Actually, Twitter won the 2016 Election.

twitter_politicsI know what you’re thinking. How can Twitter win anything, with its paltry 317 million users and its lame sub-$15 stock price? Compared to the giants like Facebook (1.87 billion users,) WhatsApp (1 billion,) and WeChat (846 million,) you could fit Twitter in the garage of their respective CEOs’ second mansions. Heck, even Instagram – the Etch-a-Sketch of social media platforms – has 600 million users. (Source: statista.)

So on what metric, exactly, could Twitter be outperforming all these titans of social chatter?

In a word, politics.

Trump tweets. Pence tweets. Anthony Weiner tweeted his ass off (and other parts.) And the world reads Merkel tweets. And Putin tweets. And May Tweets. And the usually-epic JK Rowling tweets.

Politics has reinvigorated the in-the-moment DNA of Twitter in a way that perhaps no other sector could. And perhaps no other social media platform could so readily respond to the challenge.

Part of it is the “gotcha” nature of American politics in particular. We’re all taken back to hear one party or one candidate say something that’s very damning in nature, and then double-shocked to hear those words come back to bite them on the ass when someone digs out a tweet from six or twelve months ago. Consider this telling headline from Mashable about Mike Pence as a classic case in point: “This old Mike Pence tweet on Hillary Clinton emails is coming back to haunt him.”

In it, we learn that Vice President Mike Pence used his personal email address (yes, still using AOL,) for official business while governor of Indiana.

The facts are what they are, and I have no intention of arguing whether it’s better, worse, or same as when the former Secretary of State did the same thing. But what’s interesting is where the hearings are taking place: not on television. Not in newspapers. Not on Facebook.  But on Twitter.

Pence’s boss is no stranger to the daily-death-by-Twitter phenomenon. Trump’s tweets are so varied and so erratic that CNN has a live website tracking every one of his tweets.

And because he’s President, every tweet becomes part of the official record of his tenure. In case you’re scoring at home, they could become evidence of any number of things in the event of any criminal investigations that may arise. (And, you know, they may arise.)  And based on certain tweets regarding certain former US presidents conducting unauthorized wiretapping, investigations are already en route, and with a motorcade, to be sure.

No other social media platform, no matter how cool, or how many fun filters it offers, could offer such a perfect distribution channel for the gotcha fodder: nasty things said, declarative things said, and all that darn fact-checking.  Why is that?

A few possibilities include the content-capping.  140 characters are just enough to say something really pithy.  Or really dopey.  Also, the in-the-moment-ness of Twitter makes it a “now” social media platform, whereas Facebook or Pinterest, as examples, are excellent “linger with it later” platforms.  And of course, the fact that Tweets.  Stay.  Alive.  Forever.  (Sorry, Snapchat.)

You don’t need to go far to see how the Twitter-back-and-forth-and-back-again is playing out. But pay careful attention to how only one platform is invited into this A-list party, while all the others huddle outside trying to sweet-talk the bouncer with their pleas of “have you seen how many registered users I have?”

Facebook, please.

In marketing terms, Twitter has a highly defensible point of differentiation, and it should seriously consider exploiting it for its own gains. How that manifests is yet to be seen, but if I were the agency of record, I would seriously be trying to strike while the iron is hot and while 45 is tweeting away.

CNN and its gentle social approach

As the events of the horrific June 12th mass shooting in Orlando unfolded, news outlets around the country shifted their attention and coverage accordingly. CNN was covering it non-stop, from initial reports, through law enforcement and elected official press conferences and on to background information that emerged in the hours and days that followed.

But now, as the investigation continues and other stories begin to grab attention, CNN is using its social platforms – Twitter in particular – to continue coverage in a new and interesting way.

CNN’s Twitter feed is now featuring vignette Tweets about EACH deceased victim. Each tweet is designed and presented differently so that it stands out in the feed and features the name, age, a photo when available, and a short background of the person.

cnn_twitter

It’s a considerate and fitting tribute to what would have otherwise been a personality-less list of death. Instead, CNN is focusing on attributes of the victim’s personality, or sharing a brief description of what that person was up to in his or her life.

