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Twitter: more than just a social network?

Twitter: more than just a social network?

Earlier this week I read an article about teenagers claiming that Twitter isn’t a social networking channel. My initial thought was something along the lines of: “the youth of today, what do they know?” People use Twitter to engage in multi-dimensional conversation with friends, family, strangers and brands. It is social, and it’s a network.

I then read about Twitter's new lead generation tool giving marketers a new means to capture leads, and giving users the chance to register interest in a brand’s offerings without having to leave Twitter or complete a lengthy lead capture form.

This then got me thinking about other developments/initiatives Twitter has undertaken recently which mean it isn’t just a social networking channel after all. There are a number of partnerships and innovations have set Twitter apart from “rival” social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. From marketing initiatives like the one mentioned above, to TV, and even payments, Twitter has dipped its toe - or, beak, in a variety of pools...

  • Journalism. Twitter is a great channel for journalists to share the latest, breaking news. In fact, there have been instances where news stories have broken on Twitter before the big guns like BBC and Sky News have even caught sight of them. Does this spell the end of traditional news reporting? Probably not; it just adds a new, conversational dimension, and allows journalists to use Twitter to break stories and gauge public opinion.
  • Social TV. Driven by increased use of mobile and tablet devices while watching TV, social TV is dubbed one of the next big things. Twitter has been placed right in the centre of this - in fact, 40% of tweets in the UK during peak-time television hours are about television. Twitter has already acquired social TV analytics company, Bluefin Labs, and Nielsen has created the “Nielsen Twitter TV Rating” in the US; giving real-time metrics around the social activity of TV audiences. And yesterday (because Twitter hasn’t been in the news enough this week already) Twitter launched Twitter Amplify, bringing sponsored video clips to users' feeds. So, it seems Twitter is far ahead of rival networks when it comes to bringing the online and offline worlds together in this way.
  • Payments. Who would have thought the social and payments worlds would unite? Thanks to American Express’ pay-by-tweet service, you can pay for products with a single tweet! Although there are only a small number of partners at the moment, it certainly makes an easy purchase process for customers, who can make purchases without actually having to leave Twitter.
  • Stock markets. For months there’s been speculation around how Twitter can help influence investment decisions. Last month the real impact was demonstrated when the Associated Press’ Twitter account was hacked,sending stock markets tumbling.

These are just a handful of ways which Twitter is becoming a bigger player in our day-to-day and professional lives. While these initiatives are still in the early stages, as we become more digital, I can see such innovations expanding.

So maybe those teenagers were right when they claimed Twitter isn’t a social network. While Facebook and LinkedIn focus on building relationships with people you know in real life, Twitter is much more about engaging with people who share similar interests to you. The public nature of Twitter means (unless you protect your account), anyone can follow you, tweet you, and read what you’re saying. This puts it on a different level to the Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s of the social world.