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What is Twitter? No seriously, what is Twitter?

What is Twitter? No seriously, what is Twitter?

Last week I asked someone “what is marketing?”

Said someone had just retired after an illustrious career in blue chip marketing departments and a blue chip marketing consultancy.

I was expecting an immediate, well-rehearsed response. I was expecting a highly polished definition that was the result of decades of honing and refining.

What I got was hesitation, followed by what was clearly a carefully considered response that was being made up on the spot.

The seemingly naive questions are often the most powerful.

They don’t get asked very often.

The answer is assumed or taken for granted.

There is no question that my learned, recently retired friend knows what marketing is. But he hadn’t had to put that knowledge into words for a long time.

Many years ago I was stopped, mid-presentation, by a new marketing director and asked to give my definition of the word “salience”, having just (foolishly and assumptively as it turned out) used the term on a chart.

I kind of knew, but hadn’t had to put the knowledge into words before.

I flunked the test, but learned a hard lesson.

I’ve never used a word or phrase that I couldn’t explain since.

And, on occasion, I’ve tested people’s mettle by asking the same kind of deceptively simple, apparently naive questions mid-meeting.


What about Twitter?

A very bright client of mine was recently asked “what is Twitter?”

She was asked by her CEO in front of a board meeting.

I’m guessing that most people reading this will “know” what Twitter is.

But I’m also guessing that you won’t have been asked to put that knowledge into words.

And certainly not by your CEO in front of your board.

What would you have said?

What would you have said, knowing that the CEO wouldn’t tolerate waffle.

One sentence.

My clever client said this.

Twitter is where news breaks in 2012.

In so saying she did a better job under pressure than I would have done in her shoes.

It’s a concise, true definition that answers the question that will be on most CEO’s minds – “why should my company be on there?”

It’s the kind of answer that establishes a credible platform and buys you time to expand.

I can imagine the CEO saying “Hmm, interesting. Go on.”

The definition is true in terms of world events.

It is true of celebrity gossip.

It is true of most industries.

It is true amongst friends.

It is similar to, but in my opinion better than, Twitter’s own definition.

If you think you can do better, and if you can be arsed, you can add alternative definitions of Twitter via a comment.


  1. Clever article and funny that I’ve been pondering the same question, “What the hell does Twitter really do for us” or for me I should say. As a marketer I feel the demanding pressure of needing to “get” these social media tools. I’ve recently just realized what a hashtag does but I’m not sure I care and I’m not sure I can qualify why brands should be there . . .yet. Twitter is still the slowest social media tool that I and most of my circle (professional) included have come to use, yet it is the largest. Ahh, the enigma.

    Not sure if I agree with it being “where news breaks” but since I can’t tell you what I think it is I guess I have no arguement 🙂

  2. Those basic questions are always a good way of exposing those hiding behind jargon.

    Twitter. It’s where I learned that Gadaffi was dead. And then he wasn’t. And then it was his brother. Maybe. And then eventually Gadaffi was dead again. Really this time.

    Bit like Sky. Never wrong for long.

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