Twitter — the 2009 word of the year — and what it means

I originally posted a version of this article last week on the Weber Shandwick Social Studies Blog.

Last week, the Global Language Monitor announced “twitter” was the top word of 2009.

We have seen the good side of Twitter (NOTE: Weber Shandwick helped promote Tweetsgiving) along with the not-so-good. We have seen Twitter used by news organizations and companies both large and small:

The fact “Twitter” topped this year’s list should come as no surprise, but the word’s definition, as cited in the release, may make you think. It is simply this:

“The ability to encapsulate human thought in 140 characters.”

Nowhere in this definition will you find the term “Web site,” or the word “platform.” Twitter is not, nor has it ever been, solely about the service. A tweet can happen anywhere, whether it’s on Twitter — the platform it was designed for — or as a status update on Facebook, or even as a short blog entry on Posterous.

According to the GLM Web site, the survey’s methodology uses an algorithm that tracks words used by the media and others across the Web. No longer do people need blogs to become digital publishers; sign up on Twitter and you’re ready to go.

There’s a reason Facebook, with its hundreds of millions of users, changed its approach to reflect Twitter, with a user base of only several million users: Facebook saw the value of the micro-interaction and elevated it into a central role on its platform.

Twitter, in and of itself, has opened up an even more hyperconnected world, but the Twitter-type interaction — the micro-interaction — often leads to something deeper. Something that happens outside of the platform, whether it’s an e-mail or a phone call.

Weber Shandwick advises clients not to start or run a Twitter account with the end goal of just having one, but to leverage everything they’re doing — their product launches, their promotions, their ideas and their expertise, and their customer-driven insights — and work with them to somehow fit that content in 140 characters with the end goal of driving advocacy.

Brand advocacy, of course, happens over time; it can start with a 140-character tweet.

Daniel B. Honigman

(NOTE: Best Buy is a client of Weber Shandwick.)

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