Barriers to Twitter Adoption: Unlocking a new Communication Paradigm

Some people believe, as I do, that Twitter has the power to fundamentally enhance our ability to communicate, accelerating access to both people and information. By most definitions that would make it a paradigm shift. Others, perhaps the majority, remain skeptical.

Let’s dive a bit deeper, to see what we might learn.

Twitter simplifies communication, removing barriers of time and place. Without the overhead of email, conversations can spark around the globe. Every contact can be a source of inspiration, a new collaborator, a potential customer.

Where else can you message the world and get answers?

Many have seen the potential of Twitter and are running with it. From custom news feeds to social activism, from blog promotion to chats and book clubs, from corporate promotion to a new era of participative journalism. Access to people and information appears to be accelerating.

So what’s the problem?

No issue, for the brave. On the surface, it seems easy, and it can be. If you’re able to multitask across dozens of threads. If you have unlimited free time. If you know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish during all your waking hours. Ambitious? More like impossible. Not enough caffeine in my latte for all of that. Control of the world’s information feeds is NOT the goal. Our families like to see us from time to time, and there’s this useful notion called ‘sleep’.

Still, my instincts tell me we’re leaving significant value on the table. The fundamental question for me remains:

What are the true barriers for adoption of the evolving Twitter and social media paradigms, and what can we do to unlock new levels of collaboration?

On WEDS 12/15 at 1pET, #SMCHAT will be joined by Laura Fitton, aka @Pistachio, CEO of and co-author of Twitter for Dummies. It’s part of her sweep of Twitter Chat’s for the TFD #BookTour. A true ‘early adopter’ herself w/ +70,000 followers, Laura has been at it longer than the rest of us. Let’s ask her to join us in brainstorming our hardest open questions:

  • Q1. Engagement. New rules include need for authenticity, clarity of intent, agreed semantics, less broadcasting & more listening. What else?
  • Q2. Influence. CW says numbers don’t matter, but marketers know eyeballs equal hits. What are dynamics of smart social network building?
  • Q3. Saturation. With so much info streaming in, Tweetdeck can barely keep up. Hashtags are imperfect. How do we manage the deluge of ideas & when is enough, enough?
  • Q4. Convergence. Apps & options keep proliferating, adding to the confusion. Should there be convergence to fewer tools, or is integration a better path?
  • Q5. Upside. Time for your crystal ball. Will twitter growth plateau, or will there be mass market adoption? What role does culture play?

The New Year is approaching. What better time reflect on the “State of the Social Network?” Let’s use the 90 minutes with Laura to good advantage. They’ll go fast.

Bring your questions and ideas, and join the conversation. It promises to be a good one. (click here at the appointed time)

Help me plan our time. Which of the topics above resonate the most for you? In which dimension(s) do the most significant barriers lie? Leave a comment, let’s discuss it.

17 thoughts on “Barriers to Twitter Adoption: Unlocking a new Communication Paradigm

  1. Indeed, twitter and other media to connect face a barrier of noncomprehension, much like the telephone in its time or the radio. You need to try it, best with friends, to understand basics. Then you can make an informed decision. I had my twitter account for almost a year until I connected for real. Now it is a utility.

  2. Hi Chris

    Q. Where else can you message the world and get answers?
    A. Nowadays, just about everywhere. Through blogs, through facebook, through Yahoo Answers, through corporate enterprise systems like Spigit, Yammer, Sharepoint and others.

    There are tons of different channels for messaging the world nowadays – so would be interested to hear what makes Twitter truly unique – is it the people who are on it? The messaging style? The concept of asynchronous communication has been around for years before Twitter – so what makes it different?

    At the same time, I’d also say that Twitter’s difference and unique behavior is also one of its biggest barriers to entry and adoption – how many other social platforms need so much time in order to become an “engaging tool” or “utility” as CoCreatr mentioned above?

    You need to use it, to follow, to observe, and to participate for a good while before you “get it” – common sense says that in order for adoption to be easy, the whole thing needs to be innately intuitive – and whatever else you can say about Twitter, it’s definitely not that.

    Then again, maybe it the length of time and effort required to “get it” is an aid to adoption – you’ve jumped so many barriers to reach that goal of “getting it” that you become part of the cult that is at the finish line?…

    Just some random thoughts for you :)

    Hope I can make this one – but if not – would love it if you could address the above!



  3. Chris,

    Good set of questions for today’s chat. One challenge that Twitter has is its limited adaption. The fact is that Twitter is only used by 6% of the US population (link). Therefore as a marketer, it’s critical to build your presence across multiple platforms.

    Happy marketing,
    Heidi Cohen

    Also – here’s the link to Heidi’s excellent post on Twitter Mojo. Great background material, as well as some guidelines for how to approach meaningful Twitter engagement. Hope to hear some of these ideas discussed for today’s SMCHAT Q1!

