Twitter and the tyranny of the new

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Doug Kessler

22. 10. 2010 | 4 min read

Twitter and the tyranny of the new

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It takes a while to figure out how new modes of communication shape the things being communicated and the people doing the communicating. It took maybe thirty years after TV was invented before the first sighting of the couch potato. And another twenty or so before we realised that this particular box is absolutely tailor-made for braying idiots spouting nonsense at the top of their lungs (the stuff that Fox is made of).

Well, new media are appearing a lot faster these days so we need to speed up our understanding of how they’re shaping the debate. With that in mind:

Ever notice how Twitter buries the very best content under layer after layer of dreck?
This ‘hyper-sedimentation’ has bothered me for a while but I’ve only recently started to figure out why.

A really good tweet hits the top of your Tweetdeck or HootSuite or even (God forbid) feed and starts its downscreen descent almost immediately. Within seconds, the yadda-yadda of a few thousand other tweeters is landing on top of it, pushing it down, down, down until – in what, maybe a minute?– it’s off screen, out of sight and out of mind. It’s not only dead it’s well buried under stuff that may have much less merit but does possess the thing that Twitter values above all else: newness.

Some of the stuff landing on top of that quality tweet is also worth noting. But, let’s face it, a lot of it is the yammering of digital narcissists, bafflingly time-rich Bartlett’s owners and literally tireless self-promoters.

So, even if you filter out the ‘lifestyle coaches’ and reserve a TweetDeck column free of ‘social media ninjas’; and even if a flurry of retweets keeps the original thought alive for a few moments longer, the very best of tweets is gone in a few minutes. Gone forever. (Sure, you can scroll. But you won’t. You know you won’t.)

Gone in the time it takes to say ‘tweet’

Twitter enforces the Tryanny of the New over the worthwhile.  If Shakespeare were tweeting today, his tweets (“2 #B2B or not  2#B2B…?”) would be buried under and therefore almost undistinguishable from the hashtag-studded blather of the cyber-boors.

This phenomenon doesn’t just effect what we say, it effects the sayer as well. I don’t know about you but when I spend a lot of time on Twitter, I find I develop the attention span of a tweet.  I find myself shouting, “Get the POINT man!” at 10-second TV commercials. I look for the fast-forward button on my 12-year-old daughter, Zoë.  And while the first of these sins is victimless, the second is far from it (the victim is me).

Social media doesn’t have to suffer from this problem. YouTube lets people rate videos so the best can float to the top instead of sinking under a sea of sub-titled cats (okay, some of those are good). A well-designed blog can surface the best and/or most popular posts alongside the latest.

So here’s a product development idea for Twitter: a thumbs-up or star-rating button on every tweet so we can make columns full of the best. Stuff that stays around while the adjacent columns spin along like slot-machine dials.

Till then, the lessons are simple for marketers:

  • Don’t assume that your tweets will live any longer (or make any more impact) than a burp
  • Make sure your own best blog posts aren’t lost forever under stuff like… this (we have a Featured Post over there on the right that’s much better)
  • Keep a column or two free in TweetDeck for the people you really rate
  • Be generous in retweeting the best and ruthless in ignoring or unfollowing the rest  (we all need to encourage the real contributors and discourage the deluded)
  • Make sure your content marketing extends beyond Twitter alone – or your campaigns won’t have legs
  • Spin old content into new so it has its micro-moment in the sun  (Andy Warhol had the right idea but was off by about 14 minutes and 45 seconds)
  • Don’t be shy about tweeting about the same topic in lots of different ways (within reason). Chances are no one will see two of your redundant tweets.
  • It’s okay not to tweet – if I don’t see you for a while, I’ll just assume you got a life

Am I being too cynical here? Too mean to the life coaches? Does any of this ring true for you or am I dissing the best thing since WordPress?


Photo: Brooklyn Museum.  Flickr Creative Commons.

Published in:

  • B2B Content Marketing

  • b2b-social-media

  • digital-marketing

  • twitter

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  1. Mark McClure

    October 24th, 2010

    Go on, ask Zoë if she tweets…

    My 14 yo has no time for it.
    Video ichat and a FaceBook window keeps her online conversations alive and tingling across several continents and timezones.

    “Twitter’s for fossils”, she tells me… gulp.

    Yes, the rating button might help.
    In the meantime, I keep separate twitter feeds for me top 10 favs using
    If you guys come good I might add you 🙂

    The coaches’ musings make me smile (see, I was one of ’em, in a way.) The very worst though are the biz ops marketers… a recursive hell awaits those digital spinners of hopes and dreams.

  2. Doug Kessler

    October 31st, 2010

    Nice one Mark.
    You’re right, Zoe has no time for Twitter (nor does Hannah, her 16-year-old sister).
    I do the column thing too but with more like 30 favourites.
    I tease the life coaches and social media ninjas with a wink — there are great ones and… not-so-great ones…

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