Is Twitter Still a Social Network or Something More?

@Nina | Social, Strategy

A few years ago, when I was still using Myspace to blog, they’d just introduced the ability to post short status updates that would show up on your friends’ home pages. Around this time, someone asked me what Twitter was and how it worked. I replied simply, “It’s just a bunch of status updates, but you only get 140 characters.”

To say that today would be the understatement of the century.

Twitter has become more than just a social network. It is now a bona fide media entity influencing pop culture, politics, and business. Here are just a few ways Twitter has risen above a simple social network and inserted itself into public consciousness.

1. Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN – Five years ago, it was all about how many Myspace friends you had. Now, it’s all about how many people are following you on Twitter. The first person to actively, and shamelessly, woo followers was actor Ashton Kutcher. In 2009 he’d already amassed quite a following when he famously challenged CNN to see who could get to 1 million followers first. Ashton won. He said then, “I found it astonishing that one person can actually have as big of a voice online as what an entire media company can on Twitter.”

And that’s a really great way to put it. On Twitter, one voice is actually as loud as the number of followers it has, and the number of those people willing to retweet what you say. Everyday Joes with bad customer service experiences will put a company on blast, influencing opinions and, much to a company’s dismay, shopping habits.

2. Revolution – From Libyans in 2010 to Egyptians in 2011, social media played a large part in people in other countries ensuring that their government didn’t control information and perception. Twitter was at the forefront of this as rebels tweeted real time updates, photos and videos.

3. The Politics of Twitter – Presidential candidates have twitter accounts, Representatives choose to tweet over attending a presidential address, and Twitter has even played a part in the end of a political career.

4. Marketing – MC Hammer – yes, I said MC Hammer – appeared on Oprah over a year ago and talked about how he’d long ago embraced social media and worked closely with many internet startups. He explained to the Queen of All Media how she could reach millions of people for free to promote whatever she wanted. He told her that by using Twitter she’d have instant access to people she already knew would be interested in what she was advertising. She seemed amazed. In that time, I’ve watched closely as Oprah has fully embraced Twitter and used it to push her new network, OWN, often tweeting TwitPics to prove that it’s really her behind the posts. She uses Twitter to interact with viewers during live broadcasts. For someone who has said many times that the iPad is her favorite invention ever, I had to wonder, “Girl, what took you so long?!”

5. Twitter TV – Networks have even jumped on the Twitter bandwagon by posting their shows’ Twitter handle along the bottom of the screen during programming, and encouraging viewers to follow along with their tweets while they watch. Some shows have offered up sneak peeks at episodes to people who follow them on Twitter.

Sure, Twitter is still used as a traditional social network, but it’s clear that their influence has expanded on what social means. It has become more than just a vehicle for people to share what they’re doing and where they’re eating. Twitter has connected the world, making it a much smaller place.