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The power of Twitter and who’s keeping it real

How’s your day on social media going? So far, I’ve watched Dermot O’Leary dance for Comic Relief, re-tweeted a campaign about FGM and checked out a couple of Facebook notifications.

If it weren’t for Twitter, I wouldn’t necessarily have clocked the FGM campaign, let alone been spurred into any sort of action about it. Though it was admittedly a very easy and almost instinctual move to tap the mouse pad and add my voice to others.


More of a dabbler and a follower than a status-updater or a tweeter, I wonder just how much I’m influenced by social media.

A new Ipsos MORI poll has revealed that one-third of ‘young’ people – that’s those in the 18-34 age bracket – think social media will influence their vote in the UK general election. While the British public as a whole might have an ambivalent attitude towards the impact of Facebook and Twitter on political debate – and the same poll showed 50 per cent of Britons feel social media platforms are making debate more superficial – social media obviously is a big deal for a sizeable number.

Sticking with the voting theme for a moment, nearly a year ago a YouGov poll of 17-21-year-olds put the likes of Alan Sugar, Russell Brand and Jeremy Clarkson ahead of some politicians when asked who would do the best job of running the country.

Spring forward, and those celebs are all still very much in the public’s face, and all have pretty healthy Twitter followings, with 9.28m for @rustyrockets, 4.72m for @JeremyClarkson and 4.07m for @Lord_Sugar – though all three have some catching up to do with Brand’s ex, @katyperry at 66.8m.

Now whether there’s any real link between that poll popularity and the power of their Twitter presence, I wouldn’t know. But it got me thinking. Why are some people so successful at getting their voices heard in the social media melée?

Secrets of the followed

The access Twitter gives to the minds of the inspirational, the famous and the witty is unprecedented; it allows us to lap up the lives and thoughts of any number of industry leaders, politicians, comedians, actors, sportsmen and women… well, those who bother to tweet.

Some celebrity tweeters grow followers simply because we humans love to spectate, and perhaps because as well as being famous they’re just so damn active online, dutifully keeping their profiles raised and agents happy.

You see, the secrets of the most followed aren’t necessarily down to groundbreaking insight or eloquent prose. There are those who simply strike a chord, who have the knack of hooking into what their audience wants to know or talk about. A bit more Brand than bland.

And it’s how they say it, as they serve it up 140 characters at a time: a certain tone of voice, a language that their followers identify with.

You might follow a few stuffed shirts for work-based reasons, but whose tweets do you really treasure?

Personally I’d take @gracedent (216k followers) and her pithy tweets (today’s was simply, “f*ck Masterchef” and a link to her piece in The Independent) over a @Lord_Sugar tweet telling me where to get my Mother’s Day gift.

I believe part of the beauty of Twitter is its potential for spontaneity; provoking responses that come from the heart (or the gut), making for debates that are edgy and controversial.
@Piersmorgan (4.39m followers) is good at this as he comments on world events, gets up the noses of fellow Arsenal fans and retweets his detractors.

Writing in The Guardian the other day, Paul Mason expressed his frustration with politicians who tweet about being on a doorstep in Acme-shire (yawn), while real, expletive-littered debate rages on elsewhere on Twitter without them. His plea to politicians is to tweet about the real.

Take the online petition calling for Clarkson’s reinstatement at the helm of Top Gear – apparently Change.Org’s fastest-growing ever. Social media appears to have an immense power to whip people into a frenzy, especially when you add in the sense of a connection with someone who you feel speaks your language (“He might be an idiot. But he’s our idiot. #BringbackClarkson”).

Why else would people devote so much energy to backing a motoring journalist when the world’s otherwise in turmoil? Imagine if some other controversy sparked a similar, tweet-fuelled surge just before the election – who might we wake up to find in power?
Coming back to the Ipsos Mori poll, seven in ten Britons (71 per cent) feel that social media platforms are giving a voice to people who wouldn’t normally take part in political debate.

I’d say, if you want to be heard above the rest of the social media babble – for whatever reason – find your voice and keep it real. You might make friends (and enemies) and even influence people.

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