This post is part of our week of Twitter. Check out this page for all the posts.
The original version of Twitter, then known as Twttr, went live in July 2006. It was born out of a brainstorming session at Odeo, a directory and search destination website for syndicated audio and video. Internet entrepreneur Jack Dorsey came up with the idea of using SMS to communicate within small groups, keeping the group updated on one another’s ‘statuses’.
In March 2007 Twitter was picked as ‘one to watch’ by the digirati at the SXSW Festival. There, the service’s usage went from 20,000 tweets per day to 60,000 as delegates at the festival started to use the service to keep in touch. It also won an SXSW Web Award in the Blog category that year.
The rise of the celebrity
Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) joined Twitter in July 2008 and steadily worked up a following as one of the only ‘real’ celebrities using the platform. He used it to promote his TV show ‘Stephen Fry in America’; updating his followers with his experiences while filming. Fry managed to pick up tens of thousands of followers over his first six months and encouraged other celebrities onto the platform.
The picture above was tweeted by Stephen Fry on 3rd February 2009, while he and fellow visitors to London’s Centre Point were stuck in a lift that broke down. The story created such a buzz on Twitter that it was picked up by the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph among many others.
The tipping point in the UK came on 23 January, when Jonathan Ross, who joined Twitter in late November, interviewed Stephen Fry on his Friday night chat show, reaching a viewing audience of four million.
The graph below shows a steady incline leading up to the interview, as newspapers and websites started to report that Fry and Ross would discuss Twitter on the TV show. Traffic to Twitter then enjoyed a peak, following the show’s airing.
HitWise Intelligence – 10/02/09
By February 2009, Stephen Fry had become the third most followed Twitter user, hitting 100,000 followers. He currently has more than 725,000 followers.
The turning point for Twitter in the US followed a couple of months later, when, in March/April 2009, film star Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) challenged CNN (@cnnbrk) to be the first to reach one million followers.
The celebrity endorsement and mainstream media exposure has been great for Twitter; encouraging thousands of users to sign up every day.
A democratic channel
As Twitter is free and open any person, group, brand or company can register an account with the opportunity to reach a huge audience.
People tweet for a variety of reasons; according to the Consumer Internet Barometer 41.6% of ‘tweeps’ use the service to keep in touch with friends. Other reasons given include ‘updating your status’, ‘to find news and stay updated’ and ‘for research’. The same research also found that the average Twitter user primarily interacts with friends and family.
Twitter is a different way of communicating; it facilitates both two-way conversations and one-to-many broadcasts. Unlike some traditional media, where brands broadcast their message, Twitter users are able to actively engage with branded content and any continued interaction with a brand is their choice. This empowers the user and levels the playing field, making Twitter an extremely powerful tool.