April 7, 2009

Fine, I'll talk about Twitter strategy

NOTE: This post is old, and is probably on different subject matter than my current writing. It is possible the information is outdated or my opinions have changed. -- Josh Klein, May 28, 2012

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:

  1. Grow a Twitter profile as a media channel (i.e. get lots of followers then send them offers).
  2. Be there just for fun (i.e. show how much you “get it”).
  3. 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.

DON’T PANIC

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?”

Twitter Dropshipping

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.

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  • http://glennfriesen.com Glenn Friesen

    I have to admit, I wholeheartedly agree. The thing with Twitter is that it's a tool for quick, easy communication. Good point on not replacing physical interaction with twittershpere.

  • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

    A tool for quick, easy — consumer — communication. The problem for businesses is when they think that makes it a marketing channel.

  • http://glennfriesen.com Glenn Friesen

    I have to admit, I wholeheartedly agree. The thing with Twitter is that it's a tool for quick, easy communication. Good point on not replacing physical interaction with twittershpere.

    • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

      A tool for quick, easy — consumer — communication. The problem for businesses is when they think that makes it a marketing channel.

  • http://adchick.wordpress.com adchick

    I always learn something from reading your posts and this was excellent. The thing with Twitter is you need to be creative in your approach…I have “met” several people here and found my way onto a few interesting articles. You're right…just dont spend too much time there! Good!!

  • http://adchick.wordpress.com adchick

    I always learn something from reading your posts and this was excellent. The thing with Twitter is you need to be creative in your approach…I have “met” several people here and found my way onto a few interesting articles. You're right…just dont spend too much time there! Good!!

    • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

      Thanks adchick. By the way, did you notice the cease and desist comment left on the about section of your blog? Quite entertaining :)

      • http://adchick.wordpress.com adchick

        Yes, I saw that. I guess I've ruffled Nancy's feathers! There are a lot of ad chicks out there, so she'll be a busy one tracking us all down. Business must be slow. Good Grief.

  • http://www.tumblemoose.com tumblemoose

    Rockin' and daring post, Mr. Josh.

    Your points are certainly valid here. It is an interesting thought that as TW grows, it will be more difficult to influence folks (if that's what you are there for).

    TW seems to be morphing almost every day. Some of it I like, other parts – not so much.

    It's going to be cool to watch. Think I'll pull up a beach chair and open a cold one.

    George

  • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

    Thanks adchick. By the way, did you notice the cease and desist comment left on the about section of your blog? Quite entertaining :)

  • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

    Right — I think the proper approach to Twitter is still “wait and see” even though it's gotten so much mainstream attention. You're not going to lose a first (or early) mover advantage, because there isn't really much of a “presence” to build.

    The value is in Twitter search… which is why we're hearing Google buyout rumors. THAT aspect of it is worthwhile, but again… that's PR, not marketing. At least, in my humble opinion.

  • pcodella

    Thank you for your thoughts. I was surprised to learn that 20% of my website visitors came from Twitter last month. I do find it is valuable for inbound marketing – directing traffic to a blog, website, Facebook page, etc.

    I'm involved with the Social Media Club and our events frequently reach the number one spot on Twitter's trending topics. Twitter seems to be very good at mass conversation focused on events. It's also useful for communication in times of crisis.

  • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

    Twitter is an excellent personal branding tool, acting a first-impression touch point or to drive I-wonder-who-this-guy-is traffic to your website. But in my opinion, what you're talking about is a personal branding strategy that originates well outside the scope of Twitter; it just so happens that your ideal implementation is on Twitter.

    That is, I think someone else could have as much success on Facebook, or by attending trade shows, or meeting people for drinks, or hosting a panel to discuss a particularly salient issue. Teach a class, be on your alumni association board, whatever.

    What you do with your Social Media Club event is exactly the right way to do it; use Twitter as a flash-in-the-pan attention grabber, then direct the attention elsewhere (offline in your event's case, or to a website). If you don't build a next-step / so-what past your Twitter profile, you lose the attention.

    I'll definitely use your Social Media Club example in the future, thanks for sharing it!

  • http://www.tumblemoose.com tumblemoose

    Rockin' and daring post, Mr. Josh.

    Your points are certainly valid here. It is an interesting thought that as TW grows, it will be more difficult to influence folks (if that's what you are there for).

    TW seems to be morphing almost every day. Some of it I like, other parts – not so much.

