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Five years of Twitter - big changes in communication

15 July 2011

Professor Tom Watson Radical changes in social media as Twitter marks its fifth anniversary.

Five years of Twitter have led to major changes in the way we communicate, says Bournemouth University media expert Professor Tom Watson.

“There are now 200 million users who produce more than one billion tweets per week,” he said. “The service has radically changed the way that we converse, share news and information and discuss issues.”

Although the most popular names followed on Twitter are singer-celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, US president Barack Obama is in the ‘top 10’, worldwide. Usage of Twitter is greatest in its homeland in the US, followed by the UK, Canada, Australia and Brazil.

Tom, who is professor of public relations in BU’s Media School, said important changes include the heavy involvement of traditional news media in Twitter.

“I’m sure that many people learnt about the resignation of Rebekah Brooks from News International from a media ‘tweet’ this morning. The media no longer waits for formal broadcast or publication times, but is distributing information instantly.

“This is leading to new online discussions between journalists, PR advisers and interested people as soon as news appears. It’s brought a new dynamic to news and the values attached to it.”

Another major development is the use of ‘hashtags’ for events or major topics, said Professor Watson. “Recently, I ran a conference at the University in which three or four participants tweeted about the presentations. This led to discussion with people around the world who were following the conference but could not attend. Hundreds of ‘tweets’ were shared back and forth, all adding to the richness of the event. Hashtags are used for festival, big issues, celebrities and crises. They will be a continuing part of news and public relations for many years.”

Although 20-24 year olds are the keenest users of Twitter, all the evidence is that the age profile is changing rapidly. “Like Facebook, Twitter is being used by older people who are big adopters of smart phones and tablet computers, like iPhones and iPads,” he said. “It goes alongside all their existing media sources and keeps them right up-to-date.”

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