Twitter turns 5 - here's how things have changed

Last week, micro-blogging sensation Twitter turned five years old. It celebrated this auspicious birthday in typical fashion: by breaking the ‘billion tweets a week’ barrier.

Twitter has become one of the internet’s most extraordinary success stories. Its sheer simplicity, and its limitless range of applications, has meant that it has enjoyed support from traditional early adopters and technophobes alike. It provides users with a simple, effective, free way to communicate with other people; a way to build awareness online; or simply way to get things off their chest – in a maximum of 140 characters.

Twitter is not, as some reactionary detractors would suggest, awash solely with people telling the world what they had for breakfast. Instead, it is a uniquely valuable way to connect with your peers, your competitors, and your customers – both current and potential. Twitter is constantly changing the way in which businesses operate, and it looks set to continue to do so.

It is no exaggeration to say that Twitter has truly changed the world over the course of its short life. So what has the little blue application done for us?

Made customer engagement easier

Twitter has revolutionised the way in which businesses engage with their customers. Now, firms can interact, not just broadcast. Blogging was all very well, but it is intrinsically a one-way method of communication. Twitter, by contrast, is a conversation, allowing businesses to actually talk to current or potential customers.

Caused problems for clumsy businesses

Of course, this massive and rapid flow of information has caused huge problems for businesses who have dared to cross the Twittersphere. Firestorms are common on Twitter. Consider the fate of Claire’s Accessories, which found itself the target of users’ rage after it was accused of copying a designer’s work.

Twitter means that business practices with which people disagree can be quickly brought to the attention of the world. But it is also a minefield for businesses that don’t understand it. Firms that use Twitter simply to broadcast marketing messages, for example, have quickly attracted the ire of users – and this has can have a significant impact on real-world sales.

Changed the way we interact

In the past, many businesses had presumed that marketing was a one-way activity. Indeed, in many cases it was; newspaper adverts, radio broadcasts, even direct mail – many of the traditional marketing methods intrinsically involved businesses talking at their potential customers.

Twitter, along with other social media, has completely destroyed this preconception. Today, marketing is all about conversation; it is about understanding your customers better, listening to their concerns, and engaging with them in a more human way.

Forced businesses to take social media seriously

Until very recently, many businesses wrote off social media as a flash-in-the-pan trend, or a buzzword that would soon become an anachronism. But the stratospheric success of Twitter, along with the remarkable growth of tools like Facebook, has meant that businesses of every size have been forced to sit up and listen. Many businesses that didn’t previously have a presence on social media have been forced into it after finding that their customers are using these tools to talk about them anyway.

Of course, there are still many businesses that continue to resist social media – but the numbers are falling, and the firms’ understanding of the power of these tools is improving every day.

Made word of mouth a make or break factor

Every business owner is aware of the importance of word of mouth. It is the most effective form of marketing you can get. But the ‘wildfire’ effect of Twitter shed a dramatic new light on the make-or-break nature of word of mouth. Increasingly, businesses can be buoyed to success, or have the trust of the online community destroyed, in a matter of hours. Twitter amplifies word of mouth, and dramatically increases the speed at which it travels – and this has major implications for businesses.

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