Edward Snowden remains one of the most polarizing figures in recent American history for his role in exposing the massive scale of data scrutiny governments are using to track the activities of individuals. His exile to Moscow and international limbo as a man without a country is well documented as well, but a recent StarTalk podcast interview Snowden participated in with the Director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson, is causing far reaching rogue waves that are impacting many facets of modern media.
During the interview Tyson made an off-the-cuff remark that Snowden ought to have a Twitter account. A day later @Snowden was created and the immediate results have been startling from a web traffic and mass media perspective. In less than 24 hours, with zero publicity work, the account generated more than one million followers organically. Snowden follows only one other account, the official @NSAGov account of the organization he is at odds with and one would expect the NSA has taken interest in Snowden’s activities on Twitter as well.
Beyond the political implications which may subjectively depend on your own views of Snowden as a whistleblower or a traitor, there is pure objective fact supporting the idea that he has immediately become the single most influential person on the Twitter-sphere. In fact, Wired Magazine reported that tweets by Snowden about articles they wrote more than a year ago created such a large surge in traffic to their website that they took immediate note of the increase in activity. Other sites Snowden has mentioned or linked have reported their servers straining to keep up with the massive influx of interested viewers sent by a single tweet.
Since its inception Twitter has been known by marketing professionals as a great place to build brand awareness but a very difficult source of traffic for direct monetization. Getting people on Twitter to see something about your brand is one thing, getting them to react to it by leaving Twitter to visit a target site or convert, as a paying customer is another endeavor entirely. However, in less than a week Edward Snowden may have become proof of a key concept in the way Twitter really works. Rather than building a brand by launching a Twitter account, which does more for Twitter’s traffic than your own, relying on proven personal brands that exist outside Twitter and using Twitter as a way to focus the interest of the public at large in those brands seems to be a much more marketable way to approach their medium.
Edward Snowden may have been terrible for the NSA in his former role, but in his new one he may be terrific news for established bands, pundits, and social media strategists who will want to track his Twitter activity at least as much as any counter-spying agency every would.