Few companies have had such a vast global impact in so short a time as Twitter. The online social networking company was the brainchild of Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Snow, and Noah Glass back in 2005. Dorsey thought it would be revolutionary if people could send a text to one number and have it broadcast to all their friends: “I want to make something so simple, you don’t even think about it, you just write.” The code name for the concept was “twttr,” which eventually morphed into Twitter. Dorsey sent the first Twitter message on March 21,2006.
At the heart of Twitter are tweets, text messages limited to 140 characters. Dorsey once tweeted, “One could change the world with 140 characters.” Registered users can send and receive tweets, while unregistered users can
only read them. In response to users’ comments and ideas, the company added more features to help organize the ongoing communication on Twitter, including the @ sign in front of usernames, direct messages, and the retweet. Web developer Chris Messina suggested adding a hashtag (#) symbol to help organize categories of conversation or search for tweets on a common topic. For example, #Grammys will bring a user to conversations about the Grammys.
Twitter grew slowly during its first year, but things started to heat up in 2007 when the company set up 51-inch plasma screens around the grounds of the South by Southwest interactive festival and broadcast tweets sent by attendees. Overnight, activity increased from 20,000 to 60,000 tweets a day.
Another milestone came on January 15, 2009, when US Airways flight 1549 landed safely on the Hudson River in New York City during an emergency. An eyewitness on a commuter ferry broke the news worldwide when he snapped a photo of the plane on the river, wrote a tweet, and sent it to his 170 followers. The tweet and #Flight1549 went viral within minutes and proved that Twitter had transformed the way we get news.
Seth Mnookin, MIT’s Associate Director of Science Writing, explained why Twitter has been so revolutionary in media: “What the advent of television or radio did was give a small group of people a new way to reach the masses. And this essentially is doing the same thing, for the masses.” Twitter captures and records history in real time with eyewitness accounts, pictures, and thoughts.
Celebrities and sports figures started to embrace Twitter in 2009. Perhaps the most influential early adopter was Ashton Kutcher, the first celebrity to reach 1 million followers. Katy Perry, Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber are now among the most followed Tweeters, with tens of millions followers each.
By 2011, Twitter had expanded across seven different countries and languages. The medium had a huge impact on the Arab Spring, when millions demanded the overthrow of oppressive Middle East regimes. Bahraini protester Maryam Al-Khawaja explained that in many countries Twitter is about entertainment, but in the Middle East and North Africa, it can make the difference between life and death. Twitter gave activists a means to share accurate and uncensored information, connect with like- minded individuals, and organize street operations at unheard-of speed. Hussein Amin, professor of mass communication at the American University in Cairo, explained, “[Social networks] for the first time provided activists with an opportunity to quickly disseminate information while bypassing government restrictions.”
During the 2012 U.S. presidential election, Twitter had enormous impact on campaigns and communications with voters. In fact, the most popular tweet of 2012 was “Four more years,” posted by Barack Obama after he won the reelection. It was retweeted almost 1 million times.
Twitter went public in November 2013 and raised $2.1 billion in the second-biggest Internet IPO in history (Facebook raised $16 billion in 2012). Its global impact has grown so great that it operates in 35 languages and 70 percent of users live outside the United States. In 2014, 500 million users were registered on Twitter, 250 million were active, and more than 400 million tweets were posted each day around the globe.
Today, people use Twitter for many reasons, including promoting a brand or company, raising money for charities, breaking news, following favorite celebrities, or, as Dorsey said, changing the world. Twitter describes itself as a global platform for public self-expression and conversation in real time. Mark Burnett, the producer of shows like The Voice, Survivor, and The Apprentice, stated, “Twitter actually is the real time, water cooler conversation of young America.” The company’s ultimate goal is to reach everyone in the world.
Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.