The Twitter effect at Convergence 2009

Twitter’s phenomenal growth was reflected in “The Twitter Effect,” a packed session at Cossette West’s Convergence 2009 conference held at the new Vancouver Convention Centre.

What’s powerful about Twitter, according to session moderator Briana Tomkinson of Fjord Interactive is that its a “meme incubator” that allows for hyperconnectedness and spread of ideas.

The panelists included Brad Nelson, the “official tweeter” for Starbucks, Michael Tippett, the founder of NowPublic, and Ling Chan, the social media manager for the Vancouver Opera.

All of the panelists found that they didn’t get much use out of Twitter until they saw friends join and conversations form. Michael Tippett of NowPublic said that the service is a great way for a news aggregator to harness the power of what’s happening in real-time. Ling Chan said it was surprising to find that opera fans were in fact listening to their tweets.

When it comes to using vs. using a client app, Tippett said they use whatever’s available at a given time. The actual account is an underrated part of the mix tough, he said, and pointed to the fact that during the Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN race to a million followers, CNN actually had to buy CNNBRK from a user who had already registered the name in order to participate.

An audience member asked what the panel thought of the “race to a million”, and Tippett said in that case it was a publicity stunt, but in real terms a large number of followers can be a measure of authenticity and (in Kutcher or Oprah’s case) a sign of your existing brand recognition.

Twitter is also, according to Chan and Nelson, a great way to not only push out facts but also connect with customers. It’s a function of what you want to achieve, Tippett said, whether its important news, links to academic papers, or social editorial.

But Twitter isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before, Tippett said, it’s just the “Kleenex” of microblogging. But Facebook is the opposite approach; they’ve built a huge infrastructure of email and other services but are drifting towards becoming more like Twitter by emphasizing status updates. But both services are ultimately forming a real-time web, which will be the next new frontier, Tippett said,

Chan said that between Twitter and Facebook when the same message is sent out, the response rate is more immediate and dynamic on Twitter. And there isn’t a heavy overlap between both sets of users, she added.

Tippett also said that unlike blogging, Twitter is great for connecting in a physical location with people at an event whom you otherwise wouldn’t have any reason to interact with.

And Nelson pointed out that Twitter allows the company to not only track what’s being said about the brand but also allows them to respond and turn around negative voices in some cases. For Starbucks, it’s been a way to build credibility, he said.