On March 21st 2016, Twitter will be celebrating its 10th year since the moment CEO Jack Dorsey (recently reinstated) sent the first ever tweet and Twitter was born. As a channel that’s kind of important to what we do, we thought it only fitting to take a look back through Twitter’s defining moments. From key tweetstorms to misused hashtags and social movements, we look at what has made the channel such a social media favourite over a decade of being in business.
In 2006, when Facebook was but two years old and MySpace was still at height having just surpassed Google as the most visited website in the United States (yes really) four founders came together to create ‘Stat.us’. An idea originally based on using an SMS service to communicate with a small group. This later became ‘Twttr’ and eventually ‘Twitter’, which alluded to ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’.
On March 21, 2006, co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet and Twitter was born.
Twitter in space
In 2009, Twitter moved into the solar system as the first unassisted off-Earth Twitter message was posted from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut T. J. Creamer.
Twitter becomes the news
An infamous tweet in 2009, sent directly from an air crash at the Hudson river in New York showed that Twitter’s ‘realtime’ nature had the power to break news before many traditional media channels (even if the news wasn’t always right!)
When Michael Jackson died on 25th June 2009, a huge surge in tweets containing the words “Michael Jackson” caused Twitter’s servers to crash. Over 100,000 tweets per hour meant that the news broke across social media before many news channels.
In 2011, Twitter’s power as a news channel was propelled forward as Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual) unwittingly live-tweeted the raid in which terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed.
Oprah Winfrey took to the channel in April 2009, tweeting how she felt very ‘21st Century’. Many say that this marked the point where the channel went ‘mainstream’ with celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Paris Hilton following in her footsteps. Today, you’ll find nearly every celebrity on Twitter as a channel by which to give them an unedited voice (and a place to rant if you’re Kayne West).
The royal engagement between the Prince of Wales and Catherine Middleton in 2010 was provided through Clarence House’s Twitter page showing that even the royal family aren’t adverse to the power of the channel.
In 2015, on the same day that Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce Jenner) debuted as a woman on the cover of Vanity Fair, she joined Twitter and amassed more than one million followers in just four hours. Surpassing all previous records, including Barrack Obama who had previously hit the one million follower milestone in just five hours when he had joined the platform earlier that year.
The period from 2013-2015 marks some of the most powerful social movements of the decade, using Twitter as the platform through which to gain a voice. In 2013 a movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin in the US. This later extended to other campaigns including #LoveWins which ran synonymously with the legalisation of same sex marriage by the Supreme Court of the United States. The hashtag #RefugeesWelcome followed during the EU refugee crisis when millions died trying to cross the border into Greece.
Although Twitter has made a few small acquisitions over the years, the first widely publicised was its acquisition of Vine in 2012. This was Twitter’s first foray into video, a year before Facebook had launched its own competitor with Instagram video. In 2015, an app called ‘Meerkat’ which allowed users to live stream video content across Twitter arrived, having risen in popularity following success on Product Hunt and at SXSW. In March 2015 Twitter (rather meanly) cut off Meerkat’s access to its social graph, then announced the acquisition of the competing app Periscope, which similarly allows live streaming of video. Later, Periscope gained the ability to playback content after the initial live viewing.
The brand effect
Where users go, brands are not long to follow with companies such as Starbucks and Victoria’s Secret now racking up 10 million followers on the channel. ‘Realtime’ tweets from Oreo and others during the SuperBowl have become something of a marketing legend, with brands each year now trying to out do the ‘dunk in the dark’ opportunity that events like this hold.
More recently, Twitter’s foray into branded experience led to personalised emojis for Star Wars and the MTV music awards. Coca-Cola then became the first brand to purchase an emoji through an ad deal with Twitter. In 2015 their #shareacoke drive supposedly created the ‘largest Twitter “Cheers!”’ in history.
However, while there are success stories, many brands have become the victim of social media gone wrong. A particular cautionary tale being the #McDStories hashtag campaign. After McDonalds launched a hashtag hoping for heart-warming tales of virgin McDonalds voyages and extra chicken nuggets, the campaign backfired as Twitter users took to the channel with their ‘#McDHorrorStories’. This led to McDonalds pulling the campaign after just two hours. Unfortunately for them, the traction of the hashtag and surrounding tweets lasted much longer!
Due to its realtime nature, Twitter has become renowned for its ‘Twitterstorms’ which tear through the channel, causing havoc as a single tweet obtains virality (often for all the wrong reasons). From Kayne West, to Donald Trump and Ed Balls, it seems that no one is safe from the power of a tweetstorm once it takes hold.
Perhaps the most infamous, was a tweet sent by Justine Sacco, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at IAC. Before boarding a flight from London to South Africa, she tweeted the following ‘joke’ to her 170 followers:
“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
While Justine sat, unknowingly, on her flight, the Twittersphere exploded, causing her to become the number one trending topic as users took the channel the express their outrage. The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet trended like wildfire and she landed to unemployment after her employer was forced to sack her following the storm.
The social landscape is busier than ever, with all manner of microblogging, microvlogging and live streaming channels competing for a space in their user’s iPhones. Despite Twitter’s recent poor results, it still remains a strong contender for news, celebrity fandom and conversation between users. While the new generations may not ‘get’ Twitter and its constantly evolving feature changes, for us Twitter still holds huge potential for its users. We look forward to seeing what the next ten brings :-)