How Twitter Gives a Voice to the Voiceless

Yesterday Mack Collier responded to Gary Vee’s statement that “Twitter has a noise problem” by saying that actually Twitter’s problem is that “no one is talking there any more”. Both view points come from analysis of conversations en masse and are particularly from a social media marketing perspective. (And before I go any further let me point out that that is also my world. Many of the strategies I write are for Fortune 500 companies whose bottomline is turning ROI.)

But Mark Collier’s argument goes beyond ROI concerns. It’s framed around his experience that many of his circle of early adopters no longer frequent Twitter. For him, this indicates that the platform is no longer a place for conversation. In my mind this is a pretty out of touch statement. For starters, the early adopters of Twitter are just that- early adopters. Let’s be honest, there is a bit of a Portlandia vibe in Silicon Valley. Once something is cool it’s over. Mack Collier admitted as much pegging the death of Twitter as the moment Ashton Kutcher joined.

But while the Silicon Valley elite may have left, other groups have entered in droves and if anything Twitter is more alive with conversations than ever. These conversations are occurring in niche communities built around hashtags. Mack Collier points to rise of the tweet chat in 2008 as evidence mark that organic conversation, and therefore Twitter, was dying. Yet I’d argue that the start of hashtags as a rallying point for conversation is what allowed Twitter to get into the groove that has made it such a special social network.

As I wrote in a previous post, Twitter is the embodiment of a social media network. You go to Facebook to interaction with your offline network. On Twitter most of your network are people you’ve never met in real life. Early adopters didn’t necessarily have this experience and certainly didn’t enjoy the remarkable diversity of Twitter in it’s current form.

In recent years while Twitter is certainly the site of marketing “noise” it has also played a critical roll in giving a world-wide voice to the voiceless.

Here’s the hashtag traffic map released by Twitter for #Ferguson on August 9th [click on the photo for the video]:

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As we all know this has helped to spark many much-needed conversations about race which are now being had at the national level. Yes there is a lot of anger- what do you expect? But the point is that people are talking.

Another hashtag to note is #YesAllWomen. As I wrote last May, while the hashtag was short-lived, “In the #YesAllWoman hashtag we found our collective voice.” I compiled a storify of a sampling of the tweets and I encourage you to look through them to get an idea of just how big of a deal this was.

Twitter has changed from its early days. It’s harder to do social media marketing but if it were easy social strategists would be out of a job. Yes Twitter needs to monetize and perhaps the Facebook model (shudder) is one that will help. But to say that conversations have left Twitter is to ignore the immense role that Twitter has played over the past few years in creating unprecedented opportunities for interaction and collective action. The conversations haven’t left Twitter. You just have to know where to look.


  1. i agree with your article and think it is a good one and shows a deeper understanding – as mentioned on the Twitterer i am not a fan of using the term ‘voiceless’ because everyone has a voice although i do get that you are talking about empowerment of people whose voices are normally not listened to:

    i also appreciated and learnt a lot from #YesAllWomen when that was happening and wrote two posts on it: – definitely agree with you on the power of potential of bringing the real stories to life.

    Good one
    love brett fish


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