    It's going to be cool to watch. Think I'll pull up a beach chair and open a cold one.

    George

    • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

      Right — I think the proper approach to Twitter is still “wait and see” even though it's gotten so much mainstream attention. You're not going to lose a first (or early) mover advantage, because there isn't really much of a “presence” to build.

      The value is in Twitter search… which is why we're hearing Google buyout rumors. THAT aspect of it is worthwhile, but again… that's PR, not marketing. At least, in my humble opinion.

  • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

    Smart point about the telephone. The salient point of “social media” is the part where you act like a human being, not a faceless company. It's the whole “small is the new big” idea (from 37signals, Seth Godin, and others).

    I'm totally with you on the point about making the right tactical choices for a given strategy. When you're a consultant selling services based on your expertise and experience, you can connect the dots on why having a lot of personal connections is a Good Thing. You do it as well as anyone I know (and people, if you need help figuring it out, Martin is the first person to ask).

    Who I want to really make my point for in this post is the small-to-large business that keeps hearing about this Twitter thing, and hear all the talking heads riffing on how it's the new holy grail of marketing. They come to their marketers, brand managers and agencies, and ask “should we be on twitter?'

    And the answer is, “that's not the right question.”

    The question is whether or not you should shape your business strategy so you are a social company, a word-of-mouth company, the kind of business that relies on relationships.

    Are you the kind of business that fears user reviews or wishes you got more of them?

    And the thing is, this isn't a marketing question. At least, not in the way people usually think about marketing. This is a question about business truths, inherent product attributes, methods of corporate governance… I mean this is the underlying culture of whole organizations.

    So brands that ask this question are sometimes saying, “should we tear this monster down and start over?” without knowing the ramifications of their question.

    My gut is to say “go for it” in most cases, but that involves a fundamental shift some people can't stomach. It's much, much, much bigger than logging onto Twitter and saying a few offhand comments about your lunch. That's the part I wish more people were talking about: this isn't even ABOUT Twitter, it's about your business strategy.

    The writing has been on the wall for awhile about new business strategies, and Twitter is absolutely one of the biggest additions to the evidence of why a fundamental shift is needed. But I'm just not sure it's the part we should be talking about.

  • http://remarkablogger.com Michael Martine

    “…this isn't even ABOUT Twitter, it's about your business strategy.”

    AMEN BROTHA. You have it exactly right. I wish more people understood this, too.

  • http://remarkablogger.com Michael Martine

    Some really great thoughts here, Josh. Your three ways for a business to use it are great. Woot has sold successfully on Twitter, and other businesses use the 3rd method a lot. When you're a one person information business, you can easily do both (I do).

    The real gold nugget in your post is the idea of growing relationships that begin on Twitter to beyond Twitter.

    Twitter or any other social media tool does not solve the human communication problems we will always have. A telephone is a “social media tool,” and there are better and worse ways to use a phone for business (telemarketing = bad, brilliant customer service = good). What you say and do when you meet someone face to face matters.

    These new social media tools are only methods for communicating, like speaking face to face or on the phone. They have their own peculiar sets of advantages and disadvantages. When you called Twitter a tactic in search of a strategy, you almost nailed that right on the head. I say almost because if you observe anyone who knows what they're doing, you'll see they're choosing their tactics based on the strategy they're implementing. If they truly have a strategy, then they also have goals. It all starts with goals.

    • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

      Smart point about the telephone. The salient point of “social media” is the part where you act like a human being, not a faceless company. It's the whole “small is the new big” idea (from 37signals, Seth Godin, and others).

      I'm totally with you on the point about making the right tactical choices for a given strategy. When you're a consultant selling services based on your expertise and experience, you can connect the dots on why having a lot of personal connections is a Good Thing. You do it as well as anyone I know (and people, if you need help figuring it out, Michael is the first person to ask).

      Who I want to really make my point for in this post is the small-to-large business that keeps hearing about this Twitter thing, and hear all the talking heads riffing on how it's the new holy grail of marketing. They come to their marketers, brand managers and agencies, and ask “should we be on twitter?'

      And the answer is, “that's not the right question.”

      The question is whether or not you should shape your business strategy so you are a social company, a word-of-mouth company, the kind of business that relies on relationships.

      Are you the kind of business that fears user reviews or wishes you got more of them?

      And the thing is, this isn't a marketing question. At least, not in the way people usually think about marketing. This is a question about business truths, inherent product attributes, methods of corporate governance… I mean this is the underlying culture of whole organizations.

