The Death of Twitter

May 11, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

Yogi Berra

You read it here first, folks: Twitter — at least as it is structured today — is going down. Oh sure, it’s easy to be a contrarian: simply watch where everyone is going and then head in the opposite direction. But the media attention on Twitter means we need to monitor its impact on social interaction — especially recruiting. That said, there are real reasons why the social media phenom Twitter is poised to become a victim of its own success.

The famous Yogi Berra quotation above actually contains a nugget of perspicacity: the “nobody” Yogi was referring to were people like him (e.g., ballplayers and other celebrities) who began avoiding a popular restaurant because it was too crowded. Probably one of the reasons so many diners flocked to the place was to see the celebrities who put it on the map. As soon as it became a destination for the tourists, the celebrities had gone on to more exclusive destinations.

Twitter grew at 33% in January; 55% in February; and 131% in March. And that was before Oprah logged on. With such a hockey stick growth trajectory, every person on the planet will have a Twitter account by the end of this year.

We know, of course, that this won’t happen. First, there is also a well-documented tendency for people to abandon Twitter accounts within a couple of months. Oprah has already gone relatively silent, for exampleMickey Park Combo C4.

More importantly, however, is the fact that the noise level on Twitter is becoming deafening. Getting back to Yogi, many who were early adopters of Twitter are getting tired of phantom spam followers, and are “un-following” people to adjust the volume down. The utility of Twitter — its ability to connect you immediately with dozens or hundreds of like-minded souls — is being usurped by spammers and corporations who use it as an instant messaging broadcast medium.

Employers are posting tweets with brief job titles and compressed URLs linking to job postings. But it is rare to respond to one of these tweets and have a live human reply in kind. Or even an automated reply (à la @DonDraper of the “Mad Men” show). The spirit of Twitter — an ongoing conversation answering the question, “What are you doing?” — is violated. Soon, such tweets will be seen as so much spam (“twam”?) and ignored.

Alternative Paths

Institutions have a visceral mistrust of social media for the simple reason that they cannot control it. The ubiquity of social media via mobile handsets has made trying to block employees from using online networks futile.

But canny corporations have begun to embrace alternative platforms to provide “safe” space for people to communicate with a modicum of control. Yammer, for example, allows organizations to establish an internal Twitter-like platform open only to people who share the organization’s e-mail domain.

Others are establishing internal sites that operate like Facebook, the most notable being the IBM Blue Pages, recently evolved into the BeeHive. Employees create profiles of themselves, their backgrounds, and qualifications, which managers use when staffing a project team. The portal also has employee blogs and wikis where teams can congregate online to brainstorm and discuss technical issues.

Lotus and Microsoft both offer software to allow Notes and Outlook enterprises to create closed communities of interest and collaborate internally.

In short, employers are offering workers alternatives to Twitter and Facebook for self-expression and connection with others. True, your family and friends outside of work cannot access them, so you may continue to use the public platforms for personal interactions. But I submit that people will want to focus on that aspect of the interaction and tune out work-related messaging that may come their way while they are chatting with Mom or old high school chums on Facebook.

By the Time U C it It’s Gone

The precise end of Twitter will probably occur much like the death of distant stars. We see a glow in the night sky that comes from a star that is no longer there, the star having been obliterated thousands of years ago. It simply takes millions of years for the light to reach us, so the light we see started its journey when there was a star to shine.

For me, the telltale wavelength shift occurred when politicians started tweeting after the last presidential election. Everyone saw how President Obama exploited social media successfully during his campaign, and jumped on their Blackberries. The fact that many of them didn’t realize how Twitter is public was the tipoff that they didn’t know what they were doing. When Oprah announced — with Oprahesque fanfare — that she was on Twitter, a shudder was felt through the Force.

The end won’t come next week, next month, or even next year (perhaps). But the seeds of its destruction have been sown and are beginning to sprout. Rumors abound that Twitter is about to release a premium version to address this problem. There is also a lot of speculation that Twitter will be gobbled up by Google, Microsoft, or even Apple, despite denials from Biz Stone, one of the founders. To date, however, it’s all just conjecture. So you still need to understand Twitter (and its various spinoffs such as TwitPic, TweetDeck, HootSuite, etc., etc.) and other social media.

There are many opportunities to exploit the intimacy and immediacy of Twitter that most employers haven’t yet explored. You need to monitor the state of social media, and how the various channels are being used and misused. Be aware of what is being said about your organization on blogs, forums, on search engines and job boards, as well as platforms such as Twitter. Ignoring the conversation won’t make it go away; people will simply talk about you behind your back.

“If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You Might Wind Up Some Place Else.”

Another gem from the Yogi applies to the evolving field of social media recruiting. The real point is that it is a mistake to focus on one platform or tool. Appreciate each for its capabilities and unique characteristics, but view them in the context of your overall communications plan. Decide what it is you want to accomplish, and then select the tools that will help you achieve your objectives. In other words, don’t start tweeting jobs because “all the other kids are doing it.” If your organization is unwilling or unable to be social with social media, perhaps you should forego tweeting your jobs until you can establish the infrastructure to support a true two-way conversation (at 140 characters per tweet, of course).

Conversely, if you can devote the time and energy to engaging people using social media — whichever platform you choose — you will find the richness of the relationship will enhance not only your success in recruiting, but the quality of people you recruit as well. Do that and whether Twitter lives or dies won’t matter as much as the connections you create and nurture.

I tweet as waqueau1. Follow me at your peril.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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