Exploring the Pros and Cons of Twitter in Real-Time Events

When it comes to real-time events, life with Twitter is not always like a box of virtual chocolates.

Whether it be the premiere of Breaking Bad, the excitement of who won at the Oscars, or sharing loud and proud that your country took gold for the most recent Olympics, Social Media can be both your best friend, and your worst enemy. Why, do you ask?  Let’s take a look at a few recent publicized events to explore why it’s so fun to share, and why sometimes you’ll avoid technology at all costs during your special events.

Exploring the Pros and Cons of Twitter in Real-Time Events

Here are three recent events: a television/movie event, a politically fueled event and an international culture event; to showcase how Twitter specifically has changed the way we both experience and interact with real-time events in an age of Social Networking.

Television/Movie Events: e.g. 2012 Breaking Bad Season Premiere
The build-up of Walter White’s fate for the final season premiere of one of America’s top television series, Breaking Bad, was highly anticipated. But what sort of effect could Twitter have on the show? The largest issue at hand for most Television/Movie events is fans in the first time-zone/country getting to experience and discuss the event via Twitter and other networks first. Fans and participants living in locations where the event premieres are lucky. For those waiting to experience the event for themselves however, it is difficult to avoid the multitude of comments, posts, tweets, photos, and more that flood the Internet upon the launch of the event.

Dish Network (smart cookies) offered to stream the premiere live around the country to subscribers to make less of the “East vs. West” Coast spoiler issue. However die-hard TV fans either watched (and heavily participated in the conversation on Twitter) live, or dvr’d the show with the hopes of avoiding all contact with the outside world on social media when the premiere began on the East Coast. Other tactics that were used to fend of the multitude of spoilers were creating filters and lists to weed out posts surrounding the subject and unsubscribing from fans that began to talk about the program. When fans were able to watch the event premiere in their time zone, the amount of excitement, and level of discussion online dropped immensely.

Politically-Fueled Events: e.g. London Riots of 2011
Many cannot forget the outrage and rampage on London and other major cities in England as angered citizens (mostly youths) took to the streets last year and left a trail of destruction and defacement behind them. Some sources blamed the spread of the movement on Twitter while others blamed the prolific use of mobile devices. No matter what angle is taken, it’s clear both the occurrence, as well as the monitoring, and finally the ending of these events came about with the help of the same tool: Twitter. Although the members of the Riots were able to interact with one another through tweets, posts, and the like, the general public was also able to monitor the progress of these events, and avoid many hairy situations by choosing another transit route. In the same vein, authorities were able to monitor the whereabouts, and activity of those acting out. Citizens also went a step further and used these same tools to organize for good – as rioters had done to cause mayhem.

To many the Riots would not have occurred with such force had the ease at which participants were able to message one another, organize, and get the word out of their plan as it was through Twitter. This same perspective however, goes for ending the Riots and apprehending those at fault. Authorities were able to track down participants through their Tweets and profiles as well as monitor the progress of those acting out. Citizens were able to create groups through lists and #hashtags to follow to spur the cleanup of neighborhoods damaged by fire and looters, and some were even able to assist authorities put a stop to events springing up around the city. The playing out of the Riots in their entirety would not have been the same without Social Media.

International Cultural Events: e.g. 2012 Summer Olympics
You knew it was coming. The effect of social media, especially Twitter, on how we experience real-time events around the globe has never been as prevalent as we recently observed with 2012’s Summer Olympics. On the positive side, fans of the games around the world we able to interact and bond with one another over the same subject in real-time. Athletes, announcers, media reps, and fans were all conversing together as the games progressed, responding to every event, mood, photo, and story that was shared. Even for those that were unable to follow the games on television live streaming of the events were run, chats on Twitter were lively, and the events could be experienced almost as if followers were able to see the events as they panned out.

For those who wished to follow the games on their own time zone, or were unable to watch the games in real-time, participating in the conversation was a bit more of a hairy experience. Many fans of the games that wanted to watch the delayed broadcasting had to cut themselves off from social networking, and even publicized media, to avoid learning the results of the events. With more tweets occurring and more users talking about the same topic internationally than ever before, this was no easy task.

From each of these real-time events, we can glean both pros and cons to the use of Twitter in terms of real-time events:

– Small/Local events can have a higher impact as it gains more awareness and support online
– Higher volume/depth of discussion about the event(s) on Social Networks is possible through groups, chats, #hashtags, search and more
– Can be used to gather people and their enthusiasm for the event together (for good and bad, unfortunately) in the moment
– All participants in the conversation were able identify one another on some level from recognizing tweets an athlete or celebrity wrote to pinpointing which Twitter User wrote about an act of vandalism they committed
– Internet Networks (such as Dish Network) stream premieres/events live online allowing viewers around the country/world to tune in together
– Fans/followers get the opportunity to discuss in real-time
– The general population is able to get up-to-date information about the event, quite often faster than they can through National/International Media
– Tools to help filter, aggregate, and share social media messages in time with delayed/different time-zone broadcasting is under way

– Difficult/impossible to avoid Social Media messages containing results/new information learned
– Time-Zone lag time allows viewing of the event in different time zones to be ruined by fans announcing details online
o Especially true in international event cases
– News/messaging taken-in by participants in the discussion can be unverified/false
o Rumors can develop and spread quicker as well
– Social Media participation and reactions to re-screenings, coverage, and delayed broadcasting of events is significantly lowered due to the amount of spoilers
– Events can escalate quickly with many fans jumping on the bandwagon, for better or worse
– Fans and followers lose some of the excitement in watching or learning about the real-time event due to hearing event news

Overall, our feelings are still the same; Twitter is here to stay for good. It’s important to create awareness about and be aware of the pros and cons of using such a powerful discussion tool during live events as we do on a regular basis. Having and learning how we want to present ourselves, our brands, and participation in conversations locally, nationally, and internationally is still a process we are discovering. Whether that’s a positive thing is for you to decide.


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