You've no doubt been exposed to mass hoopla surrounding Twitter and celebrities starting Twitter accounts, racing to get the most followers, etc. There's no question that celebrity Twitter use is good for expanding the social network's user base, but what's it doing to Twitter as a communication tool?
Is Twitter evolving or devolving as a result of celebrities taking it over? (Tell us what you think.)You have celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Jimmy Fallon, and Oprah who have gained massive amounts of followers, but are not following too many people themselves. Is Twitter just part of their respective PR machines?
Are they actively engaging in conversations with their fans? Maybe a little, but how many of Kutcher's million plus do you think are regularly getting responses from him when they send him tweets? Look at Oprah's account. Granted, she's only been on since Friday, but she's already got nearly half a million followers and she's only following ten people. So far she's sent replies to Demi Moore, Shaq, Larry King, and Evan Williams. Hardly communicating with the fans I would say.
To be fair, I'm not saying that there aren't celebrities using Twitter who do communicate with their fan bases. Perhaps even Oprah will if given enough time. Some celebrities (like Arnold Schwarzenegger, MC Hammer, and Britney Spears have thousands of followers themselves (though who knows how many fans were manually followed back and how many were simply added as a result of some auto follower).
I think Neville Hobson puts it well when he says Twitter is for listening. When Oprah joined Twitter, Twitter's daily market share of Internet visits skyrocketed.
Don't get me wrong. Two-way communication is still an option, and there are still many people doing it, but some celebrities and marketers are changing the face of Twitter.
Luckily, there is still value in listening. Twitter has often been referred to as microblogging, and that's really a good way to look at it. You read blogs because you're interested in what the bloggers have to say. You read tweets for the same reason. They're just smaller. Blogs have comment areas for two-way communication that can go two-way or one-way depending on whether or not the author takes the time to respond. The same applies to Twitter.
There is plenty of value in listening from the business perspective as well. Hobson writes:
Don’t think of the increasing user numbers we keep hearing about as just so much more noise you have to filter out if you’re on Twitter yourself. Remember, Twitter is an opt-in idea: you decide whether or not to open an account and then who to follow or not. You’re in control!
Instead, think of the stunning growth in people signing up to Twitter as more amazing listening opportunities to find out who’s saying what about you, your product, your brand, your client, or whatever it is that interests you in finding out what people are talking about online.
I can tell you that a good place to find people in your niche to listen to is our own Twellow. Just don't go too crazy because Twitter has placed a limit on how many people you can follow in a day (1,000). If you're really there to listen, this probably will not affect you too much. There is a bit of a debate going on about whether this limit is a good or a bad thing too.