to my fellow Tweeps, each of whom responded via Twitter in under an hour. Now that’s what I call collaboration!
In my humble opinion (or, should I abbreviate, IMHO) while LinkedIn is all about professional advancement and Facebook – at its best – is a private domain for your closest friends and family, Twitter is like one of those packed-out virtual parties that typified Second Life when it was all the rage. But instead of having to play out a role through unfeasibly flattering avatars with fake identities, in Twitter you are trading only on yourself; to work, that requires authenticity, honesty, and generosity. And we’re all the better for it.
Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR.