In 2016, we won an assignment from Twitter to refine some messaging and work on the company’s effort to launch live events on the platform, like the Democratic National Convention and NFL Football. It was a heady project and resulted in a cover piece in Fast Company.
But the relationship was short-lived. And that was OK, because I really wasn’t much of a Twitter guy then. Yet, over the course of those six months I fell in love with the platform. I learned to engage with Twitter through some advice directly from Jack Dorsey, who told me — and others; it wasn’t exclusive advice — to find something you love or just a few things you love and then find people you respect on that topic and follow them. And then follow the people they follow. And you’re off.
I chose baseball, old movies, a bit of politics and a bit of work stuff. I dove deep into the former two areas. I dabbled in politics, mostly spectating. I used Twitter as a resource for work and to chat with some old friends and colleagues.
I was hooked. I found communities. I learned more about Carole Lombard than I needed to know. I became “friends” with the Colorado Rockies beat reporter. I DM’d some famous people and they DM’d me back. I grew a lot smarter. I found belonging. I adored Twitter. And I still do six years later.
But across it all I stayed far, far away from the toxic stuff. I got into trouble once for ironically claiming that no one knew who Tallulah Bankhead is. Classic film people can be vicious. But it was still fun. I left the political and pop culture diatribes to others. That wasn’t my Twitter.
This week, Elon Musk cut a deal to buy Twitter. He is buying the trending tweets and the clever hashtags. He is buying trolling wars that make cable news. He is buying the public square he and others feel is being subjugated by onerous rules. He is buying the famous Twitter. Unfortunately, he is buying my Twitter, too, and I am worried he is going to kill it.
For communications professionals, strong communities are gold. And knowing how to find them is even more valuable. I have found my people who love GIFs of The Philadelphia Story and Groucho Marx and conduct polls of the top five Hitchcock movies. But there are wine communities and tech communities and healthcare communities and many others. And there are comms folks who lean on Twitter to reach those communities. If some new version of Twitter loses those obscure corners of the platform, that will be a loss for our profession and for Twitter in general.
Adam Bain was the insanely smart head of sales at Twitter when we worked with that team. He had a very insightful observation about the platform. He said that Twitter was unique because it was the only social media platform that actually made news and got as much or more attention off platform as it did on the platform.
Maybe that’s what makes it so attractive to limelight seekers. But it is also a learning platform and therefore an unrivaled discovery platform. Where else would you learn from a posted 1958 photo that Paul Newman had been doing the bicycle tricks he used in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid for years?
When Elon Musk’s deal was reportedly accepted today, #LeaveTwitter started trending. But within hours, other posters were advising people to stay on the platform. They basically said if we really love Twitter, then we need to stay on the platform and fight to keep it. I hope people do.
Patrick Ward is CEO of 104 West Partners.