Twitter: Key Disruptive Innovation of the Decade

Twitter: Key Disruptive Innovation of the DecadeThe end of a year and a decade seems an appropriate time to go on the record about something I have felt for a long time: Twitter will prove to be one of the most disruptive and transformational Web 2.0 innovations of the decade. Although I am an experienced user myself and have advised clients on using Twitter, I perceive that there is much more that remains to be discovered, a considerable well of untapped je ne sais quoi. That is a hallmark of transformative innovations, for they challenge ways of thinking, they push once-cherished assumptions out the door. Here I will outline the significance of Twitter’s key features and suggest why you might want to use it to create rare value for yourself and your company.

Features that Differentiate

None of these “features” are unique in themselves, but by bundling them together in the first-to-market offer, Twitter has created the microblogging niche in the Web 2.0 ecosystem. Twitter can be used to accomplish many types of objectives (i.e. sales, promotion, marketing), but I’ll argue from the point of view that it is transforming the relationship life cycle.

  • Twitter: Key Disruptive Innovation of the Decade: reflectionLess is more—Most executives, when they see Twitter the first time, think it’s ridiculous. They think, “How could you possibly say anything of substance in 140 characters?” However, the 140 character limit ends up making Twitter more actionable because it forces you to communicate small chunks of thought that are complete in themselves. This makes it very easy for readers to digest your tweets. Moreover, everyone knows each tweet is a small piece, and the environment does not presuppose that you know the whole picture. IOW, Twitter’s weakness (not providing the whole picture) becomes a strength. Think of tweets as little marble chips of a mosaic: the more you read someone, the more you understand the whole picture, but you have to supply the context to get the larger meaning.
  • Mobile DNA—Twitter is the only major platform that has mobility in its DNA. As you may know, the 140 limit arose due to the SMS (text messaging) limit because Twitter founders wanted to share status anywhere at any time, so the SMS was the network of choice. This has colored the social context and makes Twitter unique. Where do you go without your phone? The shower or swimming, although I have seen cell phones that work under water.
  • Real-time and 24×7—Because it takes a few seconds to write and publish a tweet, many people do it any time and anywhere, so it easily becomes a 24×7 activity. There are no business hours for tweeting unless you artificially make them.
  • 360—Given small chunks, mobile and real-time, Twitter is more 360° than any previous “status” medium, so you get information about all aspects of someone’s life that they care to share. The dentist’s assistant fell asleep at her desk. The postal clerk was rude. Someone drove over a petrol station pump and started a fire. She said yes to your proposal. You just got accepted to Stanford. You found a roach in your linguine all’arrabbiate… …
  • Easy interactivity—The above features also apply to replies and private messages, so it’s easy to use Twitter for social grooming. Offering a kind word or useful solution to an immediate problem is a way to show you care, and often has high impact. Remember, it not only impacts the person you are helping, but their followers and your followers often see the gesture, too.
  • Agar for virality—Because Twitter enables members to forward (retweet) messages in one click, it can be extremely viral. As you have undoubtedly read ad nauseam in 2009, people and iPhones regularly scoop the media. People are everywhere, and text and pictures can be a news story. Ditto for selling. You can put short codes and coupons on your Twitter stream, and people can forward them to their followers.
  • Platform—At its core, Twitter is a communications medium, and it began as a network for text messages. However, said network soon morphed into picture and video sharing. Many of my tweets are pictures hosted at twitpic, or other. Tons of video sharing sites, too. I have covered, as press, events completely using iPhone for pictures and text reporting. There are thousands of “applications” or “plugins” that extend the Twitter footprint in all directions.
  • Syndication-ready—Every account syndicates as an RSS feed, which means you can publish your stream anywhere that will subscribe to RSS (increasingly everything). You can add a “status” element to any Website or blog.

How Twitter Transforms the Relationship Life Cycle

Twitter: Key Disruptive Innovation of the Decade: accessHere are a few ways that Twitter’s features are transforming the “relationship life cycle.” None of these are universally true; their impact depends on how people use Twitter. All of these serve to shrink the time to trust.

