The 5 Stages Of ‘Getting’ Twitter

In her seminal 1969 book On Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced what would become commonly known as The Five Stages Of Grief (and professionally, as the Kübler-Ross Model). Based on interviews with more than 500 patients, Kübler-Ross’s research describes the five sequential stages by which people cope with grief and tragedy – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.

Kübler-Ross’s study originally applied only to those suffering from terminal illness, but this was later expanded to include any form of ‘bereavement’ – for example, the loss of a job, income or freedom – as well as major life-changing events, such as drug addiction, relocation and divorce.

I believe that we can also apply this process to Twitter – specifically, the concept of ‘getting’ it.

I joined Twitter in March 2008. Like many people (certainly back then), I didn’t really know what to do with it at first. I sent a few tweets, all inconsequential. I played around for a few weeks and then found myself distracted elsewhere. I didn’t really return to Twitter in any meaningful capacity until a few months later, when the lightbulb finally went on and I got it.

So much so that, a little while after that, I started to write about it. Well over a thousand published articles later, I’m still at it.

The concept of ‘getting Twitter’ is important. As much as the platform has invaded the consciousness of the mainstream media and hundreds of millions of brands, entrepreneurs, celebrities and regular folk (who will always be the backbone of the network), there are still billions of people out there who don’t understand what Twitter is, don’t care what Twitter is, or – and these folks are always the hardest sells – both. It’s the evolution that these individuals go through that I want to address in this article.

Stage 1 – Denial (“Twitter is a waste of time.”)

Denial is the first thing that most people feel about Twitter. They’ve decided that it isn’t for them. They’re far too busy, and Twitter is a waste of time. They’re already on Facebook, after all – and they hate that, too. And look what happened to Myspace. Why make the effort?

Stage 2 – Anger (“Why would I care about what people are having for breakfast?”)

Twitter, Twitter, Twitter. That’s all the newspapers ever talk about! Who cares what some celebrity said to another on Twitter? Who cares what people are tweeting about when American Idol and The X Factor are on? Who cares that Twitter broke the news before anybody else (and that several people took on-the-scene photos, too)? Twitter, Twitter, Twitter – enough already!

Stage 3 – Bargaining (“I’m only signing up because my friends are on there.”)

Finally, they cave, and begrudgingly open an account, mostly to appease friends, or perhaps because Twitter is being mentioned a lot where they work. Yeah, I’m on Twitter, they say. Often they’re very active for 24-72 hours. And then completely ignore it for the next few weeks.

Stage 4 – Depression (“It doesn’t make any sense.”)

For many this is the worst stage. They’ve finally made the effort and signed up, and now all their fears are confirmed. They were right – Twitter isn’t for them. There’s nothing to see or do. It’s like talking into a vacuum. Who are these people following me? Why are these people following me? Who should I be following? Where are my friends? Who cares what I have to say? How come I can only write tweets about what I’m eating for breakfast? What the heck is a hashtag!?

Stage 5 – Acceptance (“I get it!”)

Many people don’t get to this stage, abandoning their Twitter accounts somewhere between bargaining and depression. But for those that do it’s totally worth it. They keep plugging away, keep reading, keep learning, keep asking questions and keep doing it. Suddenly, the light bulb goes on. Nobody can tell you what Twitter is, because Twitter isn’t any one thing. You have to find out for yourself. Then, suddenly, it’s your Twitter. You own it. You shape it. And you get it. It’s a beautiful moment. And often those who were the most resistant, and the most critical, become the biggest evangelists.

I’ve seen this process repeated again and again by friends, family, colleagues and clients. It isn’t always in this exact order – sometimes denial and anger swap places, and sometimes the depression stage is skipped entirely – but more often than not this is exactly how it goes whenever somebody walks the path from Twitter dismisser to Twitter critic to Twitter devotee. And then they go on to play a crucial role in making believers of other cynics, too.

Kübler-Ross’s work was credited with bringing mainstream awareness to the process of grief and the sensitivity required for better treatment when coping with significant change. Perhaps we could apply a similar understanding to those who haven’t been able to grasp the concept and rewards of micro-blogging. You can play your part by forwarding this article on to those friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances who, for want of not really trying, haven’t yet managed to ‘get Twitter’.