Not only because a surgery conducted via Twitter made headlines the other day, Twitter is all the buzz (again), and it seem as if almost three years after its now legendary debut at SXSW Interactive, the popular micro-blogging service has reached the second (or third) hype cycle, entering the business and media mainstream as the ultimate narrow- AND broadcast network. Joel Comm, CEO of InfoMedia Inc. and author of Twitter Power, points out: “It's like the old saying: ‘People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.' People who use Twitter as only a broadcast system are missing out on 95% of its benefits.” And further: “It's about staying top of mind. If a brand was to run an ad campaign and it only reached 1,000 people, it wouldn't be doing so well, but a brand can do very well with 1,000 followers on Twitter because of who they are and how conversions can reverberate within the community and outsside the community.”
Consequently, everyone’s writing about Twitter again (on and off Twitter), but the conversation has shifted from a “What is it?” to a “How to” – a sure sign that it will not experience the same slow decline as Second Life.
A new Pew study on “Twitter and Status Updating” discovers that Twitter users tend to be younger and more mobile than the general Internet population. They also consume more news through the Internet and tend to engage in social activities online differently than everyone else. The report further says that the average Twitter user is "overwhelmingly young," although the average age of a Twitter user is slightly higher than most other social networking services. (Twitter's median age is 31, while Facebook's is 26 and MySpace's is 27.) Nearly one in five (19%) online adults ages 18 and 24 have ever used Twitter and its ilk, as have 20% of online adults 25 to 34. Use of these services drops off steadily after age 35 with 10% of 35 to 44 year olds and 5% of 45 to 54 year olds using Twitter. The decline is even starker among older internet users: 4% of 55-64 year olds and 2% of those 65 and older use Twitter.
Yet these numbers are likely to change, as Ars Technica predicts: “Given another few years, it won't be surprising to see widespread Twitter use spread to older and more general Internet users in the same way text messaging has spread to parents and families. In fact, Twitter often only involves sending an SMS in the first place – maybe some of those parents can keep the momentum going after texting their kids and start sending updates to Twitter while they're at it.” The Pew study indicates that there will not only be opportunities for vertical twittering geared towards professionals (Yammer) but also for services tailored to certain age groups: Think of a Twitter for seniors to stay in touch with their children and grandchildren as the next killer app.
And then there is what you could call Moderated Twittering, in other words: attempts to tame the conversation monster for the sake of attracting advertisers. Glam Media monetized its Oscars feed by offering marketers the chance to sponsor a filtered or edited version of the message stream during the awards ceremony. As VentureBeat notes, the ad network’s editors chose which tweets showed up in the stream and purged those that were inappropriate or off-topic, making it safer for brand advertisers. Aveeno sponsored the OscarsTwitter widget; Glam Media says it plans to expand the service, dubbed gWire, to include FriendFeed and Facebook streams for future events.
Other innovative ways of Twittering can be found in the realm of visualization. Elizabeth Baranik, for example, points out how the ASAE Great Ideas Conference used Twitterfountain for a visually richer feed.
The medium is new, the challenge is old: It’s all about being different. Attention is the currency of any online (and offline) social interaction, and on Twitter, being re-tweeted is “the sincerest form of flattery,” as AlwaysOn puts it (while also provididing some suggestions as to how to achieve that). In the fast new Twitter ergo sum world, the formula goes: The more popular your status updates, the higher your social status.
Tim Leberecht is the CMO of frog and the publisher of design mind.