Twitter is not a social network

September 16 2015
Published in Opinions

After recent concerns about Twitter’s slowing growth rate due to lack of understanding as to how it should be used, we asked Visibrain co-founder Samuel Coupé to give us his thoughts on the true nature of Twitter and why it shouldn’t be seen as a typical social network.

How do you use Twitter? Are you an active poster, tweeting constantly, or are you more of a reader, a passive recipient of real-time information? In 2011, Twitter stated that 40% of its active user base never actually posted any tweets. Chances are this number has grown over the last 4 years.

Of course, for your typical social network, this is a cause for concern. For a long time, this behavior was perceived by Twitter and its ecosystem as a threat to the platform’s future. Any user not getting involved in the conversation might quickly lose interest, and end up leaving the platform altogether.

But Twitter is still here. Because Twitter is different. Twitter is not a social network. Twitter is an asymmetrical network, with distinct follower/followed relationships. And as in any asymmetrical network, an order emerges in which information is emitted by the few, to be consumed by the many. From this perspective, a parallel can be drawn between the way information spreads on Twitter and the way information spreads via television, radio, or print. Twitter is a media in its very structure.

Media consumption does not require interactions or answers. In many cases, Twitter is used as a news stream. An instant, diverse, tailored stream that quickly becomes the number one source of information for its user. That’s where Twitter’s power lies. Interaction is just the icing on the cake.

It seems Twitter is now committed to that vision. Dick Costolo, former Twitter CEO, recently stated that there is “No need to tweet to use Twitter well” in Le Figaro (march 2015). The recent “firehose” deal that was struck with Google, as well the announcement of Project Lightning due to launch later this year, points to Twitter having understood that it must rely on its own strengths rather than trying to be just another social network. That’s why Twitter’s performance cannot be evaluated by the size of its user base or its engagement rate. It should be evaluated with the same metrics as a media: by audience, influence, or image. Every time a world event coalesces into a hashtag, Twitter gains momentum as the universal media of the digital age. The gamble has (almost) paid off.

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Published in Opinions