Twitter Tidal Wave
Hits Hilltop

April 30, 2009  

By Laura Noble

It is 10:32 on the morning of April 24, 2009, and SMU senior Sam Sawyer can’t stop thinking about last night.

He didn’t go on a hot date. He didn’t even engage in a regrettable bar hop with friends. No, Sawyer stayed home and watched Ashton Kutcher and CNN race to one million followers on Twitter.

During the big event on Larry King Live, headlines about British reality singing sensation Susan Boyle ran along the ticker, and that’s exactly the discussion that led Sawyer to Twitter.

“Susan Boyle has a new hairdo, and she has been kissed in her life – she was lying!” said @SamHuttonSawyer (Sawyer’s Twitter alias) in just under his 140-character-limited tweet.

Welcome to Twitter and the world of microblogging, a phenomenon gaining radical momentum over a matter of just months.

Michael Crow, a social psychology professor at SMU, says people are interacting through these publicly broadcasted conversations and voyeuristic relationships to satisfy their egos and find some sort of social connection in a world that seems somehow disconnected.

“We are all social beings,” said Crow, “and at the end of the day, we like to be connected with people.”

A recent study by The Pew Research Center finds that college students fit in the median age of site users and that nearly one in five adults from ages 18 to 24 have used Twitter.

Though the site was launched nearly three years ago, it is only in the past six months that its popularity has skyrocketed.

Pew found that from May 2008 to December 2008 the number of adults using a short messaging service like Twitter nearly doubled, jumping from six percent to eleven percent of online American adults.

Twitter allows the user to connect with friends, colleagues, celebrities, businesses and news outlets through the simple function of “following” someone.

While following a person allows one to read that person or organization’s status updates, Crow cautions that that ultimately the content allowed is very superficial and lacks the nuance of real relationships.

It is the escape of the emotionless nature of the site that Crow believes is what’s drawing so many people to participate in these character limited public conversations online.

Assistant director of SMU’s Hegi Career Development Center, Caryn Statman says she’s seen an increase in industry professionals using Twitter to brand themselves and connect with others interested in their field.

Statman says that from a career perspective Twitter is a great way to track trends and talking points in various industries, making the site a productive way to stay active in one’s area of interest.

“You can develop an intimacy with CEO’s and others who before have seemed untouchable,” Statman said.

In mid-April, Twitter’s own CEO Evan Williams appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, increasing traffic considerably and creating what many are calling “The Oprah Effect.”

According to figures collected by media measurement company Hitwise 37 percent of the visitors to Twitter the day of the show were new visitors.

Statman believes that while celebrity following and connection making are a huge part of the site’s appeal, more people are using Twitter as a way to position themselves as an expert in something.

SMU senior and self-proclaimed Twitter specialist Samantha Urban has more than 600 followers on Twitter and even posts tutorials on how to maximize usage of the social networking site on her personal blog.

Urban said she first joined the site when her friends explained to her that Twitter was a way to mass text message your friends. She soon found that many use the site for news value and spreading productive information.

She said that in just the past two months on her page, she’s received at least 200 new followers.

“Other sites are so complicated,” Urban said. “People love Twitter because it’s so simple.”

She admits the language of phrases like, “tweet” and “the fail whale” (an icon that appears when the site is over-capacity), may seem a bit juvenile but believes those words are what creates part of the fun of participating in the customizable site.

“It’s amazing how fast it’s grown,” Statman said. “Twitter has definitely reached its tipping point.”?

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2 Responses to “Twitter Tidal Wave
Hits Hilltop”

  1. Twitter’s Tipping Point « Laura Noble on May 1st, 2009 12:29 am

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