2012 is going to be the Twitter election

This presidential election year is going to be the Twitter election, according to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. Well he would say that to a degree wouldn’t he? But there is more to his claim than just a nice ring to the phrase.

It isn’t just the mass of tweets we saw around Obama’s State of the Union address, but as much how certain Republic candidates are using Twitter and social media to compete, which has seen Ron Paul for instance declared the Republican social media candidate.

It is how the debates come alive on Twitter and how both sides are using Twitter to instantly rebut and debunk.

Speaking at the AllThingsD’s media conference in Laguna Nigel, CA, Monday Costolo said that “candidates who don’t participate on Twitter while the debates are going on will be left behind because the next morning is too late to respond”.

You only have to look at the spilled milk joke Obama made during his State of the Union address to see how true that is. That lit Twitter up like a Christmas tree. Twitter users didn’t have to wait for the columnists or the pundits to give its view. It was instant and sent Twitter spiking.

So when Costolo says “tomorrow morning it will be too late to react to what was said the day before” he is spot on. Twitter allows US election machines, of Democrats and Republicans, to move at lightning speed.

It has also been interesting to see how traditional media works with Twitter. For instance in the South Carolina debate Fox News encouraged viewers to rate each candidate’s responses in real time by tweeting #answer or #dodge plus the candidate’s name.

Twitter has had its CNN moment when when Bin Laden died and now it gets its election.

In a timely fashion its developer blog announced that Twitter would be streaming the Nevada Caucus Results with the Twitter API.

Although to be fair it is also true that we’re seeing plenty of other social media tools like Instagram and Google+ Hangouts; as well as blogs and Google+ start to get a starring role also.

Costolo also touched on a few other points in his interview. Some of which might surprise some out there.

Twitter is not a media company

“Twitter is not a media company,” Costolo said. “We’re in the media business, but we’re not necessarily a media company. We don’t create our own content; we’re a distributor of content and traffic. We’re one of the largest drivers of traffic to other media properties, [namely] to other online web properties, even to films.”

Considering the close relationship that Twitter has with many media companies some might find that a strange one. It often feels like a media company, but maybe it is more accurate to describe it as a media channel.

Twitter’s advertising business

Costolo said that advertising was doing very nicely. He said advertising was performing “up and down the stack for brand advertisers; display advertisers, they work well”.

He cited a couple of examples including a Barclay’s ad a couple of weeks ago that achieved over 50% engagement and continues to do so. Another for Volkswagen was achieving similar rates of engagement.

In relations to advertising he made a point of saying that “40% of our active users don’t tweet” and only use Twitter as a nice feed, which means the engagement is coming from a very active group of users. He also said that ads are now rolled out to 100% of users of Twitter.com.

Costolo’s comments on advertising come as eMarketer predicts that Twitter will rack up $226m in ad revenues in 2012. That represents growth of 83% on 2011’s $139.5m.