Yesterday (30th June) was World Social Media Day. (There’s a day/week/month for everything these days.) I’ve always been an early adopter of social and digital media, which helps explain why I now work in this sphere. Over the years I’ve dabbled in MySpace – anyone remember that? – Tumblr, blogs, podcasts and a variety of ‘next big things’ that turned out instead to be ‘last year’s forgotten thing’. You’ll find me regularly on Facebook and Instagram. But Twitter is where I’m most comfortable.
I’m not alone. Twitter has 350 million monthly active users. Okay, that’s small beer compared to Facebook (2.8 billion MAUs). Nonetheless, that’s still more than enough to find plenty of like-minded people to engage with.
Putting the ‘social’ in social media
I’ve been on Twitter for nearly 14 years now. In that time, I’ve maintained a large number of long-distance friendships via Twitter. And I’ve made new (and in some cases life-long) friends I would never have discovered otherwise who share common passions.
My love of professional road cycling brought me into contact with six such people spanning three countries, giving birth to both a blog and podcast. Both are still going strong after nearly a decade. I’ve bowed out of both but the friendships remain, even though I’ve only met three of them in person once and one other not at all. I remain part of several other Twitter communities too, from bloggers and influencers to Arsenal fans.
There’s a reason why it’s called ‘social’ media, you know.
Why I use Twitter
Now, Twitter isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Other people are more at home on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. Some people are put off by all the trolling, fake news and bot accounts. Others use Twitter solely for link-dumping, self-promotion or trying to establish themselves as a Poundland Katie Hopkins or Piers Morgan. (It takes all sorts, eh?)
But, as much as I wish all of the above would go away, I can deal with that. I use Twitter to share thoughts and observations, to catch up with and comment on the news and to engage in conversation with others.
Tweeting random snippets is like an extension of blogging for me. Little things the kids say or do. Wry personal observations on life. All the things that aren’t worthy of a 700-word blog post but fit neatly into 280 characters.
Twitter is also great for introverts like me who are rarely the first to speak up in social situations or prefer the written word. You’ll know at least one person like me in your own social groups. We’re the ones who come up with killer one-liners … 30 seconds after the conversation has moved on, leaving us kicking ourselves. On Twitter, I can still tweet my bons mots because the conversation remains ongoing.
News and real-time interaction remains Twitter’s key strength. In my mind, Twitter experienced a Golden Age between 2009 and 2011 when there were enough users to achieve critical mass but not so many that some of the more undesirable elements we see today had started to develop. It was Twitter that broke the Hudson River plane crash and Arab Spring. On-the-spot ‘citizen journalists’ delivered images and commentary well before traditional media outlets. Even now, Twitter gives any user the opportunity to add their takes to any developing news story. Sometimes that’s a good thing – it affords diverse perspectives a voice – sometimes not so much.
And, of course, Twitter is great for enabling real-time conversations. The 280-character limit encourages brevity, which in turn leads to rapid-fire dialogue. Twitter greatly enhances my experience of live events. It’s where I can engage with my friends and other fans about the Tour de France. We share updates and chew the fat in real-time. Without Twitter, this would be impossible unless we were in the same room together.
For better or worse
For sure, Twitter isn’t what it once was. There are too many people posting too many tweets which drown out the content you’re interested in. There’s too much negativity, disinformation and tiresome self-promotion. Everyone’s an expert on everything now – from epidemiology to football tactics – if you take everything at face value.
Gone are the days when I would log on to Twitter to see what Stephen Fry was musing about today. Or where all my mentions were people striking up genuine conversations, rather than bellowing at me in ALL CAPS why I’m an idiot for daring to voice a world-view that doesn’t match theirs.
But all things evolve or die, and change in the social media world happens faster than most. Twitter has changed beyond all recognition since I first composed my first tweet 14 years ago. Not all of it has been positive. But it’s still my go-to social network, and the place where I feel most at home. That hasn’t changed at all.