Should We Be Surprised That Twitter Beats Mainstream Media?

What can we learn from the recent spate of articles touting Twitter "scoops" of mainstream media?

Recently there's been a number of articles both in mainstream media (MSM) and on the Web about Twitter "scooping" MSM.

Should we be surprised? Should MSM be hanging their collective heads?

I think the answer to both questions is a resounding "no."

How can we be surprised that stories of plane crashes or earthquakes would be picked up faster by MSM than by people who are feeling the ground rumble beneath them or see a smoking plane land in the Hudson river? Especially when these people are reaching so quickly for their smart phones?

And for those few crazy bloggers and Twitterers who feel this is the death knell for MSM, think again. Although "breaking news, breaking sports, breaking weather" may be the tag line for some news sources, the rise of Twitter doesn't put their jobs at risk. (Although many other factors may.)

Interestingly, one of the possible origins of the word "scoop" is a German word meaning "to shape." In other words, the purpose of MSM may not be to be on the bleeding edge of what's happening, but rather to help us make sense of it.

I remember yesterday when I first heard about the Hudson River crash...yes, it was on Twitter. It spread like wild fire on the wings of retweets. There wasn't much information then, just a report of a downed plane. Engine failure? Terrorist attack? Pilot error? Fatalities? Who knew?

Twitter's not necessarily good at deep coverage; 140 characters doesn't leave you a lot to work with. I've seen recent discussions on the Israeli/Hamas conflict on Twitter that are unconvincing on both sides because of the lack of space.

So what can we learn from all this, from a business perspective? (After all, this is a Fast Company blog.)

Perhaps that you have to know the strenghts and weaknesses of your medium.

I've gotten business from Twitter; it usually starts with me answering someone's question, then there's a follow up, and when I figure that my and their followers don't want to hear any more about our Q&A we move the discussion to a private DM. When we reach the limit that DMing can give us, we ultimately trade emails or phone numbers (or Skype IDs) and take the conversation where it needs to go.

Twitter may be perfect for breaking news, but it falls short on in depth commentary. Likewise, Twitter may be great for quick communications, but you're going to need more than a Twitter account to have lasting relationships with your customers.

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