Hooked on Twitter

Is it just me, or does the world — and the media — seem to be abuzz over Twitter, the social networking and micro-blogging service?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the service, it allows people around the world to stay connected in real time via short updates — better known to the Twitter community as “tweets.”

There’s no doubt that during the past year Twitter has exploded in popularity. Chances are at one point or another you’ve attended a meeting or sat on a train or bus in which the individual next to you has been furiously typing tweets into his or her iPhone.

In fact, a recent CNN article pointed out the number of unique visitors on Twitter grew more than 1,300 percent from February 2008 to February 2009. In terms of actual numbers, the platform saw a jump from 475,000 users to approximately 7 million for the same time period.

To put these mammoth figures into perspective, consider the fact that social networking giant Facebook grew by 228 percent — to a total of 65.7 million users — during the aforementioned time.

Even though Twitter came into existence a couple years ago, it wasn’t until quite recently that what I refer to as “Twitter mania” began. That’s when the input from notable personalities and intensive media coverage helped boost participation and drive the number of users to unprecedented levels.

An example is President Barack Obama’s use of the social platform during his 2008 campaign. According to one published report, the president managed to garner more than 118,000 followers by Election Day, and at some point during his campaign he even held the coveted status of “the most followed person on Twitter.”

In addition to supplying the general public with up-to-the-minute information via Twitter, the Obama campaign managed to spawn other groups on the platform, such as “Asian Americans for Obama ’08.”

In fact, the Obama administration continues to remain active in the “Twitterverse” to this day, posting links and other updates on-site.

Twitter also has managed to attract the crème de la crème of Hollywood A-listers. Take, for instance, power actor couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, whose tweets have made national headlines on news outlets ranging from CNN to People magazine. Musician John Mayer is another Twitterer who has used his celebrity status to publicize this rapidly growing platform. Meanwhile, Shaquille O’Neal boasts more than 470,000 followers.

While these larger-than-life celebrities manage to garner hundreds of thousands of followers, Twitter also gives ordinary folks the opportunity to attract a sizeable following.

For example, a group of surgeons at Henry Ford Hospital made it a point to use Twitter while performing a surgical procedure to remove a cancerous tumor from a patient’s kidney. The chief resident sat in the operating room and sent out a series of tweets — such as “Tumor is excised, bleeding is controlled, we are about to come off clamp” — to curious followers.

The ultimate goal was noble: to educate fellow doctors, medical students and others on risky medical  procedures.

Now, I have to admit: Even though I was familiar with Twitter and knew people who interacted with others via the social network, one of my first experiences with Twittering came earlier in the year — in a business context, no less!

It turned out to be an incredibly valuable tool to keep peers in the loop and make them feel like part of the community, even when they weren’t there. This is especially important today, as more and more company travel budgets are slashed.

But while there’s no denying Twitter has its share of benefits — including knowledge sharing — as with all forms of social media, I think we run the risk of using it excessively. Do you think society has gone gaga over Twitter? In my opinion, if we are so impatient to pull out our handheld gadgets to the point where social decency has been lost, we have crossed that line. 

– Deanna Hartley, dhartley@certmag.com

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Deanna Hartley

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