Last month, in honor of its eighth birthday, Twitter took a walk down memory lane. The network unveiled a special page, allowing users to automatically see and share their first tweet ever.
As savvy users quickly discovered, the tool also allowed looking up awkward—and occasionally embarrassing—first tweets from anyone, including celebrities, entrepreneurs, and politicians.
It turns out that even some of today’s most prolific and successful tweeters got off to a rocky start. Here’s a peek at five famous first tweets and what they say about Twitter’s evolution:
On a spring afternoon in 2006, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the first Tweet ever. From the looks of it, even the name for the service was still in beta. At the time, Dorsey and his fellow founders weren’t sure what they had created or what niche it filled. They called their 140-character messaging service a “social utility” and named it Twitter after the sound a bird makes.
Fast forward to the present and Twitter has more than 200 million active users around the world. When it went public last year, the company was valued at a cool $14.2 billion. Just eight years after Dorsey hit send on his famous first message, an estimated 500 million tweets are sent every single day.
This tweet might not be famous, but it’s got sentimental value. My first effort back in 2007 was actually one of Twitter’s default suggested messages at the time.
Though I was an early adopter, I honestly had no idea how big Twitter would become—or that I would build a global business around it. In those early days, we used Twitter a lot like instant messaging on a large scale—to connect with people in the office and around town.
The big tipping point came just a few weeks later in mid March 2007, when Twitter was unveiled at the SXSW conference. Usage increased from 20,000 to 60,000 tweets per day, nearly overnight.
Suddenly the biggest players in tech were logging in and sharing thoughts. Bloggers covering the scene picked up on it and the network began to go viral.
Credit goes to Barack Obama for being among the first politicians to pick up on Twitter’s value, way back in 2007. While his prediction above may have been a bit off (the Iraq War wouldn’t officially end for another 4.5 years), Obama’s Twitter strategy was bang on from the start. He recognized Twitter’s potential as a real-time, mass-communication tool, not just a utility for sharing personal updates with friends.
It’s probably no coincidence that Twitter would go on to play an important role in Obama’s presidential election runs. During the 2012 campaign, for instance, Obama counted more than 20 million Twitter followers, nearly 10 times as many as his opponent Mitt Romney. He was also among the first major politicians to exploit Twitter’s new ad tools, spending to have his messages trend during key conventions and debates.
When it comes to business leaders using social media, Richard Branson is regarded as an undisputed master, with some 4 million Twitter followers and 1.1 million Facebook friends. But, as this tweet from 2008 shows, we all have to start somewhere.
Like lots of early adopters, Branson initially used Twitter much like Facebook, as a personal tool for sharing status updates—on the weather, breakfast, weekend plans, etc.
It wouldn’t be long, however, before the business world caught on to broader applications. Customer service and marketing departments seized on a new channel for reaching clients, and the term “social media manager” entered the lexicon.
Big brands poured money into developing huge Twitter followings, and today, social media is estimated to represent $1.3 trillion in value for global businesses.
Ellen arrived a little late to the Twitterverse back in March of 2009. By that time, fellow celeb Ashton Kutcher was already well on his way to becoming the first user with 1 million followers (narrowly beating out CNN).
Ellen’s first tweet “Is this anything?” is a good example of the skepticism of the time, when the public was still unsure about the network and its staying power.
Times have changed. Ellen currently has nearly 30 million followers, leaving Kutcher in the dust. Her secret? Apart from being ridiculously funny, her tweets mix authenticity with uncanny business savvy on what’s trending and why.
Most recently, Ellen was behind the most retweeted message ever, the legendary Oscar ceremony celebrity selfie, shared some 2 million times before the show was even over.
Seemingly spontaneous, the selfie was actually part of a planned $20 million ad campaign paid for by phone maker Samsung—proof that social media has definitely come a long way.
[Image: Flickr user Esther Vargas]