It's rather breathtaking to contemplate how quickly Oprah Winfrey amassed 1 million followers on Twitter (she crossed the line just today). Wow, she really showed that Ashton punk, didn't she?
Considering her ability to mobilize the masses -- most recently, of course, inspiring The Great Grilled-Chicken Coupon Panic of 2009 at KFCs across the land -- it's a little scary to ponder how she might choose to deploy her rising social-media power.
Since I once worked with Oprah (I was the consulting executive editor on the launch of her magazine), I've been sort of nervously watching her foray into the Twitterverse. I just didn't want to see this woman who, honestly, I love and respect turn into ... a twit. (Twitter certainly seems to bring out the worst -- the most trivial, the most self-indulgent -- in a lot of media people.) Fortunately, though, Oprah being Oprah, she's so far using Twitter in sage, Oprah-esque ways -- mostly to subtly reinforce the lovable Oprah brand values she's perfected over the years as an old-media mogul.
Anyway, on this historic day, let's examine some basic truths about the TwOprah phenomenon so far:
Oprah is bigger than God.
Seriously, check out how many followers @God has right now. More to the point, check out @oprahwinfrey -- yes, it appears that some Twittersquatter was impersonating, or intending to impersonate, Oprah, and at some point Twitter shut that nonsense down. ("Sorry, the account you were headed to has been suspended due to strange activity. Mosey along now, nothing to see here.") That's a courtesy that Twitter has not only failed to extend to God Himself but to celebrities like Tina Fey, who has publicly stated that that's not her tweeting at @tinafey. Not to mention Kanye West, who earlier this week published a rather spectacular, all-caps, anti-Twitter rant on his blog, including the choice lines "I DON'T HAVE A FUCKING TWITTER ... EVERYTHING THAT TWITTER OFFERS I NEED LESS OF" and accusations that Twitter is purposely turning a blind eye to Kanye Twimpersonators.
Sorry, Twitter, Oprah's just not that into you.
She's not obsessed with tweeting. Refreshingly, she disappears for days at time. Even as of this writing, she's failed to even acknowledge hitting the 1 million mark -- and her last tweet was four days ago. God bless you, Oprah.
When she does tweet, she shows us the Oprah we all know and love.
She's generous ("Thanks tweeps for your good thoughts..." in response to fans who expressed concern that her Montecito mansion might be consumed in the recent Santa Barbara wildfires). She's loving ("Got to hug Whoopi. Haven't seen her since????! What a fun night."). She's thrilled to be alive ("Woke up smiling. Hugh Jackman is on Friday live with us!"). She's compassionate ("Another Must watch...McCann interview on Monday. My heart broke for them."). She sounds like herself ("Met Stella McCartney for the first time. Love her fashion. Loooved her even more!"). That said ...
In a fundamental way, Oprah is sort of all wrong for Twitter.
Sure, she's a broadcast legend, but she's more about listening. She's exactly like that in person, too. When I was working on the launch of O mag, Oprah was much more likely to call me (from Chicago; O mag was and is based in New York) or my fellow editors than to dash off cryptic, autocratic emails (like some media moguls I've worked with). She was always about making a personal connection.
In fact, after we shipped the first issue of O to the printer, she was perceptive enough to know just how frazzled and frustrated the staff was (as was widely reported at the time, there was a considerable gap between Oprah's ideal for her magazine and the desires of her traditional-women's-mag-minded publishing partner, Hearst). And so she decided to hold one big listening/gripe/bull session at a sprawling condo she then owned on Fisher Island, off the coast of Miami. She flew the entire staff of the magazine (even the intern) down for the weekend, put us up at a nice hotel (even the intern got his own room), served us ridiculously delicious meals at her home, and made sure we had plenty of time to talk as a group -- at length -- about what went wrong and what went right in the making of O mag.
Now, everybody who works for Oprah signs a nondisclosure agreement, so I should shut up already. Therefore, I can neither confirm nor deny that we ended up drinking and dancing into the night that Saturday. I can neither confirm nor deny that we all ended up in a conga line that at one point snaked out onto Oprah's balcony, then back inside through her bedroom before re-emerging into her living room. I have no comment about whether or not I ever thought to myself, Oh my god, I'm sort of drunk right now, and I'm in a conga line that's snaking through Oprah Winfrey's bedroom. ...
My point is: Oprah is all about making real, very human connections. There was nothing terse or quippily self-satisfied or abbreviated about Oprah. Ever.
The TwOprah Bump is overstated.
Yes, Oprah caused a massive spike in Twitter traffic and sign-ups, just as you'd expect. But given the recent Nielsen report about how Twitter's retention rate isn't exactly great, with 60% of Twitterers failing to return one month after sign-up, well, imagine the drop-off among Oprah's core base of moms. Somehow, long-term, TwOprah Effect notwithstanding, I seriously doubt we're going to be seeing a massive rise in tweets along the lines of "I'm changing Ashley's diaper right now" or "Driving the twins to soccer practice."
Still, in the end, it's OK to tweet. Oprah says so.
Speaking of moms, here's my personal TwOprah Effect story: On April 17, my mother called out of the blue. Now, when mom calls, it's usually pretty urgent (she's retired, and has had the same overpriced long-distance plan she's had forever, so she tends to wait for me to call, because I have the miraculous and unfathomable advantage of "free" long-distance on my cellphone). "Yes, Simon," she said, cutting to the chase. "What is Twitters?" Seriously, she pluralized it! Hmmm, where did I see the word pluralized before? Oh, right. Oprah Winfrey's very first tweet: "HI TWITTERS . THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY ." Which, of course, happened earlier that same day. I did my best to explain the phenomenon to my mom, though I don't think I did much good. And then my mom asked, point blank, "Do you Twitter?"
Honest to God, I think I actually might have blushed, because she said it like she was saying, "Do you masturbate?" (Of course, come to think of it, that's basically what she was asking.) Reluctantly, I said yes.
I mean, geez, there's no reason to be ashamed anymore. Oprah says it's OK to Twitters!
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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.