Edward Snowden May Be the Most Powerful Person on Twitter
Edward Snowden may be the most powerful person on Twitter, at least where WIRED is concerned.
On Monday, Snowden tweeted:
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 6, 2015
The tweet links to WIRED’s 2014 cover story on Snowden, a profile of the whistleblower and former NSA contractor. Within minutes, web traffic to that story skyrocketed.
Getting a traffic boost from a tweet is not uncommon. A tweet linking to a story from WIRED’s own Twitter account, which has nearly 5.2 million followers, can send traffic up. But nothing like the Snowden spike, especially for a story more than a year old. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says WIRED executive editor and longtime web traffic scrutinizer Joe Brown. Since joining Twitter on September 29, Snowden has sent several tweets, many of which include links to new stories or blog posts. And, as they have for WIRED, they seem to be driving an especially significant amount of traffic and attention. Snowden tweeted a story about the conviction of journalist Matthew Keys on Wednesday from Vice’s Motherboard. Within minutes, Motherboard’s social producer Sarah Emerson tweeted:
dat snowden bump — Sarah N. Emerson (@SarahNEmerson) October 7, 2015
Similarly, a few days ago, author and journalist Barton Gellman tweeted a link to a post he wrote on the blog of The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. The post described a speech he gave at an academic conference after which all of the digital recordings of his speech were erased. Later, he tweeted at Snowden:
Dude, you broke our web site. We’re working to accommodate the extra traffic. https://t.co/W21rF0Xk4Y
— Barton Gellman (@bartongellman) October 7, 2015
(The link now leads to a Medium post.)
As any publisher knows, social referrals matter a lot. In a world in which public figures and celebrity endorsements can give a weighty nudge, Snowden seems to be quickly entering the top echelon. With 1.42 million followers, Snowden may not be the most followed person on Twitter. But he seems to command intense influence over his audience’s online behavior. They watch his every move, and they go where he points. Many of his tweets are also faved and retweeted by thousands of users, spreading them even further. That’s an awful lot of power.
Snowden’s Personal Brand
Snowden is using his newfound powers to talk about things that interest him. He’s supporting causes dear to him. And he’s taking a stand as a cat person.
Three cats and you’re a cat lady, right? But nobody ever called a guy a cat lord. #catlords
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 8, 2015
With such finely honed 140-character chops, combined with such a large and loyal audience, Snowden has fulfilled the two basic requirements for turning a Twitter account into more than a way to increase ad dollars for publishers whose stories he tweets.
Celebrity tweets, after all, don’t just work for content; they work for brands and products, too. Much like Instagram celebrities or YouTube stars who show off things that they’ve been paid to endorse, some brands no doubt would love to reach Snowden’s audience. Think Norton anti-virus software, Pacsafe suitcases, or, if they were feeling ironic, Nest’s Dropcam—how much would a brand pay to get access to Snowden’s audience, to get retweeted 7,400 times?
Then again, brands aren’t exactly fond of controversy, no matter how famous the face.
“While there are thousands of Americans who consider Snowden a whistleblower who positively influenced our country’s internal debates about capital-D democracy, there are as many (likely more) people who think he’s a weaselly traitor,” Shift Communications CEO Todd Defren said in an email. “I don’t see any brand touching that rail: ‘the juice would not be worth the squeeze.’”
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