Twitter, the hashtag and me: 10 years on

Thought Leadership
Our Senior Strategist, Cristina Sarraille, recently commented in The Drum following the hashtag’s 10th birthday on Twitter. Here, she shares her thoughts on Twitter’s evolution and its potential.

I was one of the first people to have a Twitter account in Romania. I think I was one of very few users at the time who wasn’t looking at it from a tech point of view; I was writing about music, trainers and street culture, and I saw it as an interesting challenge to try and say everything I wanted in 140 characters.

I remember initially being skeptical about the platform. Its character restriction made people feel constrained – at a time when social media was promising to liberate people to share their opinions and stories, it felt Twitter was putting up more barriers.

A game-changer for communications
But I think Twitter has turned out to be a game changer. It spawned the hashtag as we now know it, to allow everyone to take part in and follow global conversations, it played an important part in the ‘video revolution’ with the launch of Vine and Periscope, and has been there for every election, revolution and social movement which has shaken up our society for the past decade.

It’s taken us from a broadcast culture of brand communications, to a world where we can instantly take part in conversations and get a glimpse of life across the globe with a click of a button. This in turn has given rise to the live-streaming culture.

The greatest thing about Twitter has always been information and engagement in real-time. For brands, it was a fantastic opportunity to build conversations, but these real-time interactions also forced them to rethink how they listened to consumers and shaped how and when they engaged, based on consumer needs.

Twitter’s future
Now, as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve fallen out of love with Twitter (I currently use it to stay in touch with people from the academic world and some people in the industry). I’m still convinced that it has a place within the social landscape for its ability to connect you to a global conversation, but its open nature has also created constant issues with harassment and hate speech which is putting off so many people.

While the platform has managed to evolve far beyond its initial offering, it’s failed to keep up with the pace of change. Other platforms have innovated and diversified their products in order to evolve (and survive), but for me, Twitter lags behind.

I’d like to be proven wrong. Twitter’s move towards becoming a broadcaster could help retain and increase its audience. Its partnerships with Live Nation, the NFL, the WNBA and the PGA Tour have already helped reignite users’ interest and its move into e-sports could attract a new wave of young users, who weren’t necessarily fans of the platform previously.

But let’s be realistic, Twitter needs to leverage the conversations around its streamed content to be sexier than traditional TV viewing. And with the likes of Facebook and Snapchat launching competing innovations and formats as quickly as Twitter can create them, it’s unlikely to be an easy path to success.