Student guest post: Twitter, the non-social media

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, right, answers questions at a recent talk at High Point University.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, right, answers questions at a talk at High Point University.

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the first of those posts. Sarah Kaylan Butler is a senior majoring in journalism. She is from Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is a digital journalist dedicated to cultivating community. A portion of her community journalism pursuit includes serving as the editor-at-large for the Durham VOICE and the Carrboro Commons.

It’s 2016, and we have access to so many social media platforms that it’s absurd. Do we know what each one is for and how to use their many functions?

I mean, Facebook was created to keep college students connected as they spanned across the nation. Instagram shares photos and videos (partially thanks to Vine), although once a post is made, it’s not easily sharable. Snapchat shares temporary photos and videos with individuals or a geographical location.  We’re getting more platforms by the day, like Periscope and WhatsApp.

There’s one platform that I don’t agree is social by nature. Twitter.

It doesn’t serve as a “social” medium. I realize that when you Google “Twitter” a the description says it’s a “social networking service.” My proposition is merely to scratch the term “social” and refer to it as a networking medium or news source.

High Point University recently hosted a conversation between Dr. Nido Qubein, HPU’s president, and Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter.

During their open chat, Stone talked about what Twitter was like in the beginning and how it has grown. He acknowledged that Facebook and Twitter aren’t the same.

“These are completely different services. They’re always lumped together, but they’re totally different,” Stone said.

If I tweet to a friend, “Hey, I’m about to break up with my boyfriend, but I can’t think of what to say. Can you come over?” I might annoy my followers or even gain a few enemies.

Of course, our parents taught us manners, and those lessons apply online.

So maybe it’s not such a good idea to hold ongoing casual conversation on Twitter, but what is it good for? Networking.

Networking isn’t always within your career field. As journalists, we can use it to build strong local communities.

Stone said, “Twitter isn’t about keeping up with your friends. It’s about … first to the world. It’s about finding out what’s happening right now. It’s about — if you have something to say, saying it right now.”

Tweeting, as a medium to share news, has become one of Twitter’s staples since its conception in 2006. It freely allows businesses, journalists, travelers and anyone else to network with other like-minded individuals or entities.

In fact, Stone said that he was surprised when celebrities began using Twitter because they already have a voice. 

Dr. Qubein even asked Stone, “Does it depress you that the people with the largest following are Katy Perry and Mr. Bieber?” Stone responded by saying, “You know, It’s funny. I thought celebrities would never use Twitter because they’re celebrities. The whole point of a celebrity is that you have limited access to them. You can watch them in movies, but that’s it.”

Now celebrities use Twitter to build and interact with fans, but it has many other uses.

During a snowstorm, users can be alerted of school closings. While walking around downtown, users can be alerted to great sales happening at their favorite local stores. While protesting users can be alerted to what’s happening at similar marches around the world.

Stone talked about his experience at a South By Southwest Interactive conference, when he was standing at the back of a room and noticed that Twitter was on every phone. He said that at one point, only 10 minutes into a session, “everyone just got up and left. It was like someone had announced something over the PA system.”

Later, he found out people were tweeting about something across the hall that they were more interested in and like birds, they flocked to it or followed it.

In everyday conversation, people use phrases like “Do you follow me?” to ask if someone understands. They ask their co-workers during their lunch break, “Hey, are you following this story?” That’s why Stone said he decided to allow users to “follow” each other, instead of become “friends.”

“All along I’ve always thought of Twitter — it’s not a social network. It’s not where you go to connect with your friends from high school. Twitter is, yes, it’s social media broadly because it’s media and it’s people, but Twitter fundamentally is the place where you go to hear news first.”

As people who consume many different kinds of social media, let’s be aware of the tools we have at our disposal and use them appropriately.