  4. Excellent input, guys. Twitter as utility would certainly carry the weight of a paradigm shift. But challenges remain. Whether or not it is yet intuitive enough, or gaining enough critical mass in the public/commercial domains, are still open question.

    Again we’re asking that question: How much is enough? Is there incremental benefit to be had?

    Or does everyone need to be on Twitter?

    Bernd, Boris & Heidi – Thanks so much for your feedback, guys, both there and on Twitter. Much appreciated!


  5. Hi Chris

    Just a thought to add into the mix….

    I think perhaps there is a golden triangle for effective use of twitter.

    Connections :: Timing :: Story

    a) Having a good quality network that will propagate and compliment your message use of twitter – Its not really the absolute number of connections here!

    b) Being in touch with the issues of the moment relevant to your message and audience – serendipity!

    c) Stories that people want to retweet, add to and be associated with.

    Get these 3 aspects working in harmony and twitter and the wider social media will be invaluable to your cause.


  6. I think the major obstacle to mass-adoption – at least in the areas in which I’m active (Investment Banking, VenCap, Fortune100/500; ‘Big Business’) – is the tired old “how do we demonstrate ROI?” It’s always tricky to affect a culture shift which involves time, materials, and money, when you can’t concretely demonstrate the return. I think once good metrics that can accurately measure influence and saturation become available, you’ll see the suits jump in with both feet. That said, most corps I know are getting into anyway, albeit blindly, just so they can say they are ‘in’.

    Looking forward to today’s chat.

  7. Excellent inputs.

    Paul – Love your 3-legs on the table visual: connections, timing & story. simple and elegant, and seems to hit the most critical drivers.

    Perhaps we should have a chat on this :)

    Ryan – Agree with your point in the context of Enterprise adoption, aka “e2.0”. ROI often raised, and often (hotly) debated in SM circles. I go back to other paradigm shifts in communication like the telephone, radio, television, email, and the internet. All of them, in their day (I hear) created confusion and distrust in the earliest stages, as people tried to figure them out. Then the value became clear, the usage became ubiquitous and utilitarian, to Bernd’s point, above. Seems we’re on the same page.

    Question I’m always asking – how can we move these forces forward? Or do we simply need to wait out the evolutionary process?

    Thanks again for your insights.

  8. I happened upon #smchat this afternoon, which led me to your site. I’ve been on Twitter for about 3 months, so have a lot to learn, but I can see some of the potential.

    I’ve subscribed–and am glad to have found your blog as a resource.

  9. So you cannot explain twitter, why try?

    Imagine: a hundred-or-so years ago you had used a telephone and liked it and then visited neighbors to tell them about this amaaazing new technology. How many would be getting it? Augment your rave with a spontaneous pencil drawing. How many would get it?

    Back home, feeling fatally failed, you call one of your few friends who got it and already has a telephone, to lament your fate among apparent blockheads. As your friend hears with whom you talked, he exclaims, “I know A! Get him on the phone! Now!”

    As you meet A again you wise up and only tell him his friend B wants to talk to him. “Where?” “At my place. Get your shoes on and come over.”

    Will he get it if you hand him the receiver and beam at him, “for you!” Will he know to say even, hello?

    Remember learning to ride the bicycle? What inspired you to try, despite the risks?  Yes, you saw others doing it and having fun.

    So, how do you get A to talk on the phone to B who is invisible, yet patiently waiting to hear his friend?

    Would the same work on twitter?

  10. Sharon – Welcome to Twitter, #SMCHAT and my blog – so glad you stopped in. I enjoy conversation and comparing notes. To me, discovery is a thread that runs through all of social media –

    Let’s stay in touch –


  11. Bernd – I suppose you’re right, significant paradigm shifts take time, and yet – I still think something bigger is at work here.

    Let me think out loud for a minute –

    The technology comparison works to a point. But radio and tv were generally one way (broadcast, or 1:n) and telephone started 1:1 then eventually (years later) expanded to become 1:few. The internet basically blew the lid off of all that with global connectivity, even though the broadcast 1:n paradigm prevailed for awhile. Most call that web 1.0. When bi-directional communication aka social media entered in, it was more like n:n. That’s web 2.0.

    Now you can do fundamentally different things.

    • discuss what’s working globally (positive deviance, bright spots)
    • learn about other cultures first hand, remotely
    • connect diverse thinkers, people who would never have met otherwise (eg., you & me)
    • accelerate collaboration
    • accelerate access to people, news & information
    • create seamless ability to filter & prioritize those feeds
    • transform journalism, PR and customer service into fundamentally different mechanisms for information exchange, introducing 2-way engagement
    • growing social & knowledge networks to massive proportions

    It’s really a different set of capabilities now. People talking with and working with other people, around the world.

    What if we compared it with transportation? The horse, the train, the automobile. All were successively more efficient ways for a person to cover distance over land. But the concept of the transporter on Star Trek (or ‘Wonka Vision’ for the faithful?) fundamentally redefined what transportation meant. The rules changed. At least in the hypothetical imaginings of science fiction.

