What Twitter Really Is

Six years after it started, people are still asking the question:

What is Twitter… really?

The answer may, in fact, shock you.

What Is Twitter
Photo credit: Andreas Eldh (Creative Commons)

So what is it?

A cocktail party, of course. It’s an excuse to have a conversation.

Twitter is not a megaphone or a platform. It’s not even a channel. It’s a networking event. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

Twitter is the cheapest way to send an instant message to someone interested in you. It’s the easiest mode of finding breaking news that’s relevant to you. It’s the most effortless way to meet a celebrity.

Twitter is not the main stage. It’s the backstage. What happens over coffee and face-to-face, while others are schmoozing and dropping business cards on tables.

If you are going to use this tool to make a difference in people’s lives — even your own — you had better take note of these distinctions. Otherwise, what you’re saying doesn’t count. You’re only contributing to the noise.

Signal versus noise

Social media is more about the social than the media. It always has been. Because heavens knows there are easier ways to drive traffic and attract an audience. There are a million better methods for getting your content read.

No, my friends. This is not about broadcasting. Twitter is about relationship that leads to conversation, and vice versa. In fact, most media that matters is these days.

So what are you waiting for? Stop proclaiming. Start conversing. Oh and you might benefit from these articles:

What do you think Twitter really is? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Andreas Eldh (Creative Commons)

62 thoughts on “What Twitter Really Is

  1. I agree with Mandy. I’ve thrown questions or comments out there to try to connect with followers but have gotten no response. I think the scheduled tweets from HootSuite (or wherever) have ruined the social part of Twitter.

  2. I get frustrated with those who are “too big” to interact on Twitter. But I’ve set that frustration aside and slowly used it to build relationships that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and I appreciate it for that.

    1.  I’ve found it hard to interact with people on Twitter. While I’m not big, I do have a couple of hundred people that I follow. The noise that comes through is overwhelming and I feel like I’m missing the interaction that could happen.

      1. I find the few hundred I follow easy to keep track of – there are certain people I invest in, while others I follow simply for news. But maybe that’s my youth showing. =)

        1. Maybe it is your youth… Being able to check it only a couple of times a day, the information overload is insane to me. Who knows, maybe as I use it more I’ll get better at it.

          1. That’s what I’ve found as well. In the past, I almost abandoned it – it seemed trite and trivial to me. However, as I’ve learned to use it, I’ve seen that its platform is prime for the up and coming generation.

  3. People are in it for all different reasons. And that’s fine. But whether or not they are successful is rarely measured.some collect follwoers and never engage. Seems pointless to me but that’s their business.

    I’ve been on twitter for about a year now, and i’ve learned so much from people like you.  To me facebook is secondary. It’s where I connect with people I  have already connected with and want to expand past more than 140 characters.

    The most valuable twitter option, in my humble opinion is the twitterchats. You are instantly connecting to people with commonalities, often either like-minded or who will blow your mind with new perspectives.

    It’s all about engaging and being responsive. Most of the people who say that social media is “social” are, sadly, usually the ones who are high and mighty and no longer seem to believe they need to follow their own rhetoric.

    But you’re right… social media is about connecting. I am truly wide-eyed and grateful at what the last year has brought to my life and my career.

    You are a bright light.

  4. People are in it for all different reasons. And that’s fine. But whether or not they are successful is rarely measured.some collect follwoers and never engage. Seems pointless to me but that’s their business.

    I’ve been on twitter for about a year now, and i’ve learned so much from people like you.  To me facebook is secondary. It’s where I connect with people I  have already connected with and want to expand past more than 140 characters.

    The most valuable twitter option, in my humble opinion is the twitterchats. You are instantly connecting to people with commonalities, often either like-minded or who will blow your mind with new perspectives.

    It’s all about engaging and being responsive. Most of the people who say that social media is “social” are, sadly, usually the ones who are high and mighty and no longer seem to believe they need to follow their own rhetoric.

    But you’re right… social media is about connecting. I am truly wide-eyed and grateful at what the last year has brought to my life and my career.

    You are a bright light.

  5. Sadly, I’ve never gotten into Twitter. I feel like I have a lot more to say than 140 characters will allow. LOL I do love Facebook though and have just recently started a blog that I’m really enjoying.  I’m always excited to meet new people and interact, especially since I work from home so I may have to consider Twitter.

  6. Twitter is a lifeline for me. I haven’t come across a social network that has affected my life in such a positive way. I’ve met so many incredible people from all over the world (many also in person) and have had the honor to impact lives through it. Twitter is love.

    1.  I’ve been trying to build relationships on Twitter via sharing and a small amount of interaction but haven’t gained much traction. What would you suggest to build more relationships?

        1. True Jeff. But I find it difficult when there’s hundreds of items posted in a matter of hours, and sometimes minutes. I think it’s a feeling of being overwhelmed that frustrates me about Twitter.

          1. I’m more or less having the same experience. My resolution is going to be to focus on imteracting with a chosen few. I don’t feel obligated to interact with absolutely everyone.

    2. You’re right, Joanna. Twitter is about building relationships and it’s a great way to meet people you never would meet.

      I love what Jeff said about “backstage” because it is so true! 

  7. This may be the best assessment of Twitter I’ve ever read. Great call out on the impact of conversation. While I share my own content and try to promote others (you included) it can be too easy to fall into the trap of being a megaphone hoping someone will listen.

    I always get a little bummed when I open Twitter, Facebook or Google+ and all I see is a list of links. I can do that on Google News.

    It would be interesting to see if a social media tool came out that disabled links in the feed and only allowed one in the profile bio.

