What makes about 40 million people a month twitter? What drives the exponential growth and what does this mean for new media marketing? rheingold wanted to know, and conducted 132 explorations in Germany and the USA (rheingold diaLogs® and rheingoldInterviews®) to reveal Twitter’s secret logic.
Twitter embodies an unprecedented opportunity to take part: the US presidential election, the earthquake in Haiti and Michael Jackson’s death are prime examples. Twitterers feel like participants in a revolution that allows them to effortlessly and instantly communicate with like-minded people in a way that other social networks do not. The thought that the whole world could potentially read their tweets and they can measure their “own” personal disciples in followers appeal to them. They perceive themselves to be elite with VIP access to world affairs. Twitterers keep in touch with the supposed “makers” of this world whilst simultaneously carving out their own individual Twittermemorials.
However, not everything happening on Twitter is earth shaking. When Mrs. Petlover twitters on behalf of her cat and Twitter god Ashton Kutcher posts an image of his wife’s derriere the trivial side of Twitter emerges. But still, having another cat @reply or the sense that you are peeking through a celeb’s keyhole is earth shaking in the eye of the beholder.
This makes Twitter perfect crisis therapy. Whenever everyday life seems to get bogged down, we are challenged by a sense of situational emptiness or feel helpless and lost, Twitter jumps in to fill the void. Like a lonely bird in a nest we twitter hungrily for a nurturing news feed. Twitter keeps its users in comforting abeyance: They fantasize themselves into a special community without really connecting to it; they share what seems to be personal news without actually revealing anything.
Twitters’ promise provides a perfect fit to American culture. A nation of immigrants, Americans are constantly on the go and always setting the stage for themselves in front of new people. The quick chat here and there reassures them and provides confirmation of social acceptance. Also, Twitter is the ideal platform for a virtual career: from dishwasher to follower millionaire (followed by 1 million+ people). Twitter is a “natural” extension of the American mentality and will therefore grow continuously.
Germans also seem to be absorbed by Twitter’s promise to impact the world, but fear being tricked by effortlessness and banality into producing “hot air”. They are scared of not producing anything real, sustainable and definite. “Something this easy can’t be anything.” In Germany, Twitter helps users to feel the winds of change and to put a sense of “Yes we can” into their lives. It enables them to be active in a virtual parallel universe despite being forced to stay passive in real life. Twitter will also keep growing in Germany. However, for many users the “hot air” aspect outweighs its promises, meaning they are unlikely to use it consistently over the long run.
Marketing is also finding it hard to resist Twitter’s promises. In America, Twitter has become a fixture and gets used extensively for marketing purposes. While, in the US, it offers the opportunity to revive the main principles of American culture, our study shows that for Germany, strategic twittering for marketing purposes is a can, not a must: Twittering is seen critically in Germany (only about 2.5% of Twitter’s users are German). As a side effect, twittering brands in Germany also run the risk of being perceived as unreal, undecided and unsustainable.