Project Disrupt: Disrupting The Moment: Live, Public and Conversational

Nivin Sewpershad works for Twitter in Sydney. He came to Project Disrupt to talk about how Twitter is being used by large brands, such as Samsung and Jay-Z. However, there were a number of points he made that are relevant to politics.


In the past the way we found out about key events, man on the moon, the Berlin Wall coming down, big world changing events,  was through the mediate out put of mass media. A reporter saw what happened, through their own lens, they then write about it, it is edited through the lens of the editor, then published or broadcast. With lots of news, there isn’t really an issue with that, news such as a house fire, that has no real wide spread impact. But with big issues, mining on conservation land, synthetic highs, this mediation is does become an issue.


Now though, we find out about events through Twitter. People tweeting their own first hand experience of things, and the media is reporting on this. It is a practical example of the shift from the media influencing what people think about to people influencing what the media provides us to think about.


Nivin talked about the aims of Twitter being live, public and conversational. These aims can and should be applied to political use of Twitter. These are not the points he made, the following is my own spin on the points.

– Live: If you start a Twitter account, keep it alive, tweet stuff, tweet about things you are doing. Don’t just tweet once every 6 days with a link to a news release.

– Public: Twitter is a public space, you don’t have to have followers for your tweets to be seen. MPs need to remember that what they tweet will get seen, even if they have 100 followers, it can still spread widely.

– Conversational: The reason most of us are on Twitter is because we want to engage in conversations. We don’t really want to have our feed full of press release links and things like that. We want to talk with the people we follow. Even if we don’t talk to MPs, it is good to see them replying to other people.


One of the points Nivin made was that 95% of conversation about TV shows happens on Twitter. It will be interesting to see if this rule applies to the televised debates in New Zealand during the election. Will they be able to leverage this discussion to direct it? Will they actually listen to what is being said and take it on board as a way to influence and inform policy and marketing plans?


Most of what Nivin was talking about was focused on the commercial sector, but it still applies to politics.

“Today your brand can speak, in fact it is expected to speak” – Nivin Sewpershad

This is true for political parties. It could be a unknown back bencher tweeting, or it could be the party account, or the account of the leader. They all represent your brand, what they do is measured against your stated values. If your party doesn’t speak, it is missing out on a method to connect with people. There are over 300K Twitter users in New Zealand.


Twitter see  themselves in the following way:

Twitter is the shortest distance between you and what interests you.

Or put into Twitter friendly language:

Twitter is the shortest distance between @ and #.

Parties need to remember this. A great way to get your message out is to use hashtags. Building communities around their hashtags should be the aim of political parties.  Hashtags should be seen as the digital campfire, they are the place where people with similar interests engage with each other. This is where political parties need to be.


The final point that Nivin made, that I want to talk about is that brans need to take advantage of repeatable and predictable moments and the hashtags that grow up around them.  This can be preplanned, controlled output, or it can be having someone sitting there ready to respond. Every political campaign has party debates, how the parties use this and social media, twitter in particular, will be interesting.