    Global interconnectivity (the web) and global collaboration (Twitter) are now real, and like the transporter on Star Trek, the rules have changed. Just imagine if we all learned the potential of global collaboration, and learned how to leverage it?

    I think A would have plenty to say.

    “Give me that thing” A would shout, “I owe B some feedback, and I’m late for a conversation with C, D and E”.

    Meanwhile, F would be more introspective, noting “I think A and his friends are onto something.”

  12. Yes, n:n connections as in an “open space” unconference enable new forms of collaboration and performance. I attribute the biggest effects to goodwill, transparency, and trust-building.

    Explain twitter, again?

    It is like texting/SMS but mostly in public. Try it to see if it helps you any.

    If not familiar with texting, chat or forum, I mean mechanics and etiquette, expect a challenging learning curve.

  13. Chris and Bernd, you guys both make great points. I think the underlying disparity between your points of view is the matter of whether the people in question understand the value of the potential benefits. We can imagine the slightly adventurous type whose desire to speak to his friend might override his confusion and skepticism. We can also imagine the cautious type who asks why he would need to talk to his friend when he just wrote him a letter last week.

    I think the same actually goes for the transporter example. It is easy to grasp that value of a transporter once you have cars and planes and broadcast media. But put yourself back in time another hundred years or so. For someone who never expects to leave the town he was born in a transporter would be utterly baffling. Why would you need a transporter when you can just walk to the corner store?

    So I think you are both right…this truly is a dramatic and revolutionary shift. Yet, for those people who can’t/won’t think beyond their conventional day to day existence all that fundamental change might as well be science fiction…

  14. Great points, guys –

    Bernd – yes, I see your point, Twitter is like the telephone system, a utility waiting to be used. The power and magic is what you can do with it, the capabilities, not the technology itself. Chat is easy to get started on as an observer, really, though time zones could be a challenge. You can certainly look at the streams from some of the more interesting hash tags at any time, like #ideachat (I’ve seen you there!). Might also try #kaizenblog or #leadershipchat

    Greg – thanks for drawing out the connection across threads. I tapped the science fiction ‘transporter’ example because of the well known linkage between Star Trek’s 1960’s flip out communicators and the modern cell phone. But I especially like your corner store example because it is a local one. The horse and car fine for the corner store, not to mention bicycles or walking. But those modes of transportation are severely limited. Global connectivity was, by definition, impossible until the 20th century (telephone, radio). Ubiquitous connections around the world came in with the internet, still more recently (commercially, 1990’s). And n:n conversation anywhere in the world,? Twitter, 2006.

    Of course, conceptually, this is ‘vintage’ Friedman (The World is Flat).

    For a more rigorous treatment of global collaboration capabilities, see Tapscott (Wikinomics). Chapters 4 and 6 both introduce online problem solving that is emerging as we speak. A great example of that would be #Ecosys, in chat wiki and framing flavors.

    In the end, sure, you can still walk to the corner store. If that’s the only place you want to go.

    You guys lead me to new ideas every time we talk.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  15. I want to comment on a tangent, about finding the ideal tool for the job, which is not always twitter. I also use an account – that’s an open source version of Twitter with a bunch of extra benefits, including groups, permanent records of posts, and “in context” links to show threaded conversations. Everything I post to automatically goes to Twitter, so it’s easy to compare the effectiveness.

    For me personally (@chriswaterguy) the vast majority of my interesting conversations happen on – because the group feature (e.g. tagging with !linux to post to the Linux group) brings more people to the conversation. I also find more intelligent comments and less fluff on

    For our organization’s account, talking mainly about sustainability, international development, we get more responses on Twitter, simply because a lot more people are using it – first-mover advantage.

    So my suggestion is: if you’re working with a tight community or organization, then you’re probably best setting up accounts on (or another site – they can all talk to each other). You should find a lot of benefits. You can also use the software for free, if you want to use it internally in an organization.

    If you want to reach out to as many people as possible, esp non-geeky people, then it’s important to also be on Twitter. (I still advise posting to and feeding that to Twitter, though.)

    The way I track both these accounts is that I post everything to (including our blog posts, using Twitterfeed, as well as regular comments); but I have a daily mail set up from, which shows any replies to my Twitter account (just in case I missed them). I know there are desktop clients that combine the streams from the two accounts, but I haven’t tried that yet. (I also heard the next update of the underlying StatusNet software will integrate with Twitter, making things much easier.)

    Hope you don’t mind the side-track – and I hope that some of you get some benefit from the conversations on

  16. Pingback: I Want My Social Media Without Advertising! | Heidi Cohen

  17. I’ve been talking about an alternate modality for years. Implementation doesn’t have nearly the traction that punditry does, and I’m sure we’ll all more/less agree that “Attention Economy” rules.

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