Note: This is a point of view on Twitter’s place in your business strategy, not your social life.
As of this writing, I have about 1,200 followers on Twitter and have tweeted about 2,500 times. It’s driven 707 visits to my blog for 2.73 pages per visit and 2:48 time spent on site (both +40% over the average traffic source).
I give this as proof that I have tried, even indulged in, Twitter. I continue to use it, but have reached the conclusion that Twitter isn’t a big deal.
For a moment, allow me to be an obtuse misanthrope (what else is new).
Social media gurus are exuberant Twitter fanboys, and the sheer volume of buzz around the platform is all the proof you should need that expectations have surpassed reality. Or do housing prices really always go up?
The hipsters are just as bad, whining about the existential uselessness of it all. In this day and age, Americans still watch 200 million hours of TV commercials every weekend. How can you worry about what people are doing on Twitter?
I endorse a middle path of participatory skepticism.
Twitter’s reverse network effect
I wasn’t an early adopter, but I joined Twitter as it was spreading amongst internet nerds in 2007. It turned out to be a neat way to meet and chat with people I otherwise wouldn’t have. Twitter is much less intrusive than email.
But now that Twitter has grown, the accessibility of individuals has declined. The growth of the network has diluted attention.
Twitter suffers from something we haven’t seen very often on the internet — a reverse network effect. Twitter becomes less useful the more people use it.
(It might be more accurate to say it first benefited from network effects and started getting more useful, then hit a vanishing point. Kind of like a dating site.)
You might think Twitter would be more useful the more of your friends joined, but you already have a dozen other ways to communicate with them. Twitter ain’t the fax machine.
For most businesses, Twitter is a tactic in search of a strategy.
There seem to be three different ways a to use Twitter in business:
- Grow a Twitter profile as a media channel (i.e. get lots of followers then send them offers).
- Be there just for fun (i.e. show how much you “get it”).
- Use Twitter for PR (i.e. respond to complaints and answer questions).
I think the third method is the only thing worth thinking about, and that’s not an earth shattering revelation because you should have been talking to customers way before Twitter.
What kind of resources should you devote to Twitter? 10 minutes each evening to do “Twitter maintenance”, otherwise only during important events.
So if you have anyone running around your office screaming, “we have to get on Twitter!” just tell them to calm down and send them to this page.
Twitter is a giant internet chat room; that’s not a pro or a con, just an is. You can use it to communicate with people who share your interests (particularly when you sell a product to that interest group), but it’s not a revolutionary marketing platform.
Here’s what you need to do with Twitter:
1) Make a personal account
You should control as many URLs as possible that could turn up in a search for your name (http://www.twitter.com/joshklein), so this is important whether or not you want to use Twitter.
No one wants to chat with your business (the hipsters are right about that). Chatting with a CEO can be fun, though.
There is something to be said for just “being there.” Prevent malefactors from squatting on your brand equity (pun intended).
2) Use Twitter Search relentlessly
Use the RSS feed to keep track of important keywords (your name, your product, whatever), then respond to those comments. This is the same thing as a real estate agent keeping abreast of local real estate news.
Answering people’s questions is a great way to start. I recently tweeted “anybody out there with dropship ecommerce experience?”
Good job Vcommerce. That’s not intrusive advertising, that’s helpful.
3) Move contact elsewhere
You do not want to build relationships on someone else’s media platform, especially not one on precarious financial footing like Twitter. Think of it like building an expensive new fence around someone’s house that you’re only renting for the summer. Or having a friendster account.
Move the business relationships that matter somewhere else — email, your blog, their blog, face-to-face, or at least a more useful platform like Facebook.
Remember — Twitter is easy, and the value of a relationship is inversely proportional to how much energy you expend to maintain it (signaling).
(I admit to slacking off on this point. If you know me on Twitter, please leave a comment about your blog so I can follow you there.)
4) Supplement other interactions, don’t replace them
Using Twitter to organize meetups and participate in live events like SXSW is good (prescient commentary from Gawker at that link). Thinking you’re meeting people when you chat with them on Twitter is bad.
Relationships can start at Twitter, but they can’t grow there. Last I checked, @guykawasaki was still responding to every message from the 100,000 people who follow him.
The communication is too easy to be valuable.
Twitter: cultural phenomenon and colossal business shoulder shrug
Too many people use Twitter too obsessively to all be wrong.
There is something going on here, and anything culturally significant will have ramifications on your business. but that’s no excuse to flail blindly at a tactic.
Your customers probably drink a lot — has your marketing team discussed distributing your own brand of spirits?
Even if Twitter itself finds a successful business model (I believe it will), you will not find a successful business model using Twitter.
The business takeaway of Twitter is this:
Consumers are communicating with each other with increasing ease and frequency.
That doesn’t mean you necessarily need to devote your staff to Twittering, but it does mean you need to reconsider the way you do business. It’s what we’ve been saying all along — things that lead to word of mouth are on the rise, while more traditional advertising is in decline.
Twitter is just one example among thousands. If you discovered the idea of talking to your customers the first time someone told you about Twitter, you have much bigger problems than learning how to Tweet.
But it’s never too late to pull your head out of the sand and start paying attention to the marketplace. Try Twitter — just don’t spend too much time there.