I was on Twitter before Twitter was cool. At one point, I amassed more than 30,000 followers on the platform, since joining in 2008. In the early days of Twitter, between 2006 and 2009, it was a ton of fun. It was a raucous playground for free speech and sharing ideas. The community was fairly small with less than a million users in 2008. It was an interesting collection of journalists, marketers, politicos, web geeks, and other miscreants. It was fascinating and fun and perfectly designed for someone with undiagnosed ADD. A tweet was short and sweet. At only 140 characters, it forced me to write pithy quotes and creative one-liners.
Long before President 45 became a Twitter enthusiast and later Twitter’s Enemy No. 1, I was also mixing it up with critics and getting into Twitter fights with trolls. It was fun and I enjoyed the banter, but I never took any of it too seriously. In the spring of 2009, the Richmond Ad Club named me Ad Person of The Year. It was a great honor and at the Richmond Show, the screen behind me showed a live Twitter feed where I was roasted in real-time by friends and colleagues.
A month later, Twitter went mainstream. In my mind, it never recovered. Oprah Winfrey sat on a couch with Twitter co-founder JackDorsey and posted her first tweet on April 17, 2009. Typing in all caps, she yelled at the Twitterverse, “HI TWITTERS . THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY .”
It was like she was screaming “You get a Twitter!” and “You get a Twitter!” and “Everyone gets a Twitter!” And they did. In 24 hours, Twitter gained 1.2 million users. TechCrunch estimates that between five and ten million new users followed Oprah to Twitter. Through the years, I found myself using Twitter less and less. I continued to recommend the platform to clients, mainly because of search engine optimization benefits, but we never were able to use Twitter as an effective advertising medium for most clients. Yes, it’s still valuable for organic social media, but its ad platform still falls flat.
The site lost a million U.S. daily users in 2020. And in 2021, it lost me. I was on Twitter for 13 years. I hadn’t posted on the platform since May of 2021 and found out two months later in July that my account had been hijacked by a nefarious penny stock picker named @YatesInvesvting. In the last four months, I have sent a dozen requests to Twitter and not a single response. My follower count fell to 23,000 and the hacker that stole my account spams my friends and colleagues 30 to 40 times a day. Ten years ago, executives at Twitter called and emailed me to ask my questions about my experiences on Twitter and get my opinion of the platform. Today, I cannot get a response from Twitter’s customer service robots. Free speech is stifled. Twitter has been taken over by robots and spammers and hackers. Everyone just posts “content.” Conversations have turned into arguments. It was a grand experiment, but I can’t help thinking that Twitter will eventually become an internet relic like Friendster or MySpace. Agree or disagree? Email and let me know your thoughts.