    1. Use Path, if you want that. If you remove links from Twitter, most people we follow today we would never know or follow. I got to know you through a link to your blog. I’m sure this is how you got here too. The beauty of twitter is the access to material and data that we get. It’s a database of “information” You just have to learn how to tame it. 

    1. Have you tried to engage in conversation with people? When it becomes too noisy you can also use lists to control the noise. It works for me. 

  8. I love your explanation! I’ve tried telling others about Twitter and have used MANY more words without getting the point across! Thanks for stating it so clearly! I will definitely be using this. “Backstage”! Of course, I’ll give you the credit! 🙂

  9. I read the comment once that Facebook is the sleepy little town that shuts down at dusk, while Twitter is the big party in the city that goes all night long. By the way, love this line: “Twitter is not the main stage. It’s the backstage. What happens over coffee and face-to-face, while others are schmoozing and dropping business cards on tables.”

  10. The sad state of Twitter is when their own employees don’t even know what it is. I attended a session on how NYC is using social media and after the session I approached Adam Sharp who’s a twitter employee and asked him flat out, “what’s the right way to use Twiter?”. His response, “there is no wrong way to use Twitter”. Of course, he’s an employee and he wants (needs?) people to be on it. 

    I agree with you though, the correct way to use Twitter is to engage in conversation and build on those relationships. I’ve met a handful of people via Twitter that have turned out to be good friends. I’ve also had access to some people who I would normally not have access to. It’s a great tool. I enjoy it more than any other social tool out today. 

  11. Twitter is whatever the majority makes it. Which right now is another medium of self-promotion and well…tweeting quotes from other people (dead or alive and not always accurate).

    Your definition of Twitter is an ideal but honestly not enough people take the time to make it that. It would be a beautiful and much less noisy place if that was the case.

  12. Twitter:  Mutual support through concise communication.  (Agonizingly concise, sometimes, but that’s good for us. Sharpens us up.

  13. Twitter:  Mutual support through concise communication.  (Agonizingly concise, sometimes, but that’s good for us. Sharpens us up.

  14. Absolute truth. 

    Seems the broadcasting theme has come up often lately. I’ve actually taken a step back from social a bit to try and find the forest for the trees.

    And thank you for diagnosing this disconnect between what people perceive social media is in practice vs. definition.

    It’s relationships – not tools. Always has been, always will be.

  15. Twitter is a blank piece of paper. You can put whatever you would like on it. It’s totally up to you. Assuming its under 140 characters, of course.

  16. As a marketer, I have always shied away from twitter b/c I felt that in a way, my profession is bastardizing what it was truly intended to be.  When I finally joined (a year ago), I decided that I would not be like every other marketer out there and instead use it to help spread content and be an all around “good” guy about it.

    Doing so has led me into a few great relationships with others interested in the same genre as myself.  So, to me, twitter is really about giving and networking without taking.  Weird that that’s coming from a self-professed marketer, right?

  17. Jeff, maybe I’m missing the point, but isn’t a key difference that Twitter is public and searchable? Only DMs are private. My concern with the analogy that Twitter is “backstage” is the potential inference that what you do on Twitter is somewhat hidden, when Twitter is very definitely it’s own stage to the world.

  18. I like this analogy.  It makes sense to me.  And it’s one reason that I find Twitter slightly overwhelming – just as I’d find a cocktail party a bit overwhelming.  You walk in and find a room full of strangers who are all talking, and how do you join the conversation?  Maybe it’s just the introverted me who struggles with things like that, but I feel like I’m still just the wallflower watching everyone else talk and tweet.  🙂

  19. Maybe this is why I never like tweets from people who link their Facebook accounts to Twitter.  Facebook posts never seem to fit in twitter.  Too long, trailing off, dot dot dot.  I always ignore them because they feel like an interruption to the party.  Any one else feel this way?

  20. Twitter is endlessly unimportant, it has no depth. Social interaction in real time requires more than 140 characters. There is no life on the internet, only words and images, a 2 dimensional, barren plain.

  21. Hells yeah it’s a party. Pop open the champagne.  Lead with an awesome one-liner for people to retweet.  Dive into some friendly conversation to mingle with your fans. And if the want if they want to know more then they can click on my profile that has a link to http://www.this-is-how-cool-i-am.com.  At the end of the day the goal is exposure. And in my opinion.. nobody does it better than the Twitter Machine.

  22. And I’m feeling like the annoying person at the party who comes up behind people laughing together, awkwardly trying to get into their conversation.

  23. Sometimes I have trouble finding stuff to say besides “check out my blog, check out my blog.”  I know I don’t like meeting people who’s only conversation is, “Check out my website!” when they first meet you.  I understand people are there for their own marketing purposes, but theres gotta be a better way to do that.  Does anyone have any suggestions for other things to say on Twitter that add value?  I try to use quotes, retweets, and links, but there’s gotta be more ideas.

  24. Twitter is great to give me samples of what people are thinking about all around the world-which I need to know in pursuing my own passions for what I want to do with my writing.

  25. My hubz follows a billion people & thus has a billion people following him back. I call this noise. There is no way he is truly interested in that many people, & there is no way that many people are interested in what he has to say (no offense, honey, but it’s true!). On the opposite hand, I only follow people who have interesting things to say, & I interact with them to let them know my feelings. I don’t have that many followers, but because I keep my list “slim”, they are more “legit” than my husband’s. It’s all a matter of perspective. If you’re going solely for numbers, then sure — my husband has got me beat hands down. But if you’re going solely for authenticity, I’m the clear “winner” here. Not that it’s a contest or anything… lolz

    Andi-Roo
    /// @theworld4realz

    https://www.theworld4realz.com/

    [email protected]

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