A little while back, I wrote that I thought Twitter was ultimately going to become the most important social network. I got some flack for that, especially among those who believed that the richer canvas of Facebook would ultimately prevail. I argued that Twitter's inherent mobile nature set it up to be on the same course as culture in general and that people would simply trend toward Twitter because it just seemed to make sense.
Well, I am happy to report that I seem to be in the right on this one. I'm happy to report this because some of my other predictions ("We already have Yahoo, why do we need another search engine?") have not worked out as well.
Being a San Franciscan, I definitely watched the Super Bowl last week. And, yes, I'm feeling better, but it will still take some time to get back to feeling really good again. At least we still have the World Series champions. But I also had my phone with me the whole time. In fact, I was upstairs, checking on dinner when the most spectacular moment of all occurred: the lights went out in the Superdome.
It was spectacular because I found out what was happening from Twitter. Actually, I thought "lights out" referred to the Niners' secondary. It wasn't long until I realized, like the rest of the country (this is still the biggest shared TV moment in the U.S.), to tune away from the TV and toward social media.
The reason is clear: we are rapidly becoming two-screen people and that second screen is tending to be Twitter. I think the reason is simple: watching television is the destination. The two-screen dynamic is not that people have TV in the background while they tweet; people are tweeting about what they are watching. One could even argue that a handful of people watch TV so they have something to tweet about.
And Twitter is just simply not a destination. If you want to join a conversation about a TV show on Facebook, you must go directly to that show's Facebook page. Often, you have to like it to participate. With Twitter, you simply add a hashtag to a tweet or a search and you are in. It takes some technical skill to set up a Facebook page. It takes no effort to invent a hashtag. Twitter is better suited as a second screen companion simply because it respects the other screen's dominance. In fact, I think we should refer not to "two screens" but rather a primary screen (usually the TV) and the secondary screen (the computer/phone/tablet).
Most of the advertisers in the Super Bowl seem to have gotten the message: the predominant online call-to-action was a hashtag, followed by a Facebook page ("visit our site" has been sent packing). But even more important is that Twitter has gotten it: it just made its biggest acquisition, ever, with BlueFin Technologies, an analytics firm that provides social data about TV shows.
Clearly Twitter gets it: TV is here to stay. We may watch shows time-shifted and on-demand. Shows may be developed not by big studios but by small startups and scrappy players. But TV is here, all 60 inches of it in your living room.
By acquiring BlueFin, as well as hiring a head of TV last year, Twitter is ready to help advertisers do the thing they really want to do: create ads. Let's be honest: interactive sites are amazing and have evolved the nature of communications between brands and consumers. Apps are cool and provide great functionality, as do lots of other innovations. But TV ads, those :30 spots, are not going away. We tried to kill them 16 different ways, but here they are.
That means Twitter is going to win, at least with advertisers, because Twitter has shown its commitment to working within that world. It is committed to making the advertising world better, using the odd little technology that it invented and people seem to love. This is the big realization that we all need to make: advertising is growing and changing. Nothing is a hulking dinosaur waiting to keel over. We are a media-hungry culture and everything seems to be additive. There's a great book about advertising called "Life After the 30-Second Spot" that describes the myriad new ways that brands can build value. Today, that book should be reissued with a slight change to the title: "Life With a Whole Bunch of Other Stuff as Well as the Thirty Second Spot."
Honestly, it's cool with me. I think the broadcast commercial format is pretty cool. You can do a lot inside of it. At work, just yesterday, I heard a pitch for a spot that I thought was amazing. I want to see that built.
And I want to surround it with things like Twitter, to make sure it is successful.
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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.