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Expert Comment: Twitter's Top 100

Twitter bird Wednesday 25 April 2012

Dr. Anthony Cawley, Lecturer in Communication at Liverpool Hope University

What struck me first is that the list of people identified as the UK’s most influential tweeters is dominated by broadcasters, journalists, celebrities and sports stars – categories of people who either work for or would receive a lot of attention from the mass media. Even though the list is centred on influential voices in a social media sphere, where the vast majority of users have no connection to the media for their livelihoods, it could fit quite comfortably within a traditional ‘media industry’ space.

For the general public, one of the appeals of Twitter is the possibility of getting more insight into the stars or well-known public figures. Modern celebrity and politics is very much ‘mediated’ by press conferences, handlers , PR agents, speech writers, and so on. Against this, an appeal of Twitter is the feeling of closeness and intimacy with someone in the public eye.

The prominence of journalists and broadcasters on the list is a strong indication that the news industry recognises Twitter as a way to drive traffic to their websites and to reinforce and widen the relationship with the audience. Maintaining the connection with an often elusive online audience is among the key challenges that the news-industry faces at the moment.

What this list also shows is that Twitter is becoming important in the entertainment industry – for stars it’s a means of self-promotion and of publicising their media products (latest films or albums). It is, perhaps, another indication that Twitter as a social-media space increasingly is being colonised by corporate media interests.

One group of people conspicuously absent from the list is members of the public and bloggers. There is a lot of talk about Twitter giving people an independent voice in the public sphere, bypassing the mass media, but such potential is obscured in the make-up of this list.

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