140 characters that changed the world

Twitter has transformed everything – from how we manage natural disasters to the way we react to divisive media personalities

There are now half a billion Twitterers who send 340 million tweets a day, and Twitter has changed the ways humans interact in a wide range of fields. But what have we learned from the little blue bird over the last seven years?

It can be a powerful force for change

The Arab Spring, which saw the populations of Middle Eastern nations rise up against oppressive governments, is sometimes referred to as the Twitter Revolutions, highlighting the role it played in activists being able to quickly organise protests in Egypt, Iran and Tunisia.

It can be incredibly useful, and even save lives

In situations such as bushfires, floods, earthquakes and cyclones where the usual forms of communication – phone calls, radio broadcasts or TV bulletins – are either not available or ineffective in reaching the necessary people, Twitter can function very effectively as an emergency communication channel. It was used to great effect by emergency workers and other organisations to send updates during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria and the Queensland floods in 2010-11 and 2013.

It can be a voice for the people

Twitter allows people to communicate directly with prominent figures and organisations without the traditional barriers. When controversial talkback radio host Alan Jones made his infamous remark that Prime Minister Julia Gillard's father must have "died of shame", outraged Twitter users pressured major sponsors of his successful radio show to pull out.

When used badly, it can be embarrassing

It's a great way for companies to get customer feedback, but when things go wrong it can lead to public relations disasters. Qantas was left red-faced after the #QantasLuxury Twitter competition, which asked Tweeters to share their dream in-flight experience but turned into a forum for dissatisfied customers to share their gripes and make jokes at Qantas' expense. #fail indeed.

Want to know more about how to harness the power of Twitter and other platforms? TAFE NSW offers a range of social media and digital marketing courses to kick start your career in this burgeoning industry.