The Evolution of Twitter as an Information Service

Twitter recently announced that they were NOT a social media service, and with the release of Twitter 2.0 (I still haven’t got it yet!) it is clear that they mean it. The new permutation is more focused on being a news and content service than a social media platform, and while I initially rejected the distinction, it came to grow on me.

I know it’s old news, the conference when this was announced was a few weeks ago now, but it has taken me some time to think about this revelation, and what it means for the social space.

I’ve blogged before about how much I love Twitter, and for me there are definitely some solid social media aspects as to why this is the case. After reflection, however, I also realised that the information network part of Twitter played an equally large role in this perception.

There is no denying the fact that Twitter is so much more than a social network. It’s social news, news without spin, news you cannot see (more on that in a bit), it’s interaction, discussion, collaboration, customer service, argument, controversy, TRENDING, fun… the list goes on.

Part of my ‘awakening’ to the idea of Twitter as more than a social media service happened the other day when I was stuck on a train trying to get past a ‘major incident’ at Clapham Junction (this part is the news you cannot see). We were repeatedly told by the guard that this ‘major incident’ had caused a bottleneck and that we were queuing up to get past. Seemed to most of us that what was actually happening was the halting of our train while numerous others zoomed past. I decided that I wanted to know what had really happened, so I turned to twitter to see if Clapham was trending.

It was.

The one tweet that stuck out as being both enlightening and devoid of any editorial party line was by Emma and James Firth.
George Cathcart Retweets

I don’t know why getting this extra information made me feel more involved or connected to the incident, but getting drip-fed the same line over and over while your backside gets progressively more numb makes you thirsty for something of substance. Twitter provided that for me, and apparently countless others, too. I also felt connected to the hundreds of tired and pi**ed off commuters who just wanted to get home and have their tea. As Twitter-folk, we are at once the editors, distributors, promoters and moderators of the news we consume- that makes us pretty powerful. Perhaps it is this consumer power which is a key catalyst for brands investing in and developing social CRM strategies. A cynical motivation, perhaps – it would be nice to think that this shift in consciousness was for holistic reasons and not just businesses reacting to changing market conditions. (It’s really not all like that, so please excuse my cynicism!)

As a closing comment, I’d like to turn your attention to this story, and in particular the third page. Work done by Neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, has suggested that social networking produces the same hormone response as face-to-face interaction. Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for the bond formed between a mother and her new-born baby, as well as being vitally important for the feelings of empathy, generosity, trust, and more. In an isolated experiment, Paul got Adam Penenberg, a writer for Fast Company, to interact online with people for 10 minutes. Blood tests were taken before and immediately after the task.Those 10 minutes saw an oxytocin spike of 13.2%, as well as marked reduction in stress hormones. This spike of oxytocin was similar to the spire that a friend of Dr Zak’s experienced when he got married.

Obviously this is not a clinical study, and there is only one participant. Combine that with the fact that Adam is a regular user of social networks, and we have no grounds what so ever for generalising these results across any kind of population. It’s interesting food for thought, though. Dr Zak says that electronic connection is processed much the same way as face to face connection, and there are certainly similarities from what I’ve observed.

The implications for this, if it were proved to be accurate, are fairly huge. From companies having an open policy on letting their employees tweet during the day, to brands really focusing on engaging with their customers using these channels. This in the hope that the warm fuzzy feeling they get when they develop a relationship with their brand creates brand affinity, and maximises advocacy and buzz.

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