If you hit the Twitter (or, shall I say, twttr?) scene between 2006 and 2008—back when Twitter was still a tiny chick beginning to flap its wings—you may remember the question “What are you doing?” It was how Twitter’s founders encapsulated what users would be posting to their individual profiles. To use your new Twitter profile correctly, you needed only answer that simple question by sharing with friends and family with what you were doing at that very moment—in 140 characters or less. It was all about the little things that you were up to. Personal. Individual. Friend-focused. (Don’t believe me? Catch the early Twitter introductory video here.)
By November of 2008, Twitter had hit the 1 billion tweet mark, and by March of 2009, a Nielsen Online report had estimated that Twitter was growing at an average rate of 1,382% per year. The next few years saw milestone after milestone. In June of 2009, the AP Stylebook added several Twitter terms to its pages, and in July of 2009, the Collins English Dictionary awarded Twitter a spot as both a noun and a verb. (A verb? Interesting. Not too long ago I had a good chuckle over my grandfather using “twitter” as a verb.) Twitter surpassed the 5 billion tweet mark in October of 2009, and by February of 2010, users were posting an average of 50 million tweets per day.
I would say that Twitter’s introduction of promoted tweets in April of 2010 marks a significant moment in its evolution. Not only did it answer the longstanding question of how Twitter would make money from advertising, but it also designated Twitter once and for all as a true, full-fledged social media marketing platform. Twitter was no longer simply about sharing “what are you doing?”, but rather about getting you and your company out there. It was about getting information to the masses and making it easily discoverable using hashtags and paid promotion.
Fast forward a few years, and Twitter has become rich in multimedia, more pushy about recommending tweeters to follow, and a platform that sees over 5,000 posts per second. Photos in their entirety stretch across the width of the news feed, hashtags are more trendy than ever, and the platform is rich in marketing tools to help even the smallest of businesses catapult to Twitter stardom. If you were to head over to Twitter’s homepage right now (at least as of September 2015), you would be greeted with an invitation that reads “See what’s happening right now.”
In some ways, Twitter was ahead of its time. It fine-tuned the short, burst-style social media post that would become the standard for how we keep up-to-date with friends and current events while waiting in line at the coffee shop—years before smartphones became commonplace. It created a space where people could connect in a much more open format than Facebook or MySpace offered. It encouraged “lurking” before Facebook stalking became a widely known and accepted fact. I’ll admit, when I first heard speak of Twitter, I said, “That’s silly. You’re just writing a bunch of Facebook status updates.” But if I were to bet on which social media platform is going to last the longest (and do social media platforms have a lifespan?), I’d put my money on the platform with the blue bird.