In the last few years Twitter has risen up to become one of the biggest social networking sites since Facebook and Myspace before it. Using the angle of micro blogging within 140 characters per post, it has become the place to post everything from important news to mundane everyday activity as well as uploading photos, videos and sharing with each other in an easy and fast format.
One of its biggest appeals over its main rival, Facebook, is that it doesn’t require entering and/or sharing private information. Facebook uses schools, locations, places of work and email to connect to the people you know, whilst Twitter uses common interests and sharing to connect you to the people you may not know that post things of interest. Whereas it is considered strange or stalkerish if someone you don’t know attempts to befriend you on Facebook, it is considered a complement or flattery if someone you don’t know thinks you’re interesting enough to follow on Twitter.
This appeal has made it sky rocket as the first social network to embody celebrity culture. Although Facebook now incorporates pages that celebrities can create to stay in touch with their fans, Twitter was the first successful network a celebrity could update and communicate with fans without concern for their private information or safety that wasn’t an official website or blog.
It has served many positives for celebrities. Most famously documented so far is Stephen Fry, who as one of the first celebrity names on Twitter, has seen his public profile rise tenfold and his career benefit further from being able to share his wit and kindheartedness on such a huge platform. Many celebrities have used it as a way to open up and show compassion to their fans, building closer relationships and showcasing their personality (which ten years ago would not have been as easily accessible without some sort of PR campaign) in a better light, and all for no cost.
Of course, Twitter has had some well-reported downsides for celebrity use. Giving the power of publicity and public relations to the figurehead can have a negative effect on their image in the public eye. PR companies are experienced marketing machines doing what is in the best interest of a celebrity by only leaking out certain information and preventing potentially damaging gossip from spreading. One wrong tweet can have a huge knock on effect of negativity.
Not just celebrities, but all of us from time to time, can act in the heat of the moment and do something we may regret later. Doing it on a public platform where it can potentially be seen by millions of people is dangerous territory. Recent examples of this can be found in Ricky Gervais’ tweet regarding a word that many people perceived as offensive, or Joey Barton’s on going war with the cast of The Only Way Is Essex, both of which have had a mixed response from fans and critics alike.
Sports stars have felt the brunt of careless tweeting too, receiving fines and game bans for posting inappropriate content. Sporting associations,individual athletes and club teams are reliant on a good public image promoting racial equality and good sportsmanship to sell tickets, obtain sponsorship and maintain as a business. It only takes one inappropriate incident getting picked up by the national news to cause a huge amount of negative publicity. At the start of 2011, then-Liverpool FC player Ryan Babel was under fire from both the media and the club for posting a disrespectful tweet aimed at referee Howard Webb. Babel was fined £10,000 by the Football Association and made to publicly apologize for the message. England cricketer Kevin Pietersen was also fined an undisclosed amount by the England Cricket team after an offensive rant about being dropped from the international side.
There’s an old saying that goes “Any publicity is good publicity”, and maybe for some harder Rock Stars who thrive on a bit of negative imagery this is probably true, but for a celebrity or sports personality who needs to keep a clean sheet and represent a young fan base or sports team there most certainly is such a thing as “bad” publicity. Twitter can be a fantastic tool for communicating and raising your profile, but a bit of thought before you post can go a long way.
In conclusion, if you have a big follower base and what you’re about to tweet might offend someone, try another therapeutic method; write it on a piece of paper, screw it up, throw it in the bin and let it go!
Tim Jackson is a writer and product tester for Satellite Internet provider Bentley Walker. He's been involved with the internet business since the early days of dial up, and takes great interest in online trends, past, present and future.