      So brands that ask this question are sometimes saying, “should we tear this monster down and start over?” without knowing the ramifications of their question.

      My gut is to say “go for it” in most cases, but that involves a fundamental shift some people can't stomach. It's much, much, much bigger than logging onto Twitter and saying a few offhand comments about your lunch. That's the part I wish more people were talking about: this isn't even ABOUT Twitter, it's about your business strategy.

      The writing has been on the wall for awhile about new business strategies, and Twitter is absolutely one of the biggest additions to the evidence of why a fundamental shift is needed. But I'm just not sure it's the part we should be talking about.

      • http://remarkablogger.com Michael Martine

        “…this isn't even ABOUT Twitter, it's about your business strategy.”

        AMEN BROTHA. You have it exactly right. I wish more people understood this, too.

  • http://www.petecodella.com Pete Codella

    Thank you for your thoughts. I was surprised to learn that 20% of my website visitors came from Twitter last month. I do find it is valuable for inbound marketing – directing traffic to a blog, website, Facebook page, etc.

    I'm involved with the Social Media Club and our events frequently reach the number one spot on Twitter's trending topics. Twitter seems to be very good at mass conversation focused on events. It's also useful for communication in times of crisis.

    • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

      Twitter is an excellent personal branding tool, acting a first-impression touch point or to drive I-wonder-who-this-guy-is traffic to your website. But in my opinion, what you're talking about is a personal branding strategy that originates well outside the scope of Twitter; it just so happens that your ideal implementation is on Twitter.

      That is, I think someone else could have as much success on Facebook, or by attending trade shows, or meeting people for drinks, or hosting a panel to discuss a particularly salient issue. Teach a class, be on your alumni association board, whatever.

      What you do with your Social Media Club event is exactly the right way to do it; use Twitter as a flash-in-the-pan attention grabber, then direct the attention elsewhere (offline in your event's case, or to a website). If you don't build a next-step / so-what past your Twitter profile, you lose the attention.

      I'll definitely use your Social Media Club example in the future, thanks for sharing it!

      • http://andrewwebb.wordpress.com Andy Webb

        Josh, do you have a good example of a brand that successfully did a flash-in-the-pan attention grabber on Twitter?

      • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

        I don't know about the “successfully” part, since I haven't been involved in any, but I do know of something recently put together for Ford Fiesta. I heard about it through @juliaroy (who works at Undercurrent, an agency that does this sort of thing): @fordfiesta drove people to a Facebook invite for a “tweet up” where I assume some shmoozing and consuming of booze occurred. Maybe I can lure Julia to come answer this question for you…

      • http://juliaroy.com juliaroy

        We did organize a Ford Fiesta “Tweetup” during the NY Autoshow to show off the Ford Fiesta cars and get some of the chosen agents together to mingle and party. It was definitely not a “flash-in-the-pan attention grabber” as the Fiesta Movement campaign will be running for the next 6 months. However, when you offer people on Twitter an opportunity to meet in real life with free booze and good Tweeting company, they tend not to pass it up :)

      • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

        And there you have it. Thanks Julia!

  • http://adchick.wordpress.com adchick

    Yes, I saw that. I guess I've ruffled Nancy's feathers! There are a lot of ad chicks out there, so she'll be a busy one tracking us all down. Business must be slow. Good Grief.

  • http://andrewwebb.wordpress.com Andy Webb

    Josh, do you have a good example of a brand that successfully did a flash-in-the-pan attention grabber on Twitter?

  • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

    I don't know about the “successfully” part, since I haven't been involved in any, but I do know of something recently put together for Ford Fiesta. I heard about it through @juliaroy (who works at Undercurrent, an agency that does this sort of thing): @fordfiesta drove people to a Facebook invite for a “tweet up” where I assume some shmoozing and consuming of booze occurred. Maybe I can lure Julia to come answer this question for you…

  • http://juliaroy.com juliaroy

    We did organize a Ford Fiesta “Tweetup” during the NY Autoshow to show off the Ford Fiesta cars and get some of the chosen agents together to mingle and party. It was definitely not a “flash-in-the-pan attention grabber” as the Fiesta Movement campaign will be running for the next 6 months. However, when you offer people on Twitter an opportunity to meet in real life with free booze and good Tweeting company, they tend not to pass it up :)

  • http://www.joshklein.net joshklein

    And there you have it. Thanks Julia!