It’s been several months since the incredible misfortune and tragic events that have struck my beloved 2nd home of Japan.  Although you don’t read about it on the news anymore, Japan is still in crisis in both trying to contain a nuclear power plant which might require years of work while also trying to keep radiation-tainted food away from the dinner table of 125 million Japanese who are understandably nervous.  #PrayforJapan still needs you, so please do not forget to include the Japanese nation in your prayers.  Thank you.

Twitter has always had more uptake in Japan when compared to the United States, but although business use of Twitter lags behind that of the United States, it has become a major form of mobile communication and news reading/sharing.  When disaster struck and electricity went out, social media became an emergency broadcasting channel. In fact when I met those within the Liberal Democratic Party, who required all representatives of their political party to have a Twitter account in late 2009, they thought that the first and foremost use of Twitter was as an emergency channel for broadcasting.

We all know that Twitter is much more than that.  And the way that the Japanese used Twitter taught the world several things that we can all learn from:

1. Faster Than CNN

While CNN reports the news 24/7, it can’t beat Twitter in terms of speed of delivery.  While CNN was repeating the same content over and over again with infrequent updates, Twitter truly was where the news was breaking.  Indeed, in 2011 we can say that the news breaks on Twitter first.

2. The World is Listening on Twitter

I always tell people that when you tweet, you are on the world stage.  Try tweeting out a brand name, and chances are they will follow you back.  I had the experience of tweeting out how I was helping a friend’s family evacuate from Fukushima – and the next morning I was contacted by BBC to secure an interview with that family.  Imagine, the BBC crowd sourcing from…Twitter!  Media has indeed been turned on its head!

3. Hashtags are News Channels

Hashtags started out on Twitter as a way to categorize tweets and make them searchable.  I’ve always told people that Twitterville is like one huge global AOL chat room, and, indeed, we have seen the growth of various #TwitterChats that exist as public rooms that agree to meet at a certain date and time of the week.   When tragedy hit Japan, hashtags literally became news channels.  Want to find out what was happening in Japan?  Follow the #Japan channel.  From Fukushima?  There’s a #Fukushima channel for that.  Hashtags have become news channels in themselves.

4. Links are What Make Twitter Go Round

For those that still think that Twitter is still about where people talk about what they had for breakfast, you are obviously following the wrong people.  Twitter has a rich culture of link-sharing and engaging with content, and if you are looking for a way to navigate through the Internet for targeted information, there is no better way to do this than for searching for it right in your timeline of tweets.  Not only was Twitter much faster than CNN, it became and remains a news aggregator for the world.

5. Social Media in Itself is NOT an Authority

With so many tweets clogging up the hashtag “channels,” it’s hard to gauge what constitutes “authority.”  When I saw a number of tweets that mentioned that the founder of Pokemon has passed away in the tsunami, I naturally retweeted that information as a way of paying it forward and helping to spread information to those that might not have heard.  Shortly thereafter a tweet with a link proved that the whole thing was a hoax.  What tweets should we believe?  Just because it’s tweeted, it doesn’t mean it’s real.  And the authority of traditional media is sorely missed in the new Wild West of news reporting.

Japan taught us a lot about Twitter – has this changed your understanding of the power of tweets?

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