What does Twitter have that other social networks don't?
This week, Twitter moved its offices. This happened here in San Francisco, where I live, so it got a fair amount of attention. I hate to admit this, but when I imagine Twitter's offices, I think of six people sitting in a messy loft somewhere. But, evidently, it has over 800 employees that are moving into a building in a struggling section of Market Street. It's great news for the city. Twitter's offices (and maybe more importantly, the people who come to those offices everyday) are going to truly revitalize that section of town. Of course, that is why San Francisco spent so much time convincing Twitter to move there, and gave the company so many incentives and tax breaks.
The building Twitter is moving into is interesting as well. Previously, it was a furniture market. It was several floors of showrooms. Furniture makers would rent out a showroom and set up a bunch of stuff. You actually had to have some kind of decorator's license to go into the place - it wasn't open to the public. Behind those doors, the people who decorate houses would wander and make deals for couches and tables and whatever, directly with manufacturers. They would then (I suppose) resell these pieces back to regular people at a markup. Or, maybe they would just charge for their time to choose out the right piece and put it into your home.
Whatever the case was, it was a privileged place where just the people with permits were allowed to engage with brands.
Now, Twitter is there. Twitter is perhaps the perfect counterpoint to the businesses it has displaced, and I find no other way to consider this than to imagine that it is not only replacing the people and the stuff, but really, the way that business is done. Twitter is emerging as perhaps the social network that will matter the absolute most in the coming years.
The State of Twitter
Twitter had an early mark of success: a whole lot of smart people thought it was a stupid idea.
Really! Think about any invention or new product you've ever heard of. At some point, someone said that it was a bad idea that would never fly. I suppose you could argue that all new ideas are considered bad ideas by someone, but Twitter was unique in that it introduced a new way of behaving and engaging with the world. It wasn't long after Twitter's entrance into the world that Facebook made perhaps its most significant change with the introduction of the Timeline (alongside its own cloud of people saying it was a bad idea).
I suppose I could add my own name to that list of naysayers. I wasn't quite sure what to do with Twitter when I first found out about it. Over the years, though, I have gotten so used to tweeting that it seems odd to not do it. Others seem to have come to the same conclusions. A recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that Twitter use is booming:
Add to all of this the fact that Twitter is very aggressively creating new engagement methods, which should help advertisers looking to leverage the service. In particular, Twitter announced the creation of Tailored Trends. This is a simple way for the system to sort the top stories not just based on which ones are being tweeted the most, but also based on a person's interest and location. This creates a new layer of targeting that should help advertisers find the right people to engage with on the service.
The Killer: Mobile
But, really, the reason why Twitter is going to continue to build strength and momentum as a social network is simple: mobility. Twitter was born from mobile and it grew up in mobile and it is influencing the way mobile is developing. Facebook has always been a desktop experience. Its mobile app is pretty terrible. It is an over-stuffed piece of software that attempts to cram in every one of Facebook's myriad features. The experience is slow and cumbersome and slow. And also it is slow. I mean really slow. I can't figure out why it is so slow. It reminds me of trying to run Photoshop on a 386.
Twitter, however, is light and speedy and simple. People are constantly closing Facebook on their phones and switching to Twitter simply because they are tired of waiting for it to load. It is perhaps for this simple reason that I can see more people starting to post their status, location, photos, and questions to Twitter. Simply because it is clean and simple and works so well.
Because that is the promise of Twitter, at least for a brand. As the employees of Twitter find their spaces in that old furniture market, I hope they realize how different they are from that old world. No longer do we need to have special access and complicated entry procedures. We simply can connect and engage. That promise is way more than the 144 characters Twitter presents on its surface.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014