CNN has taken heart-wrenching news coverage, packaged it for social media, and has maintained what appears to be a healthy respect for the deceased. In the process, they’ve done more to add to the story of those people’s lives beyond where they were the night they were senselessly shot by a madman.

In the category of “I really like and respect this approach,” I think CNN has provided an object lesson for how a media enterprise can comport itself at the intersection of journalism and social media. Well done, CNN.

Death and Social Media – version 2.0

Illustration:  Bruce Crilly

The below is a follow-up to a post I wrote back in July 2010. First, the original post, then the follow-up:

Death and Social Media
This is a morbid way to discuss an idea, but let’s talk about death. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about social media. I was (briefly, fleetingly) thinking about what would happen after I die, and the kinds of things people would remember about me. (And more exactly, the kinds of things I hope people will remember about me.)

In my life, (and I’m not quite done yet,) I have created volumes of content in the social media world: blog posts, and blog comments, Facebook statuses and comments and likes and picture uploads and all those Tweets, reTweets and direct messages on Twitter! I’ve yelled about firing the head coach of my beloved Buffalo Bills on the fan forums on buffalobills.com, and helped people solve technical problems on support forums for Apple computers and some software platforms. I’ve written record and book reviews on iTunes and Amazon. I’ve uploaded and even commented on videos posted on YouTube! (Eeek. What a geek.)

So I wondered, will this become part of what people remember about me? Will there be people at my funeral saying, “yeah, nice guy…oh! And did you see his Tweets from the IAB mobile conference back in 2010? So insightful.” Instead of a collage of photos, will there be a screen somewhere with a streaming feed of my life’s digital output?

On one hand, I seriously doubt that these bits and bytes of my recommendations, forwards, hashtag snips and extemporanea will have any bearing on what people think about me. But on the other, there’s no getting around the fact that social media content is now a contributing editor to my legacy. I also submit that I think it would be an interesting, revealing and even fairly intimate way to chronologically peek into the ebbs and flows of my (mostly) professional life. Which makes me think: are we (am I?) Tweeting accordingly? Is the overall tone of my social commentary admirable/useful/honorable? Will my children be proud of what they read? Does it really matter how many check-ins I have, or if I’m the bloody mayor of some local bar? Jeez…maybe we better start looking at all of this in context.

In older days, we might have discovered a diary under a bed, or a journal tucked away in a closet somewhere, long after the departure of a loved one. But now, we have a digitized database of someone’s every thought and comment for years and years. And since most people in the world will never author a book, or write a professional article in a real journal, or be interviewed for television or radio, is the chronicling of social media verbiage a new means to endure? [Uh oh, I think I smell a new business model being hatched.]

Follow-up [September 2011]
So it turns out I was on to something about new business models being hatched, and people starting to talk about this morbid stuff with a more, um, opportunistic tone. A year after my blog post, a journalist named Adam Ostrow gave a TED talk that covered this topic – and outlined some new business models that are indeed being hatched at the intersection of death and social media as “opportunities for technologists.”

The first (and perhaps weirdest) is ifidie.net, a service that lets you create a message or video to be posted to Facebook after you die. Check out their website…kind of a wacky approach to a fairly serious topic.

“My Next Tweet” is a service that uses an algorithm to predict what your next (and perhaps last) bit of social output would be on Twitter by analyzing all your previous tweets and retweets.

Finally, Ostrow points out 1000 Memories, a service that allows you to organize, share and ultimately post a collection of photos, memories, writings and more to Facebook or an area of their site. Not just for the dead, apparently.

On the flipside of all that nonsense, there is a beautiful side-effect to digitizing one’s last days. I recently read a gorgeous narrative by Rebecca Armendariz chronicling a series of Gchats with her lover that is both heartwarming and gut-wrenching, and exquisitely written. Read it and (be prepared to) weep.

I suppose all of this does lend gravitas to the idea of self-monitoring your digital expressionism. Once you’re gone to the great mashup in the sky, you don’t want one of these dopey services misrepresenting your life’s social work. So if today is indeed the beginning of the end of your life, social-ize accordingly.