Twitter: The Social Media Epidemic

August 10, 2009 at 4:47 pm (Food for Thought, School) (, , )

This is from a recent paper I wrote for my third writing class (ENGL 183: Writing for Business).

In his national best-selling book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell offered his audience revolutionary analysis on how trends are sparked and ignited.  He describes the process as actually a number of patterns and factors that play crucial parts to create an influential trend.  These concepts that determine whether a trend will “tip” into wide-scale popularity are the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.

The grassfire trend that I have chosen to help illustrate Gladwell’s concepts is Twitter.  Started in 2006, it is no longer brand new to the industry.  However, within the last year Twitter has taken off like a rocket, with 6 million unique monthly visitors and 55 million monthly visits in February 2009, making Twitter the third most used social network site.  It’s exponential growth is attributed by its notability and growing popularity across all age groups, sex, ethnicities, and regions.

The Law of the Few argues that certain individuals must endorse and advocate a new idea, concept, or product in order to tip it into exponential success. In other words, pioneers start the trend by advertising it. A great example of someone who used Twitter and spread the usage of Twitter was President Obama.  During campaigning, Obama would utilize Twitter to keep his closest followers up to date with the most current news.  His “Followers” (the term Twitter uses for users who follow other Twitter users’ posts) could learn of ideas and results before the press could at times.  Also, celebrities such as Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute from The Office), and Ashton Kutcher are avid Twitter users and communicate to their followers with questions and updates on what’s going on in their lives. People love gossip (aka being nosy and being the first to know everything) and following celebs, so this Twitter vantage is an added incentive for people to join.

Gladwell defines the Stickiness Factor as the quality that compels people to pay close, sustained attention to a product, concept, or idea.  Twitter’s succinctness and very basic format sustains users’ attention to the product.  With only 140 characters allocated, Twitter is the easiest social networking and micro-blogging tool out there.  Twitter is mentioned all over the media too: on radio shows, TV, advertisements, people in your daily lives talking about and promoting things on it.  These unconventional and unexpected reminders of the tool keep Twitter top-of-mind and relevant to daily life.  You are impelled to create an account to see what the hype is about, and to read the promotions, stories, and updates that are constantly talked about.

The Power of Context are small but influential changes in social groups or community environments that can cause a new idea to tip.  For Twitter it was definitely all about timing. Facebook was established in 2004 and was a huge success, paving the way for more social networking-type sites.  Facebook also opened new ground for micro-blogging, and also popularized the “status” module.  Twitter took off with the idea and expedited it.  This is the era of the social media boom.  Companies are now being forced into two-way communication with their customers, and social media outlets are an influential facet to this objective.  Twitter has taken the Gladwell’s concepts of the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context and flown to new heights.  The social media epidemic that is Twitter has taken flight, and who knows when it will come back down.

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