  • Forgoing privacy by the peek—Very few people would blog their disappointment with their date because that would be too personal and revealing. However, many people might be likely to tweet “OMG he’s a CEO who chews w his mouth open! ;-O~ ” while he’s in the bathroom. There is an anonymity to Twitter because each tweet is only a marble chip of the mosaic, so people tend to be quite revealing. If you are interested in exploring a business relationship with someone, viewing his tweets can accelerate the relationship. Each tweet can be a glimpse into someone’s personality.
  • People often tweet while they are reacting to the environment around them. You get raw responses, hence more revealing. If I’m treated rudely by some sales or service clerk, I’m not likely to blog about it because it’s trivial, and I’ll forget about it by the time I get back to the office or home. I would be much more likely to tweet it because it’s satisfying to vent, especially when you find a twist to make it funny or otherwise interesting to your followers. You can share more aspects of yourself.
  • Facsimile of intimacy—Derived from above, Twitter can lead to a kind of intimacy rather quickly. Think about it. When you’re in a professional setting, you are talking about important things that (you hope) reflect well on you. To friends, however, you share the trite, silly or unimpressive things that happen, la vie quotidienne, quoi, like your shoelace broke on your way to the high-stakes meeting you had at 11. How that affected you. People often tweet about boring stuff they share with people close to them, so Twitter can impart a facsimile of intimacy that would otherwise be very unlikely.
  • Real-time opinion—Of course, through Twitter, you can get “the Twitterverse’s” status or thoughts about any keyword, instantly, at any time. All tweets that aren’t private are automatically posted to the public timeline. Want to know what millions of people think about “supply chain#supplychain and “supply chain software” right now? Use Twitter search.


  • Twitter: Key Disruptive Innovation of the Decade: privacyTwitter mainstreamed universal real-time status, transforming privacy. The founders, who were IM aficionados, wanted to apply status to everything, everywhere, and they succeeded beyond wildest dreams.
  • Twitter is changing the concept of “privacy” because people share very openly but in small chunks. If you care enough to think about a person and triangulate his tweets with other information, you can get a sense of him fairly quickly. When used correctly, it can drastically shrink the time to trust.
  • <speculation>Although Twitter has a fraction of Facebook’s members, it changed the rules and caused Facebook to change its strategy. Facebook was focused on bringing the world to its private playground, but now it seems to have reversed strategy as it has made major moves to open Facebook to the Web. People are sharing very personal things on Twitter, things that Facebook had assumed would only be shared with “friends” on Facebook (giving Facebook an exclusive to the content and more stickiness).</speculation> Due to the “mosaic effect” mentioned above, Twitter is disrupting the concept of privacy and space.
  • <speculation>Twitter has ruffled Google’s feathers because an increasing portion of the customers for search prefer Twitter to Google. Google is analytical and technical, but Twitter is your friends. If you have a well-selected following, many people prefer to ask their friends for the best source for something, rather than Google.  By no means am I saying that Twitter will supplant Google, but a small portion of searches increasingly get siphoned off.</speculation> And, unlike Google, Twitter results are people whom you can access in one click to follow up. Twitter is a roll-your-own news network and board of directors.
  • Twitter has spawned UPI 2.0. People are everywhere, and as more people blog (get accustomed to writing for the public), we will self-report the world around us, putting the erstwhile mainstream media in a more analytical niche. Today we can produce text, pictures and podcasts on basic phones, and video will become mainstream fast. The media that thrive will adopt a ProAm strategy.
  • To shrink the time to trust, you must be grounded in caring about people and showing them respect and consideration. Apply your insights to serving them, and they will be more interested in a relationship with you.
  • Twitter can be very powerful for crowdsourcing because it imposes very low cost on each transaction, so you get instant responses to questions. Answers can be specific (links). This requires skill to optimize questions for Twitter answers. You also need the right kind of following, but you can build it more quickly than you think if you have a solid strategy, stay on task and are authentic.
  • Update: the power of your followers is an aspect that’s so obvious I left it out. Check out John Furrier’s musings on this dimension.

What do you think?

I know that I have not done this subject justice, but it’s my best back-of-the-envelope right now. Please share your comments and thoughts!

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