More than seven million tweets sent during second presidential debate, but what does it mean?

By Alex Weprin 

According to Twitter, 7.2 million tweets were sent during last night’s Presidential debate. From the Twitter blog:

The numbers are impressive at first glance, but they raise serious questions about the current state of social TV around big events.

Who is participating? Twitter notes that 7.2 million tweets were sent, which is separate from the number of twitterers. Given that many twitterers sent dozens, if not hundreds of tweets over the course of the debate, it is likely that far fewer than seven million people actually sent tweets during the debate.

Considering that early numbers indicate that more than 65 million people watched the debates on TV and online (and that will go up when finals come in), that is not a very high percentage. Twitter during the debate looked like a conversation at a VIP table at a restaurant, with a number of “names” tweeting about the debate and at one another, while all many “normal” folks could do is just sit back and watch.

Twitter is a powerful tool for broadcasting, but the debate showed that when it comes to big events, it may not be the optimal solution for interacting with the audience.

In my own case, while my Twitter feed moved at a breakneck pace, led mostly by other reporters and news outlets, Facebook was the place where my friends gathered to talk about the debate, and what was said there. The conversations were more interesting, and the people were real, not just bylines that you see on a website.